Nonfiction reading is all around us; Road signs, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes, guides, maps and instructions for that new toy you got for Christmas are just a few examples. Nonfiction reading is also a skill that requires practice, but did you also know that sharpening a love of nonfiction reading could help pave the way for your child to become a doctor, scientist or biologist?
At a recent trip to Portland’s World Forestry Center, I happily stumbled upon some children’s titles from Dog-Eared Publications that explore nature and the environment. I started a dialogue with wildlife biologist and Dog-Eared’s publisher and author Nancy Field, a former Corvallis resident who also taught biology at OSU and WOSC. Together with Margaret Anderson, Karen Stephenson and Portland artist Sharon Torvik, Field’s team strives to foster a love of science and nature, and to turn young readers into environmentally aware earth citizens with their nonfiction children’s books.
I was able to ask five questions to Nancy Field about nonfiction reading:
SM: Do you feel exposing children to non fiction is important, and what age is best to start developing non fiction reading in kids?
NF: Exposing young children to nonfiction books is very important. Actually, most of us start introducing babies to books right from the crib. This way children begin to have awareness and understanding of their real world. They begin to learn about colors, animals, plants, vehicles, weather, numbers, the alphabet and the like. If we are lucky, this exposure starts a love for books, both nonfiction and fiction. It is important to expose children to books of all kinds the entire time they are growing up. Experts say the way to get children to be good readers is to have them read, read, read.
SM: As a science writer and teacher, what is your favorite tip for getting kids into nonfiction reading?
NF: My tip for encouraging reading of nonfiction is to find out what interests the child and then provide the resources. Is the child interested in snakes, volcanoes, earthquakes, skate boarding, hockey, drawing, painting pictures or making cookies? Do they ask “Why?” Do you play “I Wonder if …..” games? These are ways to find out what interests
the child. Then you can find appropriate books to build on these interests. Activity books like ours, that include interactive games, puzzles and challenges, help build on critical thinking skills, problem solving and creative thinking. It is fun to become involved with the child as they learn about these interests. I have a lot of fun with my grandson learning about turtles, lizards and sports of all kinds.
SM: Any success stories on getting children into non fiction reading (which may have turned them on to a love of science or further nature study)?
NF: One success story involves a child I met in the years we lived in Corvallis, OR. This young neighbor girl began reading our non-fiction books. I became a friend and mentor. During her high school years, I began to involve her in a group called Women in Science. She went on to medical school and is now a practicing doctor.
SM: What compelled you to start your series of non fiction books for young readers? Do you remember loving non fiction as a kid?
NF: The seeds for the book series were sown back on the first Earth Day in 1970. That year, I organized the first Earth Day events at South Dakota State University in Brooking, S.D., where I was working on a master’s degree in wildlife biology. Having one day a year to celebrate and call attention to the environment was a good start, but I wondered how to reach more people all of the time. I was interested in helping raise children with an environmental ethic. Children’s books seemed to be the perfect place to start.
As a young child I did enjoy both nonfiction and fiction. I was drawn to books about animals and the natural world. I especially loved a friend’s house where they had a library. I would sometimes sit and read their encyclopedias! I enjoyed reading Boy Scout books that had good information on outdoor skills.
SM: Where can you find your series around Oregon?
NF: You can find our books at:
- The World Forestry Center
- Wildlife Safari
- The Friends of Historic Champoeg
- Powell’s Books
- Bonneville Dam giftshop
- Crater Lake National Park, several national forest
- And on the web site