How can I increase the impact of books when I read to my young son?

  • Have you considered pairing two books about the same subject, one facts, one fiction?
  • Or have you considered following a book with a related film?
  • Or have you considered reading a book about the making of a work of art (a cathedral, for example), and then visiting a cathedral with your child?
  • Have you considered reading about the creation of a piece of music and then listening to the actual piece with your child?

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The example above pairs a picture book, sheet music (on page 78), a youtube piano tutorial, and a youtube video of an orchestra playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Click on these underlined links to see more details or to view the videos.

All too often, we read nursery rhymes, fairy tales and other fiction to our children without considering related nonfiction books, films, music, and paintings. Boys, in particular, might prefer additional factual information.

When my daughter was a third grader, she read Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Florence Atwater. I found some National Geographic Magazine articles on penguins, and together we read them, deepening her understanding of penguins. For a school assignment, she wrote her own penguin book, dedicating it to National Geographic. She could also have read Penguins and Antarctica by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce, a nonfiction companion book to Eve of the Emperor Penguin, part of the Magic Tree House fiction series by Mary Pope Osborne. A documentary film about penguins, March of the Penguins, would have told her about the brutal lives of penguins on Antarctica. The animated Happy Feet, though less factual, would have offered another perspective.

Is there a new baby coming into the family? Big Brother Dustin by Alden R. Carter follows a child with Down Syndrome as he anticipates becoming a big brother. A funny companion book might be Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park, a novel about a kindergartener’s belief that her newborn brother is really a monkey. Many child-oriented nonfiction books are available about pregnancy and birth.

When you read two different types of books on the same subject, often you investigate the subject from two different vantages. Little children need to learn that there are many ways of looking at the same information and that they all might be good, or that one might be real and the other entertaining.

Sometimes the child makes connections between the two books, but sometimes the adult needs to point out similarities and differences to obtain the most impact. For example, you could explain what the words “fiction” and “nonfiction” mean, and how Clifford is a pretend dog while a book about dog breeds shows pictures of real dogs. “Real” and “make believe” are concepts a child needs to learn.

Some children prefer fiction while others prefer nonfiction. By pairing them, the child is exposed to both genres. But of course the main reason for pairing is to deepen meaning for the child. Your child will gain the most impact if you discuss the books with him. –Mrs. K

When I was a child, my favorite book was Black Beauty.  Unfortunately, I never ventured to the nonfiction section of our library.  Was I unaware of it or just stubborn, refusing to step out of my comfort zone?  I certainly would have enjoyed learning more about horses.  My favorite TV horse was a dappled horse ridden by Little Joe on the TV show, Bonanza.  The nonfiction books would have given me opportunities to look at pictures or to read the captions, even if most of the content was too advanced for me. –Mrs. A

How about you? Have you found pairing books or books with other medium to be a good way for your child to learn more? Let us know.

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