Saturday, March 31, 2012
Last week I posted about fiction and since I don’t want to be unfair to all those fabulous non-fiction writers and enthusiasts, I thought I’d mention non-fiction this week. Some of my students would choose non-fiction over fiction any day. My son was like that. In his preschool years, during our weekly library trips, he’d head straight to the nonfiction section while I browsed through shelves of fictional picture books. We’d leave the library with a brown-paper grocery-bag filled to the brim. At least half of those books were non-fiction. His love for information started earlier, at home. In a dimly lit hallway, tucked away on the bottom row of a bookshelf, I stored all my college textbooks. One day I noticed a book from that shelf lying open on the floor. I put it back only to find it out again the next day and the day after that. It was always the same book - my speech science textbook - and always opened to a page of diagrams. It wasn’t long before my three-year old son began asking me to read it aloud for his bedtime story. He’d look at all the pictures of the inside workings of the mouth, brain and ears and ask me to read the captions. I thought it was rather boring but he loved it.
Like my son, many of my students love to read non-fiction. And with poetry month starting next week, what better non-fiction book to introduce than a biography of a poet. Jennifer Bryant’s, A River of Words, is a perfect fit for me. I love it and think my students will too. It describes the life and poetry of William Carlos Williams. The illustrations by Melissa Sweet are an inspired match - words become art and splash into the river, cover the walls and line scraps of paper. Bryant’s lyrical writing mirrors the tone and texture of Williams’ life and poetry. When she describes Williams’ childhood love of nature, and specifically of the Passaic River, she made me want to dip into that river and absorb its rhythms. “The water went slipping and sliding over the smooth rocks, then poured in a torrent over the falls, then quieted again below” – beautiful prose depicting a beautiful life. From his childhood love of the outdoors to his adult years as a busy doctor and poet, he lived in a way that inspires. I can hardly wait to introduce this book to my students.
I’m sure my son would enjoy it too. He is grown now and loves fiction, nonfiction and poetry in equal measure but I’ll never forget those early years when he was captivated by non-fiction. Eventually he moved on from my speech science book to wanting ones about trucks and farm animals but the information stuck with him for awhile. I was surprised one day when we went into a bakery with friends. We rarely gave our children sweets so he wasn’t familiar with the rows of pastries in the glass case. He scanned the options then looked up at the young woman behind the counter and said, “I want the one shaped like a cochlea.” You should have seen the look on her face! (He was right, by the way; the pastry is shaped like a cochlea.) He had never seen a cinnamon roll before but he had seen illustrations of the inner ear and he learned this vocabulary from a non-fiction book.