Featured Expert | Sally Isaacs

Award-winning nonfiction author, co-founder and co-chair of the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference, Sally Isaacs, is KidLit TV’s Featured Expert this month! Sally has written 50 children’s nonfiction books, including her latest Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure (Capstone Press) about the first woman to walk alone to the North Pole.

The 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference is a weekend of panels, workshops, consultations, networking, and sharing of information between writers, illustrators, publishers, digital developers, teachers, and librarians. This year it will be held June 10-12 at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York where KidLit TV’s founder, Julie Gribble, among many other industry experts will be speaking on a panel.

The Interview

Nonfiction books are becoming more popular in the kid lit world. Why do you believe nonfiction is important to every child’s life?

There’s nothing more exciting than reading a good book to a child and then saying, “That really happened.”  That’s what’s great about nonfiction books. They tell about the world around us. If the book is about nature or other science topics, children can step outside and integrate what they learned from the book. If the book is about an event in history, they can learn how events of one place and time can affect people and places long afterward.

There are many forms of nonfiction, such as picture books, middle grade and graphic novels. What are some you would recommend teachers read aloud in the classroom?

Nonfiction books are a great way to enhance the classroom curriculum. Pick something that will pique your students’ interest. Heather Montgomery is so good at making a nonfiction book as funny and alluring as a fiction book.  Her recent book is titled How Rude: Real Bugs Who Won’t Mind Their Manners. It talks about bugs who litter and pass gas – all the gross details kids will laugh about — all the while teaching facts about bugs.

Steve Sheinkin writes history like a fast-moving TV script. His latest is Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War.

And I must mention my picture book: Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure: A Woman and a Dog Walk to the North Pole.This is the true story of a 50-year old woman who set a goal and overcame polar bears, loneliness, and frostbite to reach it. The illustrations of the white, barren Arctic by Iva Sasheva will send a chill up your spine.

How has nonfiction changed over the years?

Oh, yes, nonfiction has changed. Nonfiction books used to sit on the library shelves until kids needed them to write a report. Many of them provided information in a dry, encyclopedic way. I think today nonfiction books are much more engaging. And yet, they must teach the reader the basic rule of nonfiction: If the information in the book is true, we need to substantiate it. Back matter, with sources, index, and glossary, are important teaching tools in the classroom.

Picture books are another change. They are no longer just for pre-readers. Publishers are coming out with picture books and graphic novels that older children will enjoy.

Nonfiction can teach kids about diversity and cultures outside their own. What are some nonfiction books from a diverse perspective?

Books about diversity can help us appreciate our differences and take pride in our own uniqueness. Here are some of the books I like:

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings, by Margarita Engle, is a memoir that beautifully tells how the author attempts to define herself within the context of being biracial during the United States’ invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound, by Andrea Pinkney, brilliantly weaves the story of the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of a new kind of music from the urban youth of Detroit.

A Kid’s Guide to Arab-American History, by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi, helps readers understand the various Arab American groups and their cultures.

Coyote Speaks: Wonders of the Native American World, by Ari Berk and Carolyn Dunn, inspires an appreciation of the Native American culture and includes wonderful photos, paintings, and artifacts.

What are some biography topics parents and teachers would like to see more of?

There is a need for more books about cultural diversity. Also, generally, parents and teachers want books that will inspire curiosity. A  book must show the reader why this subject matters – and do so from the first page.

What nonfiction activities can teachers use in the classroom? 

Nonfiction books can lead to exciting research and writing activities. Students can discuss how an author may have been inspired to write the book and how she/he researched it. Then students can choose a topic that interests them, form questions about the topic, and research answers. This can lead to a writing activity, such as a story, a report, or a mock interview broadcast.

Classroom discussions about a nonfiction book can delve into questions, such as “How did the author learn this? What was the author’s experience with this topic? Was the author trying to persuade his/her readers to form an opinion about this topic? What other purpose might the author have had?”

How can teachers and parents use KidLit TV in the classroom?

KidLit TV makes the world of books come alive. In a medium that kids are comfortable with, they can view book trailers, author interviews, and other activities. The resources on KidLit TV can be used to introduce a book or for follow up activities afterward.

Click here for Sally Isaacs’ list of 10 Nonfiction Books for Kids.

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