If you are trying to come up with fun strategies for getting children excited about learning you may want to use “twin texts.” This term refers to the use of fiction and nonfiction books to increase comprehension and build a foundation for critical thinking. Most think this only works with older, school age children but that isn’t true!
So many wonderful picture books are available that can be paired with nonfiction books (informational texts) to expand on concepts explored in stories. Children in Kindergarten-3rd grade (and probably beyond) still love it when you read to them, so why not introduce some “real” information while having fun?
Keep in mind that the book pairings you choose can cover a broad range of topics (history, earth science, and even social/emotional development). The trick is finding books that are developmentally appropriate, interesting and engaging. Ideally they should leave room for discussion, spontaneous connections and discovery.
This can happen one-on-one with parent & child, in a classroom, or during a library class visit. Ultimately, the nonfiction books can be shown to children after reading the storybooks out loud. Maybe the storybook has some elements of truth related to the subject and you can ask what parts of the story are true, then match some of that information to facts you find in the informational text. This creates learning that engages children and empowers them to become active participants in the discovery process. They also have fun while fostering crucial critical thinking skills.
The twin texts approach also lends itself to children with disabilities and those who teach/care for them. Story books can be a great vehicle for encouraging expanded learning and self-acceptance. In this case nonfiction materials can be available for the children to peruse after reading the story. Nonfiction books with bold visuals are generally more accessible. Even if a child cannot read the book, the visuals provide clues and help create context to facilitate connections to the fictional story. If reading the story book isn’t feasible, you can re-create the basic story with visual props (a flannel board or the use of PECS – Personal Exchange Communication Systems). As long as there is space for connections to be made the use of both types of materials enhances learning.
I’ve listed a few examples of paired books I used for first grade library class visits. Each group of fiction and nonfiction titles are divided into themes. The combination of books listed below piqued everyone’s interest and sparked lots of conversation. In addition, the picture books I chose are also great “stand alone” books. If you are interested in any of the titles below, simply click onto the book covers to find them in our library catalog.
Is this True?
You might think a story about an earthworm who goes on a quest to find the meaning of life, a picture book about a very impatient, loud-mouthed caterpillar and a short but funny story about piranhas and bananas don’t have anything in common but ask the right question and they do!
I asked my audience of students the question: Is this true? Since these picture books have lots of “real” information along with engaging, funny characters and great illustrations we had a good time going through each story to pinpoint what was true. Then we did some fact checking by opening up the nonfiction books that I’d paired with the story books. Along with having a positive library experience the children learned about the importance of earthworms to our ecosystem, better understood the life cycle of caterpillars/butterflies and realized that piranhas did indeed eat bananas (along with fish, crustaceans, seeds, plants and the occasional human toe).
In Carl and the Meaning Of life by Deborah Freedman we see Carl the earthworm happily digging tunnels, eating and pooping until he is stopped in his tracks by a field mouse who asks him”Why?” Carl can’t answer the question and goes on a quest to determine his life’s purpose. He runs into many animals who know exactly why they’re here but it isn’t until the earth becomes hard and barren and the animals begin to move away that Carl discovers his true purpose.
The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach is pretty self explanatory. A very loudmouthed, impatient little caterpillar is excited when he finds out he will become a butterfly but when he realizes that metamorphosis is a long process he’s less than thrilled. While he’s asking, “Is it time yet? we’re learning all about the life cycle of a butterfly.
Aaron Plabey’s Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is a short, hilarious story about a piranha named Brian who loves eating bananas. His friends can’t believe that he prefers sinking his sharp teeth into a banana rather than something meaty (like some dangling feet). But Brian is one of those piranhas who is a generalist in his eating patterns and he happens to have a taste for fruit!
Mastering a new skill can be simultaneously exciting and daunting. Just growing up is full of firsts! Reading picture books that deal with characters being brave in the face of fear gives children an opportunity to process their own anxieties in an indirect, non-threatening way. I read two great story books about being brave, then pulled out two nonfiction books that talk about bravery in the face of feeling scared. The overall message was that it is okay to be scared. Being brave doesn’t mean you don’t feel afraid or that you overcome your fears immediately. Sometimes building your “brave muscle” takes time and help from people who love you most.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall is about a boy who attempts to jump from the diving board for the first time. He’s passed his swim test and he is all ready to give the diving board a try but as he watches the other kids jump in, he decides he needs just a little more time to stretch and get ready. He feels his father squeeze his hand in encouragement and Jabari squeezes back. They come back the following day and with his father’s patient presence and encouragement Jabari is able to take the leap.
Truman by Jean Reidy is about a little girl and her best friend, a turtle named Truman. Truman and Sarah live in the City and Truman has never worried about leaving the high-rise they share. He’s a content and well-loved little turtle. But then one day Sarah sets off for preschool on a big bus. Truman is afraid she won’t find her way back and he decides he must find her. There’s only one problem – he is afraid to leave the safety of his terrarium to face the scary city streets below. He eventually finds the courage to jump out into the great unknown.
Empathy and Kindness
Sometimes it is difficult for children to accept those who look or act differently. Using fiction and nonfiction stories to encourage empathy and kindness is one avenue to helping children develop an open mind and heart. Combining that with age-appropriate biographies about people who are thriving in spite of physical and/or mental challenges brings an added dimension to the discussion. The good thing about reading fiction books first is that it sets the stage for talking about real folks who are encountering similar challenges yet are creating lives of meaning and purpose.
For this theme I read R. J. Palacio’s book, We’re All Wonders. In this story we meet a boy named August who doesn’t look like everybody else. He feels like any other kid but what others always notice first is his facial deformity. Like most kids, Auggie wants to belong and feel accepted for who he is on the inside.
In My Friend Isabelle by Eliza Woloson we meet Isabelle and Charlie. They are friends and they like to read, dance, draw and play in the park. They like some of the same foods and they cry when their feelings get hurt. There is just one difference though. Isabelle has Down Syndrome. This books shows that there are no real barriers to friendship and that sometimes our differences are what makes us unique and special to someone else.
There are many possibilities for pairing fiction and nonfiction. Hopefully you’ll find some twin texts that will work for you. If you need assistance, you can request online reference help from a children’s librarian through Pasadena Public Library’s Ask Us feature. Click here for access to this service: Ask Us. Happy pairings!