Celebrate: Challenging Presumptions

This week I chose the last read aloud of our nonfiction unit. I wanted it to showcase the genre and lead into the next unit on advocacy. I wanted a book with a strong narrative and a supporting expository text. I wanted a book that could foster an understanding of advocacy. Nonfiction reading lends itself to advocacy thinking. It’s natural to read about an issue or an event and react. Thoughts of “that’s not right” are the immediate response to mistreatment or abuse.

Looking through my pile of books I chose this:

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Many of my students had The One and Only Ivan as a read aloud in third grade so I thought the “true story” would be an interesting choice. We could look at the narrative portion of the picture book and then compare it with the expository article in the back of the book. A perfect pairing of the ways nonfiction can go.

But an interesting thing happened on the way. During the narrative portion, students who knew The One and Only Ivan story stopped me saying, “Wait, you left something out,” and ” Yeah, that’s not the way it goes.”  Those comments led to an explanation of true versus real versus imagined.

Ok, that’s solved I thought. Nice that we clarified that.

We started reading again. Then we got to the page that showed the two baby gorillas in the dark, damp crate, and they stopped me again.

T: How could the writer know how it looked?

Me: She imagined how it might have looked and felt and then she wrote it, and the illustrator drew it.

S: Wait, I thought this was true.

J: How could the writer say this is the true story?

Ah, what a slippery slope the nonfiction world presents. They are entirely correct. Nonfiction doesn’t always mean “true.”

With that, I handed it back to them asking, “What do you think? Should this be called the true story?” Better them debating than me explaining. They wrote in their notebooks and then turned to their reading group to discuss.

I thought the text would be a good ending to nonfiction. I thought it would be a good segway to advocacy because of the people who protested Ivan’s situation in the mall. Little did I know that it would get us to reexamine the very nature of nonfiction and introduce our argument writing unit.

It’s remarkable. What we don’t see. What we don’t know. The unpredictable outcomes students offer us.

This week I celebrate the power of read aloud, writers like Katherine Applegate, and students who challenge what I presume.

Thank you to Ruth Ayers, who asks us to celebrate each week. Connect with others who celebrate here.