While reading Reading in the Wild I came across a quote from a student about nonfiction: “It’s all about dead presidents and whales.” (175) It reminded me of an important conversation I had with my fourth graders last year.
I handed my small group an article about Tiger Woods. They read it and then they asked, “When did he die? It doesn’t say?”
“He hasn’t died. He is still a professional golfer.”
“But….We never read about anyone who is still alive?!?”
My bad! (I hate this phrase, but it applies in this situation.) In my attempt to expose them to important lives in history, I had forgotten to share important lives of the present. They were under the impression that people only wrote biographies about people once they were dead. And I had only added to that assumption by never sharing biographies of people making a difference today. It was an eye opening experience for all of us!
I came to another reminder of this same idea yesterday while previewing an autobiography we may use for a read aloud.
“This was my first clue that authors were human, like the rest of us. And alive. From time to time my publisher sends along a letter from a child inquiring how long Sid Fleischman has been dead. There seems to be a kind of childhood folklore that all authors are dead. Or ought to be.” (p.1-2)
We have to show our kids that nonfiction is about more than “dead presidents and whales” and that authors are live human beings.