Marketing for Libraries Logo

Seminar on Lit for Youth: Emergent Readers and Read Alouds

Watch the video, then read the page.

Let's begin our exploration of nonfiction works and informational reading with our youngest readers. Parents can begin introducing children to books at a very young age.

Read Job, Jennifer & Coleman, Mary Ruth (July 2016). The importance of reading in earnest: non-fiction for young children. Gifted Child Today, 154-163. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Read Arnold, Renea & Colburn, Nell (November 2007). True stories. School Library Journal, 53(11), 32. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Read Getting the Most Out of Nonfiction Reading Time. Reading Rockets. Available

The Research

In Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade, Shanahan, Callison, Carriere, Duck, Pearson, Schatschneider, and Torgeson (2010) identified evidence-based practices that impact early readers. They made five recommendations:

Although these statements have important implications for teachers, they also impact the work of librarians who assist teachers in making informational text selections. When considering informational text selection the researchers recommend,

When seeking an engaging and motivating context for reading, the study suggests

Torr and Clugston (1999) studied the adult/child interactions surrounding both informational and narrative picture books. They found that

"discourse surrounding the informational book was greater in quantity, contained more cognitively demanding questions, more conditional clauses and more interactions involving reasoning and technology terminology. These findings suggest that the informational picture book has distinctive features which encourage and support children in their construction of new knowledge and patterns of reasoning."

Let's read some research related to literature and young readers. Read at least TWO of the following articles.

Belfast, Monica A. (March 2015). Lessons from research on young children as readers of informational texts. Language Arts, 92(4), 270-277. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Larkin-Lieffers, Patricia A. (March 2015). Finding informational books for beginning readers: an ecological study of a median-household-income neighborhood. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 39(1), 1-35. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Correia, Marlene Ponte (November 2011). Fiction vs. Informational Texts: Which will kindergartners choose? Young Children, 66(6), 100. IUPUI students can view the article online. This recently study examined the thoughts of kindergartners about fiction vs informational texts. The past several years, there's been lots of talk about increasing informational reading in the primary grades. What do you see as the future for informational texts and young readers?

Williams, T. Lee (2009). A framework for nonfiction in the elementary grades. Literacy Research and Instruction, 48(3), 247. IUPUI students can view the article online. This article explores the status of research on reading in the elementary grades. Keep in mind that this article was written in 2009. If this study were conducted today, do you think she would have similar or different findings? Why? Do you have evidence to support your argument?

Duke, Nell (April-June 2000). 3.6 minutes per day: the scarcity of informational text in first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 35(2), 202. IUPUI students can view the article online. This landmark research study began a decade of discussion about the need to increase the amount of informational text read by primary children. With the introduction of the CCSS, these children should now be spending 50% of their classtime reading informational works.

batsBook Spotlight

by Laaren Brown is part of Scholastic’s “Icky Sticky Readers” series of young (Level 2) readers.

This short, informational chapter book provides basic information about bats, along with their habitats, characteristics, eating habits, and life cycle. The book also discussed ten particularly interesting bats. A glossary and index are also included.

The author’s use of interesting typography, up-close photos, and other illustrative elements add to the appeal.

Librarians know that anything with “icky sticky” in the title is likely to be popular. The level of ickiness is just right for first and second grade readers. Librarians need to be aware that this title includes stickers at the end of the book.

Other selections in this series include Deadly Dinosaurs, Super Sharks, and Scary Snakes.

Informational Picture Books

From alphabet books to counting books, even very young readers can enjoy informational books.

According to Isaacs (2013),

"Well before children can read, they can follow the pictures and put together the information they need to ask and answer questions and to grasp a story. For early readers, pictures continue to provide helpful cues to the text. Even for adults, it's said, a picture is worth a thousand words."

To understand how to connect informational picture books with young children, it's important to have a sense for a child's understanding of reality. By age 3, most children can associate images with reality. When they see a photo of a dog, they may say the word dog or point to their pet. They're able to connect the picture to their life. Also during these pre-school years, children begin understanding the difference between pretend or the "make-up" world and reality. Although elementary may continue to believe in fantasy characters, they are still able to distinguish real from make-believe. During elementary school, it's important that informational books are genuinely true so because students are easily confused about fact and fiction (Isaacs, 2013).

Cianociolo (2000) identified trends in informational books for children including

Read Gill, Sharon Ruth (2009). What teachers need to know about the "new" nonfiction. The Reading Teacher, 63(4), 260-267. IUPUI students can view the article online. This article explore the new wave of nonfiction picture books available.

Book Spotlight

squirrelSQUIRRELS LEAP, SQUIRRELS SLEEP by April Pulley Sayre is an informational book focusing on common squirrel species.

Easy-to-read text along with descriptive collages provide accurate information for young readers about the lives of squirrels. In addition to the full-page illustrations, many pages also contain close-up images showing common squirrel activities such as sleeping or wrestling. The book concludes with more detailed information about squirrels and their trees.

Librarians will find this book popular among animal lovers and children who enjoy nature. Use the text to jumpstart a citizen science project. To learn more, go to

To learn more about the author, go to

To learn more about the illustrator, go to

Wordless Books

Wordless nonfiction books are a great way to get young children to associate books with information.

As children enjoy books with adults, they learn that books are a source of pleasure and opportunities for exploration and learning.

Truck (images shown below) by Donald Crew is a wordless book that provides visual information about trucks.


Alphabet Books

Adults use alphabet books with pre-readers to help them learn the letters of the alphabet and begin to associate symbols with sounds. While alphabet books are most popular with younger children, they continue to be well-received into the elementary grades.

One of the most popular is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (1989) (shown below left) by Bill Martin Jr. In this work, the letters of the alphabet are treated like characters in a story. Dr. Seuss's ABC continues to be popular. Many of the books focused toward early learners are available as board books.

An increasing number of alphabet books incorporate humor like Bad Kitty (2005) (shown below right) by Nick Bruel. This alphabet book is divided into four parts exploring a few letters at a time.

chickbad kitty

From a subdued look at country life in Arthur Geisert's Country Road ABC: An Illustrated
Journey Through America's Farmland
(shown below left), to the humorous alliterative text of Mordicai Gerstein's The Absolutely Awful Alphabet (2001) (shown below right), authors and illustrators used a wide range of techniques in producing alphabet books.

barn catc2

Read Marcus, Leonard S. (March/April 2011). The ABC of it: Alphabet books and the literature of fact. The Horn Book Magazine, 87(2), 93-96. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Educators often use alphabet books with older children as part of writing activities. For instance, students might choose to learn more about an animal in Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet by David McLimans or Animalia by Graeme Base.

Think about how alphabet books can be used in a library setting. Begin with a display of books including Alphabet City by Stephen T. Johnson. Encourage children to take photographs that "look like" letters of the alphabet. Create an alphabet wall in a hallway showcasing their work.

For a long list of popular alphabet books, go to Good Reads.

Emergent to Fluent Readers

Early emergent readers are just beginning to understand basic concepts related to books and text on the page. Although they know the alphabet and can recognize upper and lowercase letters, they're just starting to associate these letters with sounds. At this level, look for informational books with picture support. In other words, the images should relate directly to the words. Seek limited, controlled, repeated vocabulary with predictable patterns. Look for large print with lots of space. Finally, focus on basic concepts familiar to children.

Emergent readers have command of high-frequency words. They're aware of phonics and are developing word-attack skills. They understand that reading has many purposes and that comprehension strategies can be used to understand text. At this point, they're ready to talk about the difference between fiction and nonfiction. These readers are less dependent on patterns and pictures, however familiar topics are still important. Look for books that have more complex sentence structure.

Connect reading to meaningful, connected activities. For instance, as children read books about "how plants growth," introduce them to household plants, grow a bean plant, or take a nature walk.

Read Fire! Fire! by Gail Gibbon. Show a smoke detector and talk about fire alarms and fire safety.

According to Dorothy S. Strickland (2013), educators and librarians working with early literacy research should provide a variety of text types, levels, and opportunities for interacting with text.

Fluent readers are becoming more independent. Reading is more automatic and takes less effort. At this point, it's important to shift reading skills toward comprehension strategies. Children can handle longer sentences and more text on a page. They're ready for longer books that rely less and less on visual elements. Vocabulary can be more challenging, complex and descriptive.

When children reach fluency, their reading is smooth and easy to understand. They're able to talk about what they've read and have a good command of comprehension strategies. This marks a shift from "learning to read" to "reading to learn".


For librarians without much experience with young readers, make use of series books designed specifically for beginning readers.

Dorling Kindersley series are a great place to start. The Touch and Feel series from DK is designed for ages 0-5. These board books include tactile pages with familiar objects. These books are a wonderful introduction to books.


Leveled reading books are popular with parents and teachers because they support reading as children build skills.

The DK Readers are identified as Pre Level 1, then Level 1-3. Big Trucks (Pre Level 1) (shown below) contains lots of images and only a few words that are repeated liked the word "truck".


DK Readers: (Beginning to Read Alone) Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! (Level 2) (shown below) is for grades 1-3.


DK Readers: (Proficient Readers) Secrets of the Mummies (Level 4) is design for grades 2-4.


Step into Reading from Random House books contain five steps: ready to read, reading with help, reading on your own, reading paragraphs, and ready for chapters (shown below). Although many of the books are fiction, a few are nonfiction.


The I Can Read books from HarperCollins contain five levels: shared reading, beginning readings, reading with help, reading alone, and advanced reading. A few nonfiction books are available including the Wildlife Conservation Society books, however they're best known for fiction books.

Let's Read and Find Out is a particularly useful series because the focus in specifically on works of nonfiction. The HarperCollins series contains levels called stages like the other series.


National Geographic Kids is another example of a science-based leveled reading series.


Look for series that introduce your readers to topics of interest as well as content area topics.

Seedlings by The Creative Company is a series for kindergarten children. The books introduce animals through full page photographs and basic language. They also include a table of contents, words to know, read more, websites, and index that can be used to teach the structure of informational reading.


Novice readers are often also novice learners. Fisher and Frey (2011) note that

"a hallmark of a novice learner is that they are not good at knowing what information they need for a task, and therefore they frequently overlook existing knowledge they possess when learning something new. In order to spur new learning, activate the background knowledge students will need to use."

The K-W-L chart is a commonly used tool for students to organize what they know, what they want to know, and what they learned.

try itTry It!
Explore the Scholastic Bookwizard. This online tool helps librarians, teachers, and parents locate materials by reading level.

Think about the reading needs of pre-readers and emergent readers.
Identify four sets of three books that meet the needs of maturing children as they more from pre-reader to early emergent reader to emergent reader to fluent reader. How are their needs and interests different? What criteria will you use to select books in each category?

Read-aloud Nonfiction

whyIn Nonfiction Reading Power, Gear (2008) notes that nonfiction read-alouds are engaging because short excerpts can be taken from any informational text. Unlike works of fiction that generally have a story arc that requires reading beginning to end, explanatory nonfiction experiences can involve very short commitments of time.

Just open a book like Guinness Book of World Records and enjoy a piece of trivia. Gear notes that "question and answer" books are particularly good sources for read-aloud activities. Read a question and ask students to think about the answer and discuss it with friends. Then, share ideas and learn the answer from the book.

Young children are always asking "why"? Books like National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Why by Amy Shields is a place to start. This series of "First Big Books" are great for exploring questions and answers.

Below are a few of Gear's (2008) recommendations for nonfiction read-alouds:

Particularly for the primary grades, read-aloud books are an important part of the curriculum. The connection between narratives and informational texts as read-aloud is important. Narratives can provide a realistic context for learning concepts. They also provide an opportunity to introduce key vocabulary in an informal and meaningful way. Informational texts provide facts and background information that help address student concerns and questions.

Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle by Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson, and Mary Nethery tells the true story of a Marine who is able to save a dog during war. In addition to the book, the accompanying website contains lots of resources to extend the real-life experience through maps and photos. These could be shared with a large group with a projector.


By using read-aloud books, it's possible to introduce books slightly above the reading levels of children. Books that might otherwise be too difficult to read can become more accessible in the read-aloud environments.

"In the last few years, informational texts that are rich and accessible to even first and second grades are available although many more such texts are needed. Because students at these grades can listen to much more complex material than they can read themselves, read-aloud selections should be provided for the teachers in the curriculum materials. These should be at levels of complexity well above what students can read on their own. Science and social studies in particular should be taught in such a way that students have access to the concepts and vocabulary through read-alouds beyond what they can read on their own. To develop reading comprehension and vocabulary for all readers, the selected informational texts need to build a coherent body of knowledge within and across grades." (Coleman & Pimentel, 2012)

immigrationKeep in mind that read-alouds aren't just for the primary grades. Seek out materials that can serve as the basis for discussion or debate. For instance, Denied, Detained, Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of Immigration (2009) by Ann Bausum opens with Emma Lazaru's famous poem "The New Colossus" and explores disturbing stories of immigration. A number of short biographies are presented that provide different immigration scenarios that could be discussed.

Another great example for older students is Capital by Lynn Curlee. This book explores the construction of key government buildings including the Capitol.

Read-Aloud Selection

When considering read-aloud options, think about how the book will be used. If the individual pages will be shown to the group, look at the size of the images and how they contribute to the book. Also consider whether there are opportunities for group interaction such as questioning or predictable elements. Also, think about how the passages sound when read aloud. Rhyming elements create a fun cadence for listening.

Let's Go Nut! Seeds We Eat (2013) by April Pulley Sayre is a good example. Exploring the world of edible seeds, the book contains close-up photos. It also makes use of rhyming text and chants. End notes provide information that can clarify questions that children might ask. The author even provides seed photos that could be integrated into a display.


Read Stead, Tory (2014). Nurturing the Inquiring Mind through the Nonfiction Read-Aloud. The Reading Teacher, 67(7), 488-495. IUPUI students can view the article online.

fishBook Spotlight

by Jonathan Tweet explores the concept of evolution using easy to understand examples.

The picture book introduces each branch on the tree of life with familiar examples and engages readers through active questioning. The consistent format, colorful illustrations, and predictable approach contribute to the book’s appeal.

The end notes include an evolutionary tree of life, science notes for parents, and ideas for explaining natural selection to children.

Librarians will find this well-written book to be a useful addition to the primary grade science curriculum. Involve students in exploring a branch of the evolutionary tree of life and create a mural in the library.

To learn more about the book and author, go to

Books for Read-aloud

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) provides a list of Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks. Within this list you'll find ideas for read-aloud informational texts. Examples are found below:

Each year, the Indiana Library Federation puts out a list of read-aloud books. Occasionally, works of nonfiction appear on the list. Some examples are found below:

First Grade Example

Santoro, Chard, Howard and Baker (2008) conducted a study at the first-grade level involving read-aloud narrative and informational text. They found that children who received an enhanced "read-aloud curriculum" involving a range of activities before, during, and after listening to informational texts increased their vocabulary knowledge and comprehension skills.

Both topical narratives and associated informational texts were used. Key vocabulary were introduced along with the narratives that provided a context for the concepts. The informational texts were used concurrently. They used the following read-aloud, informational texts.

Criteria for Book Selection

The following selection criteria were part of the study by Santoro, Chard, Howard and Baker (2008).


Target audience

Diversity and multicultural connections

Text coherence

Text-to-text author/illustrator connections

Book Sets for Study

The following books were part of the study by Santoro, Chard, Howard and Baker (2008).

Science: Mammals

Social Studies: Thanksgiving

Science: Reptiles

Social Studies: African American Leaders

Social Studies: Presidents

Science: Insects

Read Duke, Nell K. (November 2013). Starting practices. Educational Leadership, 40-44. IUPUI students can view the article online.

try itTry It!
Browse the list above as well as the Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks found in the appendix of the CCSS. Select a read-aloud book off the list. Identify three other books on the same topic in a library. Why do you think this book was identified as a good read-aloud book? What are issues related to selecting read-aloud nonfiction narratives and informational texts? How are they like and unlike works of fiction?

Create your own booksets for a real-aloud program. It's fine to include a combination of narrative nonfiction and informational texts. Include the selection criteria along with the books selected. Be sure to include key words and concepts associated with the books.


Arnold, Renea & Colburn, Nell (November 2007). True stories. School Library Journal, 53(11), 32.

Belfast, Monica A. (March 2015). Lessons from research on young children as readers of informational texts. Language Arts, 92(4), 270-277. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Calo, Kristine M. (2011). Incorporating informational texts in the primary grades: a research-based rationale, practical strategies, and two teachers' experiences. Early Childhood Education, 39, 291-295. Available

Cianciolo, Patricia J. (2000). Informational Picture Books for Children. American Library Association. Preview Available

Coleman, David & Pimentel, Susan (2012). Revised Publishers' Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy, Grades K-2. Available

Dresser, Mariam Jean & Klutzier, Sharon Benger (2015). Teaching Informational Text in K-3 Classrooms: Best Practices to Help Children Read, Write, and Learn from Nonfiction. Guilford Publications.

Duke, Nell K. (November 2013). Starting practices. Educational Leadership, 40-44. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Fisher, Douglas & Frey, Nancy (2011). Best practices in content-area literacy. In L.M. Morrow, L.B. Gambrell, & N.K. Duke, Best Practices in Literacy Instruction. Guilford Press.

Gear, Adrienne (2008). Nonfiction Reading Power: Teaching Students How to Think While They Read all Kinds of Information. Pembroke Publishers. Preview Available

Isaacs, Kathleen T. (2012). Picturing the World: Informational Picture Books for Children. ALA Editions.

Job, Jennifer & Coleman, Mary Ruth (July 2016). The importance of reading in earnest: non-fiction for young children. Gifted Child Today, 154-163. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Larkin-Lieffers, Patricia A. (March 2015). Finding informational books for beginning readers: an ecological study of a median-household-income neighborhood. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 39(1), 1-35. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Santoro, L. E., Chard, D. C., Howard, L., & Baker, S. K. (2008). Making the VERY most of read alouds to promote comprehension and vocabulary. Reading Teacher, 61(5), 396-408.

Shanahan, Timothy, Callison, Kim, Carriere, Christine, Duck, Nell K. Pearson, P. David, Schatschneider, Christopher, & Torgeson, Joseph (September 2010). Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade. Available

Strickland, Dorothy S. (2013). Linking early literacy research and the Common Core Standards. In S.B. Neuman & L.B. Gambrell, Linda B., Quality Reading Instruction in the Age of Common Core Standards. International Reading Association.

Torr, Jane & Clugston, Lynn (1999). A comparison between informational and narrative picture books as a context for reasoning between caregivers and 4-year-old children. Early Child Development and Care, 159(1).

Williams, T. Lee (2009). A framework for nonfiction in the elementary grades. Literacy Research and Instruction, 48(3), 247. Available

| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Teacher Tap | 42explore | About Us | Contact Us | 2013-2018 Annette Lamb

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.