Nonfiction Monday with Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough

October 19th, 2009

The following are book recommendations taken from the “Books for Nonfiction Writing from the Heart” book list in A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades, a new book by Georgia Heard and Jen McDonough. Georgia and Jen picked these books not because they are necessarily new, but because these particular ones are timeless and classics and because all are excellent examples of exploring wonders from the heart – a genre of writing that they describe in more detail in their book.

Be sure to check out the first stop on Georgia and Jen’s blog book tour on A Year of Reading blog and then follow them over to Carol’s Corner and Miss Rumphius Effect later this week! You can also participate in a live webcast with Georgia and Jen on Monday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. Just send your name and e-mail address to

Byrd Baylor’s The Other Way to Listen is one of my all-time favorites. I have reread this book a hundred times as there is such timeless wisdom in Byrd Baylor’s words. An elderly man teaches a young boy how to listen to the earth like a poet – not just to label trees and rocks, etc. with proper names – but to listen with heart and a deep understanding to the earth’s beauty. In the classroom, we read these lines from the book to introduce the Discovery Table, “…go get to know/one thing/as well/as you can” — as children hold their beloved objects from nature in their hands — they are invited to use their senses to get to know their objects. It’s amazing that this simple story has provided such positive inspiration to kids who are aware, more than ever, of the earth’s beauty, but also of its fragility.

The Wise Old Woman and Her Secret by Eve Merriam is a story about an elderly woman, and the townspeople who demand to know the secret of her wisdom. She tells them they can look for it, and they rummage through her house and search her yard, but leave without any answers. Only a young girl discovers the secret– which is that wisdom comes from taking the time to look closely, and being curious. It’s a great read aloud to introduce wonder centers, and to inspire children to keep wondering and asking questions about the world around them.

Everyone knows the well-known Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox but I’m not sure how many people realize that it’s a great way to introduce exploring writing wonders from the heart. We asked children in Jen McDonough’s first grade if they remember what Wilfred Gordon’s question is, and many of them remembered that it is, “What’s a memory?” We told the children that Wilfred Gordon didn’t go look in a book, or search the internet for the answer; instead, he called on his friends who lived in the old people’s home next door, among others, Mrs. Jordan, Mr. Tippett and Miss Mitchell – who all gave answers from their hearts. We then asked the children in Jen’s class to explore and write one of their heart wonders, and try to answer from their hearts.

The First Song Ever Sung by Laura Krauss Melmed is another great example of a heart wonder book. When a little boy asks, “What was the first song ever sung?” he questions his father, brother, sister — all the people in his family — and each one gives him a different answer — none scientific – but instead, poetic, unique and rooted in their life experiences.

Entry Filed under: Nonfiction Monday

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Amy Rudd  |  November 13th, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    The Wise Old Woman and Her Secret by Eve Merriam-The name of the book is The Wise Woman and Her Secret. You might want to fix it. I am looking forward to reading this book as I just requested a copy of it from my local branch library. Thanks for mentioning it as a resource.

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