Book Twins: Linking Fiction and Nonfiction

In the midst of an avalanche of end-of the school year projects, one caught my eye.

Book twins—comparing and contrasting fiction and non-fiction books.

Book Nerd Mom is so excited.

This is an angle I hadn’t seen before and  is a great way to merge the strengths of fiction and non-fiction while keeping them both relevant and interrelated.

As a writer, parent and school employee, I can’t ignore the importance of schools and libraries in developing readers. There’s a strong push in the classroom toward non-fiction, which as a NF-loving girl I don’t mind—too much. (Click here  to see a chart on page 5 showing the  recommended distribution of reading in the Common Core Standards)

I have to admit, I worry about fiction getting lost in the move toward informational text. Tying fiction and non-fiction together in the classroom is a way to ensure that fiction remains relevant in the current test driven, funding- compromised school climate. Because believe me, not every child has a Book Nerd Mom, Dad or Grandparent at home encouraging them to read.

This project is a great way to help kids break out of their mold if they gravitate strongly toward fiction or non-fiction but don’t really enjoy the other. My son has to do a PowerPoint presentation which also adds technology to the mix.  At home or with younger kids, you could remove the PowerPoint feature—and maybe add a collage, photo album, chart or graph—whatever it takes to keep your reader excited. Or you can simply read and discuss which I have found that even my older kids will still do. Actually, it is one of the few ways I have found to get them to talk to me about things other than what’s for dinner and my chauffeur-related duties (which they usually text to me in a barely comprehensible code anyway).

If I were doing a book twin project, I would choose to compare and contrast Chuck Close: Facebook with Sharon Draper’s Out of my Mind. I choose these two books because I can relate to them personally. Sharon Draper was a teacher in the same district where I currently work as an occupational therapist. My work as an OT also made the subject matter of both books personal which always strengthens a book project.

Single sentence summary: Out of My Mind  is the story of  Melody, an extremely bright girl with cerebral palsy who is also non-verbal, and her struggle to communicate and fit in. Out of My Mind will be released in paperback tomorrow, May 1, 2012.

Chuck Close: Facebook is an interactive biography of the American artist and how he used his unique artistic perspective to overcome dyslexia, learning disabilities, facial blindness and a later stroke that partially paralyzed him. I found this book on April’s MUF New Release page and had to check it out.

How These Book Twins are Alike: Both books show the power of overcoming obstacles with strong main characters who weren’t defined by their disabilities. Melody and Chuck both had supportive families and eventually found ways to use technology and creative thinking to overcome their difficulties. Both Chuck and Melody were focused and disciplined and subsequently outperformed those around them.

How These Books Are Different;  Melody’s disability prevented her from communicating and was apparent to everyone who met her. Chuck’s early struggles were invisible. Melody was a genius trapped by her physical limitations. She had strong verbal skills, but couldn’t express them. She had a photographic memory that allowed her to learn quickly since she was often underestimated and had to learn from her environment. Her disability was visible but her skills were hidden. She had to figure out how to get people to know what she was thinking.

Chuck used his art—a focus on faces–  to make sense of his environment and to help him to remember faces. His art allowed him to clearly show his abilities in a striking way and allowed him to better connect with people. Many of his subjects were friends or fellow artists which he used subjects for his art. This process helped him to better recognize who they were. He used grids in his art as a means to provide external structure due to his difficulty with focus and organization. Later Chuck, like Melody, became confined to a wheelchair and had limited control of his hands. He then had to consider even more unique methods of creating art.

Food for Thought: Melody and Chuck had every reason to give up but chose not to. What would I choose?

“In life you can be dealt a winning hand of cards and you can find a way to lose, and you can be dealt a losing hand and find a way to win. True in art and true in life: you pretty much make your own destiny.” –Chuck Close

In my to-be-read pile:  Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Let’s Talk:  If you were doing a Book Twins project, what books would you choose and why? What other ways can people who love books support the importance of fiction in developing important analytical skills in the current test driven, STEM-focused educational environment? How can fiction and non-fiction work together to deepen knowledge of a subject?

Joanne Prushing Johnson would like to acknowledge her fellow occupational therapists who work to see potential and possibility in their students, clients and patients. April is National Occupational Therapy Month. Photo from Book cover photos from