We’re talking nonfiction with a librarian!

As an author of primarily nonfiction, I thought it would be interesting to interview a librarian about all-things nonfiction for middle grade readers.

Rachel Stewart, the children’s services librarian for the Maumee (Ohio) Branch of the Toledo Lucas County Library was kind enough to answer questions I had about the topic from her perspective. Rachel has been with the TLCPL for five years. Her background is in elementary education, taught in traditional as well as a Montessori school, where she also served as an administrator. As you would expect, she is an active reader, enjoying various genres and subjects

As a children’s librarian, what nonfiction titles/subjects do you find appeal to middle grade readers the most? Middle grade readers are drawn to books about making and doing. When filling our new nonfiction displays, I notice that books related to STEAM subjects go fast, especially those that involve LEGO building or crafts. The DK book series is a constantly popular one. It is so popular that we have a designated, ongoing display of those books for customers to browse. This tells me that kids have a natural curiosity about a wide variety of topics and enjoy the graphic layout and photographs within these books.

I know that in our library system, the biographies for children, from PB to YA are shelved with biographies for adult readers. Does this lessen the exposure to young readers? (As opposed to shelving them in with children’s books?) We keep a constant display of the “Who Was/is…?” series, which has been very useful to parents and children alike. We often do temporary displays of PB bios and are currently doing a long-term display of YA/adult bios. Most often, when a child asks about bios, it is about a specific person and we can point them in the right direction (if such a book exists). We frequently do juvenile nonfiction displays on a wide variety of topics and usually include bios. There are pros and cons to interfiling, however, a major positive is that interfiling encourages young readers to choose books that they may not be exposed to in the juvenile section. Interfiling also allows adults with a lower reading level to feel comfortable browsing for books on a topic of interest.

Do you find that MG readers are borrowing nonfiction titles simply out of curiosity or because of school assignments? I believe that MGs are borrowing for both reasons. The NF displays that we keep up are heavily trafficked and browsed. I will often recommend narrative NF to reluctant NF readers just to open that door.

Does the library do much programming in nonfiction for middle grade readers? Nonfiction programming is a priority within the Toledo Lucas County Public Library system. At Maumee we have a popular programming series for grades 1-8 called “No School? No Problem!” that is focused on STEAM activities and scheduled when the local schools are off. When presenting those programs, we always include a large selection of related books for attendees to browse.

Do you have any amusing experiences with middle grade readers relating to nonfiction topics you care to share? I enjoy loading a child up with books on a favorite topic. I witness visible excitement and anticipation as if taking that stack home will be like opening a gift. 

 I also happen to have an 11-year-old that is a voracious reader of both fiction and nonfiction. He is spoiled by new books almost daily and I love when he asks what I brought for him. He is a fan of the Nat Geo and Guinness Books about world records and amazing facts. I am amused when he feels the need to share (at rapid-fire pace) interesting trivia from those books while I am driving or getting ready for work in the morning.

What are some of your favorite middle grade nonfiction titles? I have a love of cookbooks and am thrilled whenever we get new juvenile titles. Cooking encompasses so many practical life skills and supports emotional well-being. I believe learning to cook and bake should be a core part of childhood.

Thank you Rachel for your time and input!

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Julie K. Rubini
Julie K. Rubini is the author three MG biographies, including, Eye to Eye: Sports Journalist Christine Brennan, Virginia Hamilton: America's Storyteller, (Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books, 2018, Outstanding Merit) and Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Hidden Ohio. Upcoming: Psychology: Why We Smile, Strive and Sing, June 2020. Julie is also the Founder of Claire's Day, Ohio's largest children's book festival.
www.julierubini.com and www.clairesday.org
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