Connecting Fiction to the Curriculum

So much inspiration at this year’s AASL conference!  My last post expanded on a session I attended about character education and picture books.  This post I’d like to explore a statement I heard from a presenter in a session about using literature to meet standards.  She said, “You don’t always have to read nonfiction to get to nonfiction.”

Well, you don’t have to start with nonfiction anyway.

The session focused on how to help students make connections between the literature they read for class and the world around them.  I’m a fiction lover myself, so I appreciated the idea that we can build on stories and tie them in to our students’ education.  That got me to thinking about the connections to nonfiction I could make with some of the novels I’ve been reading lately.

One of my favorite recent novels is The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin.  In this tween novel, Julia is sent to stay with family for the summer when her mother is deployed to Iraq. This means spending the summer with her niece Eliza, who is more like a cousin since the girls are the same age.  The two girls have grown up together as good friends with their make-believe games, but this summer things are different.  Julia finds herself more interested in boys while Eliza still wants to play and be a kid.  In addition to tween friendship and coming of age, this novel would be a great opportunity to talk about the war in Iraq and what it is like to have a parent in the armed forces.  Students can explore more about what it means to have a parent involved in a war with Deborah Ellis’ book, Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children, which presents true accounts of children and teens whose parents are serving in Iraq.

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri was inspired by the real black horsemen of Philadelphia, who use horses as a way to keep young men off the street.  In Neri’s novel, Cole is surprised to find the dad he has never known in a stable full of horses in the middle of the city  He doesn’t quite know what to make of the situation, but he reluctantly finds himself drawn in to the community of the stable just when it seems the city might be shutting it down.  This is urban fiction that will appeal to middle school readers, reluctant and otherwise.  The author’s note gives more information about the truth behind the story:

“The New York guys run the Federation of Black Cowboys, while the folks on Fletcher Street in Philly continue their battles against the city.  Both use horses to keep young men off the streets.  Both fight to maintain a tradition that has gone on for generations.  But their doing it their way, the Cowboy Way.”

Kids who read Cole’s story just may be inspired to do some research of their own which can connect to language arts or social studies standards.

Lindsey blogged about Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor back in May, and I must agree with her that it is “perfect for Language Arts classes.”  It is the story of Raine, who finds her life uprooted when her mother suddenly takes a job at an artist’s colony for the summer.  At first it’s hard to spend the day in silence with no other kids around, while the eccentric group of artists work.  But she finds that there are stories to be told and secrets to uncover about the history of the estate that used to be an orphanage–and about her own family.  This is a lovely novel perfect for young writers looking to find their voice.  Help your students find their own inspiration with Picture Yourself Writing Fiction: Using Photographs to Inspire Writing, which is part of the “See It, Write It” series.  Each book is highly browse-able and full of great writing guidance and ideas.

These are just a few possibilities for connection between fiction and nonfiction.   I’ll be looking for more now that I’m inspired!


Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri. Candlewick. August 2011.

Off to War: Voices of Solder’s Children by Deborah Ellis. Groundwood Books. 2010.

Picture Yourself Writing Fiction: Using Photographs to Inspire Writing by Sheila Griffin Llanas. Capstone Press. August 2011.

Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor. Putnam. May 2011.

The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Simon & Schuster. May 2011.

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