| May 04, 2006

Feature Article - May 7, 2006

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Feature Article - May 7, 2006

Why do humingbirds hum?

by SusanRamsay,EarlyLiteracy SpecialistHFL&A

What roosts but isn’t a rooster? What, when startled, sounds like a purring lion? What looks like a giant bumble bee when it begins flying 5 days after birth?

If you guessed ruffed grouse you have probably gone walking in the woods and also done some research about these chicken-sized North American birds. You are part of the adult majority who reads and writes more non-fiction than fiction. Our use of the internet alone suggests that we seek vast amounts of factual information. Approximately 96% of the World Wide Web contains non-fiction or informational text. (Kamil & Lane, 1998)

If we, as adults, are persistent in our search for work-related information, entertainment, recipes, vacation destinations, news and weather, road conditions, and the scoop on ruffed grouse who drum their wings in a flurry of emotion only to disappear like Houdini into the trees, it stands to reason that children also want to know more about the world around them.


Informational text means factual writing about our nature and society. In primary classrooms we have typically shied away from using a lot of informational text with very young children. Fearing children will find the words boring, we have relied on fictional stories with strong characters and plot to hook children into reading. We are discovering, however, that if given the choice, both boys and girls will pick informational text over narrative stories almost half the time (Kletzien & Szabo 1998). More and more studies are indicating that motivation to read for boys may be sparked and maintained best through informational text.

Reading factual books with young children doesn’t mean we have to give up the beautiful illustrations, large print, and accessible vocabulary we have come to expect from high quality story books. “Birds” written by Michael Robbins is a Fandex Field Guide with 50 individually die-cut images of birds in North America . The guide is perfect for young hands to hold while studying the picture of a robin or woodpecker and spotting them in the backyard or park. On the back of each bird picture is information about food it eats, its nest, eggs and where it lives. A similar field guide has been published about “Wildflowers” by Ruth Roger Clausen.

“Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids” by Gail Gibbon and “Under One Rock: Bugs, Slugs and Other Ughs” by Anthony Fredericks combine appealing illustrations with clear, simply stated information about nature.

A child who scans the sky for honking geese; who pokes at trilliums and weeds sprouting from the earth; who notices trees turn from naked brown to leafy green; or who cradles a wriggling caterpillar will want to understand these miracles of spring. Reading informational texts with your child can motivate curiousity, reading for pleasure, and even humour.

Without knowledge jokes aren’t funny. So if your five-year asks, “Why do hummingbirds hum?” and has to tell you, “Because they don’t know the words.” you can be assured that sharing informational text together has been time well spent.

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