In Praise of Nonsense and Nonfiction

In the wake of the Common Core and the call to read more complex texts, I fear that some genres and titles may get lost in the shuffle. I believe our more light-hearted texts such as the ones I list below should stand side-by-side with the nonfiction titles in our classroom libraries. Here is a post I recently wrote on my school’s blog about some of my favorites.

I recently shared with a group of parents some of my favorite books for reading aloud to kids. Because it can be hard to decide where to start if you have not read aloud to your child before, I thought I would recommend two types of books, nonsense and nonfiction. Both genres are high interest and fun to read.


Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

This picture book is about a boy who gets his kite stuck in a tree. He starts throwing items at the tree to get his kite down, but instead they also get stuck in the tree. The boy continues to find new things to throw, which get larger and more strange with each page. This is an enjoyable book to predict with your child what will happen next.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

The bear has lost his hat. He asks many of his animal friends if they have seen it, but they have not. One animal is not being truthful, though, and soon the bear realizes who the guilty party is. The ending is very funny and allows for the reader to determine what really happened.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

This anthology of poems is a classic. It may have been around when you were in school. Some of the poems use nonsense words even in the title, such as “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too”. Kids (and adults) at any age level love hearing these poems over and over. That makes this book a great choice for families with more than two kids to read to and not a lot of time.

I Must Have Bobo! and I’ll Save You Bobo! by Eileen & Marc Rosenthal

Bobo the monkey is a favorite stuffed animal of the main character. Unfortunately, Earl the cat is also very fond of Bobo. He works hard to steal him away from his owner at any opportunity. The facial expressions of Earl are hilarious. The illustrator also does a nice job of giving you clues about what that cat is up to before it happens.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

Ever wanted to host a dragon party? Then you must have tacos! Just don’t bring any spicy salsa. This everybody book gives the reader step-by-step instructions for feeding and entertaining dragons. Of course, someone didn’t check the label on the salsa, which contains jalapenos. Can you guess what might happen next?


Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz

The author describes his four dogs and their jobs on his family farm. Rose, Izzie, Freida and Lenore all fulfill different roles, like guard dog. But what does Lenore do? This question is asked throughout the text, as her job is not as clearly defined, but it is just as important as the others.

The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story by Pegi Deitz Shea

Although this story would be found in the fiction section, it is based on the many stories of the Hmong people’s journey from Southeast Asia to the U.S. It is told in two different settings: The present time as Little Mai patiently waits for an opportunity to leave her refugee camp for America, and the past which details the hardships she encountered up to now.

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki

Similar to the last title, this book describes the internment camps the Japanese Americans were sequestered to during World War II. To pass the time, the prisoners create a baseball field and start to play games. Their sense of purpose and community helped keep their hopes up during this dark period in America.

Testing the Ice by Sharon Robinson

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. Now retired, his daughter tells the story of her family wanting to ice skate on the frozen pond. The author shows a different and yet familiar side of Jackie, one who is deathly afraid of water, but goes out to test the ice in spite of his fears. This biography is a profile in courage.

Dreams: Listen to Our Voices by Regie Routman and 5th graders from Denver, Colorado

Immigrant students from Mexico share their aspirations, with guidance from Regie Routman, an expert in literacy instruction. Some of their stories are funny, some are sad. What all the students’ stories have in common: they are real, and they are full of hope. It is a very inspiring read.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

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