Guest post by Henry Hertz
Using Fiction to Interest Young Readers in Non-Fiction
I think it’s fair to say that parents want their kids to develop both the right-brain creativity stoked by reading fiction, AND the left-brain analytical capacity encouraged from reading non-fiction. Both help round out young minds. Both improve school grades and SAT scores. Both are useful life skills.
Sadly, many young readers view only fiction as fun reading; looking down their cute noses at “boring” non-fiction. This makes fiction the chocolate pudding of the literary banquet table. History, math, and science are relegated to the role of lima beans, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Boy are they steamed!
Now, I love fiction. After all, I write fiction picture books – like the fractured fairy tale, Little Red Cuttlefish recently released by Pelican Publishing. And I moderate fantasy literature panels at San Diego Comic-Con. That said, I’ve also been long fascinated by history, math, and science.
So, how do we get kids to use both sides of their brains and eat their literary vegetables? Well, as a parent, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve resorted to melting cheese on vegetables so my co-author sons eat what’s good for them. And why not use the same technique with my writing?
Little Red Cuttlefish is a good example of this approach. The story is an aquatic retelling of the classic fairy tale. In the original, Little Red Riding Hood is swallowed whole by the wolf – not a very savory outcome (for the girl, anyway). In Little Red Cuttlefish, the plucky cephalopod protagonist uses her wits and natural defense mechanisms to thwart a hungry tiger shark.
Aside from a more positive message (they were called the Brothers Grimm, after all), the aquatic version is intended to spark young readers’ interest in learning about sea creatures, zoology, and science in general. Toward that end, the story showcases the superhero-like abilities of cuttlefish, and an author’s note serves up fascinating facts about cuttlefish and tiger sharks, an excerpt of which is below.
Cuttlefish aren’t fish at all. They are members of a class of animals that includes squids, octopuses, and nautiluses. They have a porous shell inside their bodies, called a cuttlebone, which is used to control their buoyancy.
Male cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles. Female cuttlefish have only six arms and two tentacles. The arms and tentacles have suckers for grabbing prey. And if that isn’t strange enough, their blood is greenish blue.
Cuttlefish have an amazing ability to quickly change the color, pattern, and texture of their skin. Cuttlefish can use this camouflage to sneak up on their prey, which consists mostly of crabs and fish.
The cuttlefish’s ability to quickly change color also helps it avoid being hunted by sharks, dolphins, seals, and other predators. If camouflage doesn’t work and it is spotted by a predator, a cuttlefish can squirt out a cloud of brown ink to help it hide.
Now, what kid wouldn’t want the superpowers of changing color, squirting ink, and multiple sucker-covered arms? As if by magic, fiction can point young minds in the direction of non-fiction. “Why, yes, I WILL have some broccoli now.”
Little Red Cuttlefish by Henry, Josh, & Harrison Herz
I read a free copy of this book via a Pelican Publishing eGalley in exchange for an honest review.
By now, I have read a few books by this wonderful family trio of authors and loved every one of them. As ever, the illustrations are delightful and give such magic to the story. This is a fast-paced tale about Little Red, a Cuttlefish who lives deep in the ocean. One day, while on her way to deliver a basket of yummy crab cakes to her Grandma, a big mean tiger shark chases her, and she has to use all the tricks she has up her tentacles to escape his clutches. This is a delightful tale of bravery, delivered in easy to understand and snappy sentences. With the gorgeous illustrations from the talented hands of Kate Gotfredson, even young non-readers can enjoy looking at its pages over and over again. This book is one to be enjoyed while cuddled up with a grownup doing the reading, or for older youngsters to read to themselves. I give this lovely little book a solid 5 out of 5 stars.