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Nonfiction Theme – Working Together

Last night I spent hours watching televised speeches at the Democratic National Convention. After the first couple of speakers, some of the rhetoric and facts started to feel repetitive which was okay because what emerged for me as the evening progressed was a powerful theme. By “COMING TOGETHER” – we can solve problems of the 21st century. One politician, one entrepreneur, one student, one teacher, one anybody cannot do alone what we can do together. The reason this jumped out at me is because this theme or central idea is prevalent in many of the current nonfiction books I’ve been reading lately.

One book that comes immediately to mind is Marc Aronson’s Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners From 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert (2011). Never before had the world faced the problem of 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet underground (think “farther than the length of seven football fields”) beneath 708,000 tons of rock (think “ the weight of 88,500 African male elephants”). Aronson reveals the unprecedented “coming together” of experts from all over the world to solve the myriad of problems this catastrophe posed. Teams worked to not only find the miners (17 days), but to keep them alive and healthy until they could be brought to the surface (another 53 days). “Unbelievable” is what I thought as I read this short narrative (94 pages).  And, yet, this is how the world is succeeding in the 21st century – by coming together, by collaborating, by tapping new technologies and collective human wisdom.

Other books I’d recommend that reveal the power of these ideas include:

  • The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon (McClafferty, 2011)
  • The Hive Detectives (Burns, 2010).

Of course, problem solving in new ways to solve society’s dilemmas is not a 21st century phenomenon. Some of my favorite books trace how novel ways of working together have emerged and succeeded in the past. A couple of favorites include:

  • Marching for Freedom (Partridge, 2009)
  • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Hoose, 2009)
  • The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure (Sandler, October 2012) (Oh, my! I couldn’t put this one down!)

Okay…so I’ve included a lot in this blog entry. I just want to close with one more thought – all of these books are so, so, so worthy of being read aloud to students or being read independently by students and discussed in small, student-led groups. There is so much that might happen for kids, tweens, and teens if we open up these books for them! More on this soon!

For reviews of the books I have listed, visit my virtual bookshelf at

Related Common Core State Standards:

Reading Standards for Informational Text

  • Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text (5th grade).
  • Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas (8th grade).

Speaking and Listening Standards

  • Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly (3rd-8th grade).

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