A whole world awaits
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When we think of children’s books, we often think of fiction. And why not? Fiction is just so elastic. It can be stretched in so many fun and fascinating ways: Comedy – Bunicula! Sci-fi – The Teacher from the Black Lagoon! Thrillers – The Dollhouse Murders! Adventures – Hatchet!
But, guess what? Done well, non-fiction books for kids can be just as engaging. And, because they are based on real life, they offer other benefits, as well. The autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, can ignite a thirst for social justice. A book about sharks can send a budding scientist down the path to oceanography. An in-depth look at someone who triumphs against the odds can instill a sense of determination in its young readers.
Non-fiction books offer other benefits to young readers, too. Because they often use technical terms specific to their topic, they provide a great opportunity for kids to practice using context clues while reading. A book about trail riding, for example, might describe a rider putting a “headstall” on her horse. Since the paragraph already mentioned the saddle, a child might be able to infer that a “headstall” is like a bridle. These new terms will also let children practice sounding out unknown words – a valuable skill that literally follows us into adulthood.
Best non-fiction books for kids
Non-fiction is such a wide field, it’s easy to target the interests of almost every child. Try to match young readers with subjects that interest them. It will not only drive their desire to find more books, it will also push them to pick more-challenging books, increasing their reading speed and expanding their vocabulary.
So, offer variety. A boy who’s bored by horses, might just be thrilled to read about motocross. A girl who doesn’t like biographies, might really love books about sharks. Or rock climbing. Or the space program. You get the idea.
Non-fiction books for preschoolers
Kids at this age have a nearly insatiable thirst for knowledge. Everywhere they look, there are new things to touch, think about and explore. The non-fiction books that will most interest them are the ones that open new windows into the wide world all around them.
Remember, too, at this age, children are very tactile learners. Choose books for them that are not only bright and visually attractive, but have physical elements as well: moving parts, different textures, shaped pages.
|Where is Baby’s Bellybutton? – This sturdy book with flaps to lift up and peek under, by Karen Katz, combines a simple anatomy lesson with the fun of a peek-a-boo game.|
|Truck – This book by author DK, presents all those big, tough moving machines that fascinate the little ones, each with a different texture to touch and explore.|
|A Day at the Airport – While Richard Scarry’s iconic books star bunnies, snakes and hippos, they explore the real world all around us. The youngest readers will find something new and fascinating to consider every time they turn a page.|
Non-fiction books for emergent readers (grades 1 – 3)
As children grow, their interest in all that is happening in the wide world around them grows, too. At this age, however, they will want a little more substance. They don’t want a book that just shows pictures of sharks, they want to know where those sharks live, how they eat, and what they do all day.
Early readers should not be offered books with large swaths of text, however. They will still be drawn, for the most part, to books with illustrations or photographs on nearly every page.
|Trombone Shortie – This “Caldecott Honor Book” and “Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award” winning book by Troy Andrews – the real-life Shortie – illustrated by Bryan Collier, tells the story of a young boy who follows a dream against the odds.|
|Locomotive – Another Caldecott winner and “Sibert Honor Book,” this book by author and illustrator Brian Floca, follows trains, work crews and families as they travel on America’s newly built trans-continental railroad.|
|Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie the Pooh – Every child loves Winnie the Pooh, but most don’t know he was inspired by a real bear. In this charming story by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss, they will learn how a little orphaned bear found its way from a crowded train station and into our hearts.|
Non-fiction books for the middle grades (grades 4 – 6)
When choosing books for kids in the middle grades, watch for kid-centric topics. A dry recitation of facts will not catch and hold their interest for long. But “icky” info about the human body, stories of giant string balls, and any book title with the word “bug” in it are sure to please.
Books for middle grade readers don’t need pictures on every page, but they should still have a few – especially if they illustrate a point or help the reader understand a description – remember that headstall? Look for books that include things like glossaries, a table of contents and chapter headings, too. These are important parts of a book that kids need to learn to use effectively.
|The Snake Scientist – Young readers can follow snake biologist, Bob Manson, as he studies snake behavior in the wilds of Canada. Written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Nic Bishop, this book not only reveals some fascinating details about these interesting reptiles, it tells kids that they can make a living learning about snakes. Cool!|
|Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor – This charming book, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, tells the story of how young Mattie Knight, one of the most prolific inventors of her day, started inventing brand new things when she was only twelve years old!|
|Mountain Lions – Written by Sandra Markle, and illustrated with stunning, up-close photographs, this book takes an equally up-close look at the lives of one of North America’s largest predators.|