Mad, as in crazy, as in there’s a crazy amount of nonfiction texts out there, because there’s an incomprehensible and probably infinite number of topics that nonfiction texts can address! Nonfiction texts are how we keep learning new things at any age and how a new generation understands the world and learns to reach greater heights than the previous generation. Powerful!
It’s been awhile since the first nonfiction post–we had Spring Break and then I had a new class starting up that sucked up all my extra energy–so I don’t know where you are with the nonfiction challenge. Hopefully you have at least opened up to the idea of trying nonfiction with your kids.
What should you look for when you’re hunting nonfiction books? As with the hero tale and fairytale challenges, it’s really about knowing a handful of great authors, illustrators, or in the case of nonfiction, publishing companies, and going from there. Please realize that my lists are by NO MEANS complete lists, so if you see something that looks good to you or you think will appeal to your child, grab it. Try it. What do you have to lose? This is how I continually learn about great new authors: by trying something different (in addition to grabbing the old standbys). I am still learning too, especially in the area of children’s nonfiction.
Other things to look for in nonfiction books are: current books (especially if the topic is science-related); colorful and/or attractive to look at; photographs and illustrations that contribute to understanding the topic; for young audiences, just enough information offered but not overwhelming; older children can handle the presentation of a lot of information, but keep in mind that many nonfiction books are designed for the reader to “hop around” and read the bits and pieces they are interested in.
Remember the Crystal & Gem book from the previous post? This is a good example of a trustworthy nonfiction publishing company, DK Eyewitness Books.
Authors will vary for these books. These are pretty easy to spot on the library shelves, and they’re popular, so chances are good you will find some. Some by this company will be too much information for a child not yet in elementary school, but they publish different books for a range of age levels, so keep your eyes out for the ones that look right for your child’s comprehension abilities. The younger the child, the less clutter, the less pictures, the less information and details I’m looking for on each page.
A similar company is Usborne. They are very similar to DK Eyewitness, and also span a range of ages. Here are two for younger kids, Usborne Flap books. The Flap part means there are some flaps the child can lift to interact with the book.
Another series I discovered when my son was very young (age 2-3) is the Let’s Read and Find Out Science series. It was exactly what I was looking for to move from the simple concept-related board books for babies, and into a slightly more informative (but still not too much) text.
This series has varying stages. Stage 1 was perfect for my son probably around age 3. The one pictured above is Stage 2. This is not a readability level, but more that the content is appropriate for the different age groups. These are still meant to be read to and with a child, for the most part. Here is a link to a wide variety of these books offered for the Stage 1 group: Let’s Read and Find Out Science Stage 1 books.
As I just mentioned, for the very youngest children, babies and toddlers, nonfiction board books abound. Have you thought about the books sitting on your little one’s shelf right now? Here are my guesses as to what types of books you have. Books about: farm animals, pets, trucks, babies, weather/seasons, clothing, body parts, experiences like going to the doctor or the dentist, words babies/toddlers are learning to say and use, foods, toys, families–the list could go on!
Maybe you never really thought of them as nonfiction, but they are. So keep chugging along with these types of books if your little ones are still very young. Or if you’re ready for a little step up, try one of these other recommendations.
These books represent what I call “soft nonfiction.” Soft because they are not completely nonfictional, in that they may have imaginary characters through which we learn about a real world topic. The nonfiction part comes through in the purpose of the book; they have at their core a desire to share with young children a nonfiction topic in an interesting and innovative way.
We have loved Ellen Stoll Walsh and her little mice for a long time. Mouse Shapes teaches shapes to young children via the mice building things from a pile of shapes they’ve found, while simultaneously hiding out from that pesky cat who lurks around. I read this one with my daughter not one hour ago at her request before naptime (she is 3). It’s a favorite. Balancing Act features the same mice learning how to balance out a seesaw type of structure with different animal friends.
I saved the best for last. Dot and Jabber are nature mystery-solving mice. My son loved the mice, and he and I both love a good mystery, so this has long been a favorite with us. In the pictured book, the two mice try to figure out why their stream dried up after a big storm. There are others in this series. Go find Ellen Stoll Walsh’s books. In our library, they are included not with the nonfiction books but in the fictional picture books section, so check your library’s online catalog to be sure.
We’re hitting a variety of age groups today, so hopefully you see something that you think might pique your child’s interest. More next time, and I won’t wait so long before my next post.