Reading Nonfiction with Children

Friday, May 4, 2018

For some, nonfiction can seem intimidating. Understandably you might feel like story time is a chance to read with your child solely for pleasure and while fiction may seem best suited to this task, early exposure to fact-centric books can expand a child's understanding of both their world and the people in it. Jim Trelease of The Read Aloud Handbook fame states: "As you read to a child, you’re pouring into the child’s ears (and brain) all the sounds, syllables, endings, and blendings that will make up the words she will someday be asked to read and understand. And through stories you are filling in the background knowledge necessary to understand things that aren’t in her neighborhood — like war or whales or locomotives.”

Indeed, it's never too early to introduce children to the wonderful world of nonfiction. By focusing your search on reading material from these five categories you can feel confident selecting great nonfiction titles and encourage your kids to more fully read (and enjoy!) nonfiction.
1. Animals — This might be the easiest category to start with since children—even before their first birthday—are naturally drawn to animals. You may own pets or make regular outings to the zoo which reinforce the connection between species. Some libraries and pet adoption centers even have story time with cats and dogs. And of course there are always a host of creatures to be seen on neighborhood walks. We've had success with the Disgusting Creatures series and anything to do with sea faring animals. If you're looking for an all purpose book about animals, Book of Bones: 10 Recording-Breaking Animals is remarkable and can easily be used for children from ages 3-8. Let your child be the guide though. If they are fascinated with elephants try this book. Likewise if they can't get enough bugs, The Big Book of Bugs (or anything by Yuval Zommer) would be perfect.
2. Events I find that this is often the "hard topics" category and may best be suited for older children. Nonfiction is a great way to discuss injustice and tragedies with kids; however, it's also a chance to showcase movements to spread peace and justice that have shaped our world. One book that's especially useful for showcasing children's involvement in activism is Let The Children March.

3. People Here is a chance to get creative and find famous or well-known individuals with the same name as your child. We did this for our daughter starting with the Little People, Big Dreams series. Black History Month (February) and Women's History Month (March) are great times to guide reading towards more nonfiction titles even before kids start formal education. Lastly, looking inside the human body is a fascinating way to pique curiosity. We like Professor Astro Cat's Human Body Odyssey (shown below) and My Body: Explained and Illustrated
4. Places As summer rolls around, road trips and other vacations are likely on the horizon. This is an excellent opportunity to grab a maps book and talk about where you'll be traveling to as a family. We like The 50 States book and can't wait for the forthcoming National Parks of the USA. Similarly there are A LOT of wonderful children's books geared towards specific cities and countries around the world, it you are planning to travel abroad City Atlas is an especially handy resource.

5. Things Here is where you (parent or educator) can easily showcase some of your interests to children. Likewise you can encourage them to delve into learning more about something they like. For example, we have an abundance of plant books in our home because I have an affection for all things green and Botanicum is an especially handsome book. Similarly, Under Water, Under Earth is a fantastic resource to explore various layers of the natural world. Lastly, if you know anyone under the age of five I'm fairly certain their innate obsession with band aids would make reading The Boo-Boos That Changed the World a great way to discuss ordinary people as creatives and inventors.

Clearly this is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully these five categories can guide you in thinking about ways to engage children more fully in the world around them. For more nonfiction titles you can search #bookbloomnonfiction on Instagram where we are always adding terrific titles for children of all ages. If you have a nonfiction book you love let us know in the comments.

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