Why read nonfiction with kids?
Kids are curious. They are hungry to learn facts about subjects that interest them (think dinosaurs, for example). In a recent survey by Scholastic, when asked what kinds of books they want, 43 percent of kids ages 6 to 17 said they want books that will teach them something new. Kids are asking for nonfiction! The great news is that half of the library is nonfiction. There are so many topics and formats to interest kids, literally something for everyone!
We can also see physiological evidence that kids like nonfiction. Brain scans show that the medial ventral orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with rewards, lights up when readers “get it." This is in addition to the part of the brain that reacts to pleasure, which also reacts when a kid enjoys a nonfiction book.
|medial ventral orbitofrontal cortex|
Reading nonfiction builds vocabulary and background knowledge, which play a critical role in reading comprehension. This is important for all kids, but for kids who are learning to speak English, exposure to nonfiction books is one of the best ways to build their vocabulary and background knowledge.
Background knowledge is like learning Velcro: it helps kids catch and connect what they know with what they are learning and also helps them retain new ideas. Sometimes it is hard for kids to build their background knowledge or hard for them to use it, so they need lots of practice. Reading nonfiction can provide that opportunity.
Reading nonfiction also helps kids learn complex sentence structure. In addition, it exposes them to academic language such as "compare and contrast" and "analyze," which they need for test taking. Those words almost never occur in fiction.
What qualities should you look for when choosing nonfiction to share with kids?
When looking through nonfiction books on your chosen topic, look for books that are engaging, accessible, multi-layered and accurate.
• Engaging: having high-quality writing, illustration, design and content, and featuring topics that interest kids
• Accessible and age-appropriate: gather multiple texts on the same topic to provide varying degrees of difficulty and different points of view
|One word and bold pictures|
for babies and toddlers
|Large font, simple text|
for preK-2nd grade
|More information, headings,|
and graphics for 2nd-5th grade
|Small font, lots of text, complex|
explanations and experiments
for 4th grade and up
• Multi-layered: containing layers of information with degrees of difficulty, so you can learn from a quick first reading but also gain more knowledge by re-reading and digging deeper
|From Steve Jenkins' Biggest, Strongest, Fastest|
• Accurate: Look through books for obvious inaccuracies before sharing them with kids and point out inaccuracies or discrepancies if you find some when reading with kids. Science and countries' borders change quickly these days.
Some of TRC's favorite nonfiction authors include the following:
Byron Barton, Nic Bishop, Lois Ehlert, Steve Jenkins, Gail Gibbons, Anne Rockwell, Seymour Simon and Joan Sweeney.
Books in the Let's Read and Find Out series, some of which are pictured above.
DK has made nonfiction books its niche. They publish nonfiction board books, early readers and formats for older readers. Some of their series are Eye Know, Eye Wonder, See How They Grow, Watch Me Grow, and Eye Witness.
Books in the Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen
Magic Tree House Research Guides by Mary Pope Osborne
Scientists in the Field series
Books published by National Geographic Kids, including board books, early readers, picture books and almanacs.
The children's librarians at your library can provide excellent guidance and suggestions if you are looking for nonfiction for a certain age range of kids or on a specific topic. From history to science, math, music, art and biography, there's a kids' book out there to feed your young readers' curiosity.
In our next blog post we'll explore the best ways to share nonfiction with kids.
To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.