TRC Read to Kids

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Amazing World of Children's Nonfiction

What do kids love to read, is abundantly available, feeds reading motivation and strengthens comprehension, all at once?  Nonfiction books. Kids love nonfiction and they benefit from reading it, and yet one study shows that first-grade teachers allotted only 3.66 minutes per day for reading nonfiction in the classroom.


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
and experiments
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
Here is an example of a book that provides information in layers.  You can read the large text on each page quickly with a young child.  You can read smaller text and explore illustrations with an older child. You can also dig deep into appendices and charts provided at the end of the book.

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.

Favorite Series:

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.

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