Nonfiction Books for Children

November 8, 2005 | 8 comments
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Most people don’t appreciate the wonderful world of children’s nonfiction books.

Here are some of my favorites:

Loreen Leedy’s books cover everything from math facts to going to the dentist and all feature bold, engaging artwork. These are best for kids ages 4-8.

Seymour Simon’s books, written on a variety of science topics, feature huge, luscious photographs. The pictures can be enjoyed by a four year old; the text is best for ages 6-9. I particularly appreciate the specificity of each book: instead of cramming the entire solar system into one book, he has a separate title for each planet.

Yes, the TV show was annoying. Yes, the art leaves quite a bit to be desired. But my children have learned a frightening amount of science from the Magic School Bus books. These are great for kids ages 3-7. Hint: the square books have much less detail than the rectangular books.

Nonfiction read-alouds are not common, but your children ages 5-9 will enjoy hearing The Story of the World, which covers history chronologically in four volumes.

Roy Gerrard’s books may be hard to find, but their charmingly quirky art and unusual topics (Sir Francis Drake, fictionalized Roman slave children) make these a delightful introduction to historical topics for young (ages 4-8) children.

The DK Eyewitness books are fairly described as ‘a museum in a book.’ The detailed, lavish illustrations make these books a delightful choice for the entire family: my three-year-old would study the pictures and I’d occasionally find my husband flipping through one.

A Street Through Time is my all-time single favorite children’s book: it features a fictionalized street in Europe, shown at each major stage from early farmers through the late twnetieth century. Children ages 5 and up and adults will love this book.

An excellent series with a broad array of science titles for the 3-7 year old set is Let’s Read and Find Out. Because these books have been written over a thirty year (or so) period, some are very modern (and, occasionally, a little too politically correct on environmental issues) and others have quaint 70′s-style artwork.

The MathStart books do for math what the Let’s Read and Find Out books do for science. These books would be especially useful for children struggling to understand math concepts, but all children would enjoy their bright colors and catchy stories.

The Time Traveling Twins books get high marks for their ability to take on difficult historical issues in a way that is meaningful to young children (such as the controversy over Thanksgiving and Native Americans) while still presenting a lively, colorful story that will engage young readers.

The matriarch of children’s nonfiction picture books is Gail Gibbons. She has books on everything from apples to Valentine’s Day to knights to owls to, well, just about everything else. These books are fabulous for the 3-7 year old set.

Demi’s books feature unique artwork that will make adults drool. In addition to titles on some less-well-known fairy tales, he writes amazing biographies of people such as Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Muhamad, and Jesus.

David Macauley’s books on architecture should not be missed.

Arnold Lobel is best known for the Frog and Toad books, but his charming On the day Peter Stuyvesant sailed into town should not be missed, even though it is out of print.

The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library occasionally sacrifices depth for rhyme, but the familiar color and rhythm of Dr. Seuss more than makes up for that in this series of science titles aimed at the very youngest children.

Another excellent science series is Sam’s Science, which reaches surprising depth and complexity while still being readable and interesting for young children.

Most parents will already be familiar with Aliki’s books (some of which are in the Let’s Read and Find Out series), but one that should not be missed is A Medieval Feast.

Another excellent title–focusing on medieval ink making, illuminating manuscripts, and book making, is Marguerite Makes a Book.

Strega Nona may be Tomie dePaola’s best-known work, but he has many nonfiction titles that are worth reading.

This isn’t quite nonfiction, but Marcia Williams has written aseveral comic-book-like (but not quite as edgy) adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays and other classic works. My son spent his own money on Tales from Shakespeare and loves it.

Peter Sis’ Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei is beautiful and has just the right amount and level of text for a 5-8 year old.
Please share your favorite children’s nonfiction books in the comments.

8 Responses to Nonfiction Books for Children

  1. Melissa Madsen Fox on November 8, 2005 at 11:09 am

    I know they’re not “books”, per se, but our kids have really enjoyed Jim Weiss’s re-telling of various historical stories. They really like Galileo and the Stargazers and Abraham Lincoln. And, amazingly, we learn a lot, too.

    We also like the DK series “Children Like Me” — they do celebrations, as well as differing lifestyles from around the world.

    We also enjoy the Christmas Around the World series from World Book. Russell had these as a kid, and adored them. We’ve expanded our collection. They can be found at worldbook.com (or something like that); you have to search, but they’re there.

  2. Bryce I on November 8, 2005 at 11:53 am

    I can’t recommend highly enough Art Fraud Detective by Anna Nielsen. The premise: vandals have broken into the museum and replaced paintings by the masters with forgeries. It’s your job to identify the forgeries by looking carefully for discrepancies between the museum catalog and the painting hanging on the wall. A fun book, and a great way to get your kids (and yourself) to look at paintings carefully.

    Another recommendation, although not to read, are the Anti-Coloring Books by Susan Striker. These are coloring books that are not blackline drawings to be filled in, but creative prompts to the child (a blank passport, a dream bubble, an opening door).

  3. Sue on November 8, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    I bought a book called, “How Come? Every Kid’s Science Questions Explained” for my nieces, and they love it. Actually, I ended up buying it after standing in the aisle of the bookstore for at least 15 minutes. It was fascinating and well written/entertaining. It’s written for 4th – 7th graders, but I learned quite a bit as well. (Is that sad?) I bought an extra one to read to my kids when they are just a little older. “How Come? Planet Earth” is also great.

    We also have “Your World,” a kindergarten encyclopedia that my toddlers enjoy, and an excellent illustrated dictionary that we like to sit and look through together (think it’s called the “Visual Dictionary” ?)

    For poetry, we like “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “Wynken, Blynken & Nod” (we have the one illustrated by Johanna Westerman – beautiful!), and Edward Lear’s, “The Complete Verse & Other Nonsense.” And of course Shel Silverstein.

  4. Allison on November 8, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    Julie, thanks for this post! I read mostly fiction as a child and as a result our reading program is a bit lopsided. I’ll have to check these out.

    One nonfiction book we do have and like a lot (for all ages) is Actual Size. It has pictures of animals or parts of animals that are actual size. It’s fun for kids to compare their hands to a gorillas, etc.

  5. Amira on November 8, 2005 at 10:08 pm

    Well, you asked. :)

    I second Demi’s biographies, especially that of Muhammad. It simply presents his life in a beautiful format.

    There’s something about the Eyewitness books that bother me. There are too many pictures that aren’t really related to the text, and the text is choppy. I like to look through the books, but I don’t like to teach from them. I much prefer the How the _____ Works Series.

    Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey is a great book. It translate the names of the constellations which makes it easier for children to remember.

    One of my favorites is The Islamic Year: Surahs, Stories, and Celebrations by Noorah al-Gailani. Written by a Muslim, it tells the history of the beginning of Islam through 6 major Muslim holidays. It has many stories and activities, along with relevant surahs from the Qur’an. This is an excellent book for families who don’t know anything about Islam, but also for those that already know a lot about it and want to celebrate some of its holidays.

    A 16th-Century Mosque and Ibn Tulun: The Story of a Mosque by Fiona MacDonald are excellent books on mosques.

    I’ve loved all the Jean Fritz books. My interest in early American history started with those books.

    The Remarkable Voyages of Captain Cook and Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogan by Rhoda Blumberg are fascinating.

    I’ve gone through a huge number of cookbooks about other cultures and religions and the best I’ve found is the Festivals Cookbooks Series. Sadly, they are hard to find right now, but definitely worth checking out from the library.

    I’ve also looked through a lot of books about the ocean and I like Philip’s Atlas of the Ocean by John Pernetta and The Oceans Atlas by Anita Ganeri.

    is a great little book too.

    We also like TheStory of the Greeks and The Story of the Romans by H.A. Gueber.

    That’s all I can remember here.

  6. Julie M. Smith on November 8, 2005 at 10:23 pm

    Melissa-

    We LOVE Jim Weiss. In fact, I’ve almost completely exorcised my frugality demons so I can buy the 25-CD set for Christmas. . . .

    Children Like Me is fabulous, thanks for mentioning it.

    And thank you, Bryce, Sue, Allison, and Amira. I’ll keep your suggestions in mind.

  7. GreenEggz on November 9, 2005 at 2:15 pm

    Many fathers will likely enjoy getting this non-fiction book by Shinta Cho for their very young children.

    (prepare to roll your eyes)

  8. Julie M. Smith on November 9, 2005 at 8:49 pm

    I forgot Leonard Everett Fischer. Great biographies of major figures.

    Greeneggz–this seems to me to be not your first foray into the scatalogical. As I tell my boys, we only use those words in the bathroom.