Listen, sometimes it’s tough to get kids to read. And it’s often tougher to get them to read informational books that actually – gasp – teach them something. I get that. Too many times, informational text is synonymous with boring. And that’s unfortunate. We should do better by our kids.
Informational text (what we old-timers used to call nonfiction) doesn’t have to be dull and tedious. In fact, there’s a steady stream of great books coming out that happen to be beautiful, engaging, fun . . . and informative!
I’ve rounded up a few recent titles that are exceptionally good at injecting some beauty and imagination into nonfiction topics – and should be page-turners for even reluctant readers.
Recommended age groups are notoriously difficult to get right since kids’ interests and reading levels are all over the place. Therefore, with that in mind, these books are arranged in order of their appeal to general age groups – youngest kids first.
I should note that all of these books would make great holiday gifts, but if you’re looking for other book ideas this holiday season, check out GeekDad’s holiday gift guide for books.
Curious George Discovers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a new series of informational books using perennial preschool favorite Curious George to teach science. Each book follows George and the Man in the Yellow Hat as they explore different topics. (Available now: Germs, Ocean, Rainbow, Sun, Space, Senses.) The main storyline presents a lot of great information to young readers, but most pages also include a “Did you know…?” callout box that presents more detailed information and facts relevant to the topic. For example, the book about space uses these boxes to introduce the International Space Station, gravity, animals in space, Mars rovers, and lots of other great age-appropriate details. Each book also includes science experiments kids can do by themselves (or with some supervision), using mostly household objects.
101 Animal Super Powers (Scholastic) includes – you guessed it – 101 amazing animal abilities. Each page presents one very real “super power,” a descriptive paragraph about the power, and some fantastic photography. What kind of super powers are we talking about? This is the stuff comic book superheroes would kill to have. For example, did you know that wood frogs can freeze and thaw or that hammerhead sharks sense electrical signals? Did you know that holy cross toads ooze superglue or that rats smell in stereo (each nostril can detect different odors)? This book is like a condensed version of all the best parts of a wildlife documentary and will appeal to kids obsessed with animals (who isn’t?) and kids who can’t get enough superheroes.
Welcome to New Zealand: A Nature Journal (Candlewick Press) is a picture book designed to look like a handwritten, handmade journal. The gorgeous illustrations and wonderful ideas will surely inspire kids to start their own nature journals, regardless of where they live. Don’t let the title fool you, this book includes a ton of great ideas for how kids can open their eyes, explore their own backyard, investigate, make new discoveries, and write it all down. Pages are dedicated to showing kids how to make a seasonal color wheel, press leaves, and keep a moon or cloud log. The book also explores many familiar “climates” (garden, park, wetlands, city street, countryside, forest, mountains, beach, zoo) and suggests specific things kids can do and look for as they walk through them. This is a beautifully designed book that inspires on several different levels.
Tractor: The Definitive Visual History (DK) is probably more than you ever wanted to know about tractors. But flipping through the book is just a ridiculous amount of fun. If you have even a passing interest in tractors or heavy machinery (and I know a lot of kids have way more than a passing interest), I can’t imagine any other book being more definitive than this. If you’ve ever seen a DK book, you know the format. Tractor presents hundreds of different tractors in stunning full-color photographs and organized both chronologically and by function. Each tractor is also accompanied by a fact box (including date of manufacture, country of origin, type of engine, and info about horsepower and transmission) and a brief descriptive paragraph. Throughout the book, there’s also a lot of supporting text that dives deeper into specific models and manufacturers, examines farming and agriculture around the world, and contextualizes all of the photos by presenting a detailed history of the tractor throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. But it’s the photos that draw you in, and it’s the photos that keep you turning the pages.
Animalium (Big Picture Press) is the first title in the highly illustrated, oversized (11″ x 15″) Welcome to the Museum series of books. The basic conceit here is that each book presents a curated collection of museum artifacts, and Animalium focuses on the tree of life. Chapters are dedicated to invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and more, and each of those chapters is further broken down to specific classes or species types. Gorgeous illustrations fill up these oversize pages and are a beauty to behold. Each specimen is also accompanied by a brief description, as if it were a museum label. This book is definitely for older kids (and adults) who want to explore these creatures through a novel format and with a bit more depth.
Historium (Big Picture Press) is the second entry in the Welcome to the Museum series. If Animalium is like walking through a natural history museum, then Historium opens the doors to an art museum filled with archaeological wonders from ancient civilizations. Chapters are devoted to vast regions of Earth (Africa, America, Asia, Europe, The Middle East, Oceania) and then further divided by specific countries and cultures. Again, gorgeous illustrations fill up these huge pages and show dozens of artifacts, from stone arrowheads to funerary carvings to life-size marble statues, along with museum-style text features that present just enough information to ignite your curiosity and send you off on your own exploration of specific artifacts or entire cultures. I’m anxiously waiting to see what’s next for this fascinating series.
(Disclosure: I received review copies of these books.)