When we think about helping children find information, nonfiction books usually come to mind. As Richard Arlington, Ph.D., professor of education at the University of Tennessee, says, "Most of the reading people do across their lives is informational reading. Children are curious, and informational books and magazines can help them learn about the world in a way that stories cannot." But what informational books make the best addition to a classroom library?
Dr. Allington suggests that books (such as The New Way Things Work by David Macaulay; Penguin $35) that include cutaway drawings of household things like faucets, toilets, and toasters can be powerful learning tools for young children. A CD encyclopedia can also be another important component of your nonfiction library. Field guides on birds, fish, flowers, and animals can help children explore their interests in the natural world. Informational magazines, including Scholastic's Ranger Rick, and National Geographic's Young Explorer, help to round out your nonfiction library.
John Peters, supervising librarian at the New York Public Library's Donnell Center Central Children's Room, recommends picture dictionaries for preschoolers and new readers. Many publishers offer lines of inexpensive, high-quality children's dictionaries at a number of reading levels. Peter also likes single volume encyclopedias that combine simply presented information with stimulating color photos, such as Scholastic Children's Encyclopedia (Scholastic, 2004; $20) and The Kingfisher Illustrated Nature Encyclopedia (Houghton Mifflin, 2004;$25). Peter adds, "Keep in mind that a good nonfiction book can be as satisfying as any electronic substitute. As the original ‘multimedia,' illustrated informational books provide both visual and verbal content that children of literally any age can absorb at their own individual rate."
When selecting informational book titles for young children, an important element to consider is clear writing. The quality of illustrations is also key.
Barbara Moss, professor of literacy education at San Diego State University, looks for the 5 A's:
- Authority of the author (the author credits his or her sources)
- Appropriateness for a child audience
- Artistry ("This artistry involves text that is clearly organized, interesting, and written in a way that children can understand.")
Moss recommends sharing books by Byron Barton, Gail Gibbons, Jim Aronsky, and Seymour Simon. By reading aloud books about the real world, you "not only build knowledge about an array of topics, but familiarize children with the types of language found in the text type - language that differs from that found in stories."