Exciting Kids About Non-FictionThere’s a great scene in the movie Three Men and a Baby where actor Tom Selleck rocks the baby girl in his arms and gently reads aloud to her in a sweet voice. No, he does not read a fairy tale or other predictable bedtime story. He reads aloud a basketball story from the Sports page of the newspaper. “It doesn’t matter what I read,” he points out to a friend watching him read sweetly to the baby. “It just matters that I read like this (in a sweet voice).”
Selleck’s character actually makes a really good point: reading aloud does not need to be isolated to traditional storybook stories. Parents may also include a healthy dose of nonfiction stories in their read-aloud rotation. In fact, since the federal government’s recently mandated Common Core standards place a lot of emphasis on nonfiction texts, parents who read nonfiction to their children can help prepare them for the sounds of texts they will soon find prevalent in their schools.
What Are the Types of Nonfiction for Children?
Without getting too technical, I have seen a lot of elementary classroom teachers classify their nonfiction texts into four categories:
1. How-to Books: books that tell you how to do things.
2. Informational Picture Storybooks: books that sound like typical narrative stories but have factual information.
3. “All About” Books: books that give a lot of information about a topic.
4. Question & Answer Books: books that have a question and an answer.
Whatever type of nonfiction book you choose, keep in mind the interests of your child as well as your child’s reading capabilities.
How Do You Choose Nonfiction Books for Children?
Interests. The most important thing for parents to consider when selecting a nonfiction book – or any type of book, for that matter – for their child is to choose a book that interests their child. Reading should always revolve around the child’s interests. If your child likes dinosaurs, find lots of dinosaur books. If your child wants to learn how to bake cupcakes, find interesting baking cookbooks. I had one girl student who would read every book, magazine or newspaper article she could get her hands on about swimming. She was three years old and could not read the words, but she sat mesmerized by photos of Janet Evans and Missy Franklin.
Pictures. Try to look for books with great photographs or illustrations. Even if the book has few words, time spent in front of books is quality time. I’ve seen children stare in awe at books about how skyscrapers are made, books about freaky-looking reptiles and books about Presidents. Pages over screens: more time spent in front of books means less time spent in front of televisions and video games.
Accessibility. Make sure the texts of the books you choose are appropriate for your child. Informational picture storybooks often deal with detailed historical and technical information in an engaging and age-appropriate way. In fact, I often recommend to adults to read as many children’s books as they can to provide them the basic background knowledge they need to understand certain subjects (I, personally, tend to read children’s book biographies to see if particular figures are worth my reading time at the adult level; it’s a good way to sound intelligent at cocktail parties, too).
How Do I Read Nonfiction Books with My Child?
Be prepared for even more questioning from your child when reading nonfiction texts. One of the amazing things about children as they look to us parents as authorities on everything. While I like to consider myself well informed, I am not Google. So I try to research topics a little bit before I read with my children so I can stay a few steps ahead and seem somewhat competent in dealing with their questions.
Children are naturally curious about a wide range of topics, and nonfiction offers children answers to many of their questions, as well as pathways to many more questions. Probably the most rewarding part about reading nonfiction texts with children is the interaction between parent and child. While many storybook readings make for passive child audiences, nonfiction rarely produces such an effect. Also, nonfiction often deals with the “here and now.” I’ve seen many children enjoy talking about newspaper and magazine articles with their parents.
So try out nonfiction, and do not worry about not knowing everything. To your child, you are the wisest person on the planet. After all, you were wise enough to spend time reading with your child.
Danny Brassell, Ph.D., is “America’s Leading Reading Ambassador,” helping parents and educators inspire kids to love reading and achieve more. He is the author of 14 books, and he acted as the lead consultant for the Building School-Home Relationships kits (Shell, 2012) that have been enthusiastically adapted in school districts across the country. A father of three and professor in the Teacher Education Department at California State University-Dominguez Hills, he is the founder of The Lazy Readers’ Book Club, www.lazyreaders.com, Google’s #1-ranked site for cool, “short book recommendations” for all ages. Watch video tips and learn more from Danny at www.dannybrassell.com, where you can check out his TEDx-Village Gate talk The Reading Makeover and download other free resources.