My son, Neil, has always been a curious child, asking questions like why we poop when we don’t eat poop when he was all of 2.5 years old. That was when I bought the first non-fiction books for him, Lift-The-Flap: Very First Questions & Answers – What is Poo? and Usborne: Look Inside Your Body. As he grew up, his questions became more complex – are barnacles alive? Do they eat the humpback whale? How do tadpoles become frogs? Where do birds live? Do they sleep at night? I had a sudden panic attack not knowing how to answer his many questions.
When I reached out to Asha, she suggested that I buy an encyclopedia. Reading an encyclopedia at 3 yrs of age seemed crazy to me, but she explained that I didn’t have to read out everything to him, I could explain things via the pictures. I was finally convinced and bought our first encyclopedia, National Geographic – Little Kids First Big Book Of Birds. Neil absolutely adored the book, which made me realise that there is no minimum age for introducing and enjoying encyclopedias. In the past year (Neil is now 4.5 years old), as his questions have grown, I have also realised that encyclopedias can at times seem daunting and expensive – after all how many encyclopedias can you buy when the questions are endless? Non-fiction books like Zayn And Zoey or Magic School Bus serve the purpose of answering the questions equally well. Here are some of our favourite encyclopedias and non fiction series.
DK Encyclopedias – DK has the best encyclopedias ever, with amazing photographs and text that can be read out to kids as young as 4 years. What I love the most about DK encyclopedias is how they grow with your child – We started by out by just looking at the pictures, then read out some facts, and I’m sure we’ll still be exploring them when my child is 10 plus. We have the DK Ocean! Encyclopedia, DK Life Cycles Encyclopedia and the DK Super Bug Encyclopedia, all of which are dearly loved in our house.
DK Findout! – This is an extremely good series for fact loving children. We have DK Findout! Human Body and it helped satisfy my little one’s curiosity and explain the working of the human body through interesting facts. The book explains interesting facts like how when we smell something not very nice, our brain tells us not to eat it – it then relates this concept to skunks and how they ward off predators, which I found a really amazing way to relate concepts, and it helps kids to understand things.
Nat Geo Little Kids First Big Book series – This series is the ideal first encyclopedia for kids. The text is age appropriate and introduces age appropriate concepts like herbivores and carnivores in the Dinosaurs book, nests and migration in the Birds book etc. Apart from the amazing photographs, the other awesome thing is the factsheet with each animal / bird / dinosaur – it tells you what they eat, how big they are compared to your hand or a full grown human etc. The many engaging questions and games they have all through the book are just the icing on the cake. My child absolutely adores this series, and we have Nat Geo Little Kids First Big book of Dinosaurs, Birds, Space, Weather and How.
Nat Geo Everything series – For children who want to dig deeper into a topic, Nat Geo has these individual books with more detailed facts and information. The text in these would be more suited for 5 plus, though the photographs can be enjoyed by all! For my bug crazy son, I have Everything Insects, and it has the strangest insect facts that you can think of, and no wonder then that it is a book he reaches out to read very often.
Nat Geo Readers – These Nat Geo books are levelled readers, meant to be read by the child individually. They are great for children like mine who enjoy reading non fiction more than fiction. The sentences are simple and easy to read, and each book focuses on only one topic. We have a Level 1 Reader – Go, Cub!, and a Level 4 Reader – Whales.
Usborne Look Inside series – These make for the perfect introduction to non fiction for toddlers, as they are sturdy board books with lift the flaps, that make them engaging. The text is kept to minimum, with context being conveyed mainly through picture placement. Each book in this series, be it Look Inside Your Body that allows kids to lift each layer of the body, or Look Inside How Things Work that explains how the vacuum cleaner sucks up the dirt, has completely floored me with the simplicity of explanation and ability to engage the child.
In this series we have Look Inside Our World (which is our absolute favourite),
Look Inside Seas And Oceans,
Look Inside Cars,
Look Inside Wild Weather,
Look Inside Space,
Look Inside An Airport,
Look Inside How Things Work,
Look Inside Things That Go,
Look Inside Your Body and
Look Inside Building Sites.
You also get Usborne Peep Inside series, that are meant for younger kids (2+) with much simpler text and concepts, and the Usborne See Inside series that is meant for slightly older kids (6+). We also have Usborne Lift The Flap – First Question And Answer books, on What Is Poo? and What Makes It Rain?, both of which are extremely good to explain otherwise difficult to explain topics to toddlers.
Usborne Big Picture Atlas – The perfect beginner atlas for children with big, bright pictures and photos of animals / food associated with each country. This atlas has provided us with innumerable starting points for conversations and taken us on many trips around the world.
The Usborne Big Book Of Sea Creatures – If you want toddlers to explore a topic in greater detail, the Usborne Big Book series is perfect. It has huge, four page foldouts that kids love (and hence should be bought only after your child is over the tearing phase). We have The Big Book Of Sea Creatures and the book has just the right amount of text, helping kids to identify different types of fish / whales etc without overwhelming them with too much information.
Usborne Spotter Guides – These are field guides perfect for taking on walks and helps kids identify the different types of Insects, Wildlife, Plants, etc. They are pocket sized, and my little one loves flipping through these on his own.
Let’s Read And Find Out Science – This is a levelled series, with Level 1 dealing with simple science concepts like what is alive, and Level 2 dealing with slightly more complicated concepts like what is a city. Both levels are easy to read and understand, and the illustrations make it very easy for kids to relate the book to their surroundings. For example, my 4 year old saw an ant hill in the park one day, and demanded to read the book Ant Cities. He was amazed to know that the hill he saw was just a small part of their city, and the real city was underground – the illustrations made it very easy to understand.
From Level 1 we have
Big Tracks, Little Tracks,
Fireflies In The Night ,
What Lives In A Shell? and
What’s For Lunch?
From Level 2 we have
How A City Works,
How Do Apples Grow? and
Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? – This book is unique, in that it is not an encyclopedia but it has helped us more than any other book in developing an understanding of the world and how it functions. The book explains the working of different things including a farm, post office, construction site, railways, etc.
Gail Gibbons’ books – They are the perfect mix of informative text and engaging illustrations. The books present facts laid out in a way that is easy to read, and which when combined with the beautiful illustrations make the topic very interesting for the children. We have The Honey Makers from this author, and it is one of our favourite books to read on bees.
Yuval Zommer’s Big Book series – This series is unique in its illustrations and the way the text is laid out. The illustrations are watercolor paintings and the text is organised in a question and answer format. The language used is very simple and easy to understand. We have The Big Book Of The Blue, which is divided into different chapters like sharks, whales, jellyfish, etc, each of them containing simple questions and answers that can easily be understood by preschoolers.
Miles Kelly Junior Picture Dictionary – This book covers everything under the sun and is the perfect book to introduce toddlers to non-fiction. It has big bright pictures with one word description and has something for every child – space, plants, sea creatures, life cycle, construction vehicles and much much more. This is always my first go to book to explain a new concept to my child as there is no simpler and better book to explain things.
ADDED BY ASHA: Achira, too highly recommends Miles Kelly’s books. Quoting her:
We are huge fans of Miles Kelly books. The information is so to the point and crisp, not too long and then the illustrations are totally wow! We have 100 facts – Inventions and Deadly Creatures and Curious Questions and Answers on Animals. And we love them all dearly. The 100 Facts series has amazing fun facts, great pictures and some quizzes to keep the kids engaged. The book on inventions covers a vast range of topics and talks about how it has evolved over time.
The Curious Q&A book has cartoonish illustrations and super fun facts. Each page is like a different topic- what are senses, what is inside an animal, how many and so on. There are many in the Curious Questions & Answers series on different topics!
Zayn And Zoey series – This is a non fiction series featuring really cute twins who are curious about everything around them. They take the reader along with them as they explore more about Solar Power, Rainwater Harvesting, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and much more. The really great thing about this series are the illustrations which are brilliant. They make it very easy for the kids to understand extremely complicated concepts – my 4 yr old easily understood that the solar panels on the roof generate electricity from the sun, which then travels through wires to power the television!
ETA BY ASHA: kidsbookcafe.com is now community partners of the makers of Zayn & Zoey Books!! ONLY KBC MEMBERS HAVE A SPECIAL COUPON CODE KBC15 when ordered from the Zayn and Zoey website!
The Magic School Bus series (Scholastic) – If I had to pick one non fiction series that my child adores, it would be this one. A bus that transforms into magical things and explores literally anything you can imagine, is hard not to love! Miss Frizzle, her magic bus and the children go on many adventures in this lovely series, taking the reader along with them. The story is written such that the reader feels like they are a part of the story and are absolutely glued to the book like a thriller till the end. The language is simple and easy to understand, explaining complicated concepts in a very fun way.
If you wish to buy these books on Amazon, click here.
Let’s Investigate With Nate – This series is similar to the Magic School Bus in that it takes the reader on magical adventures while exploring concepts, however it is more interactive and reads more like a comic book. The illustrations are big, bright and colourful. I bought Let’s Investigate With Nate – The Water Cycle, and it was really easy to explain the entire concept of water cycle to my 4 year old. Seeing how much he enjoyed reading it, I got Let’s Investigate With Nate – The Life Cycle also, and that too is an absolutely wonderful book.
[Note from Team Kids Book Café: For your convenience, affiliate links (MARKED IN PINK) to some of the book titles & images have been added to enable you to buy the books from AMAZON, should you wish to! A very small amount of money comes to kidsbookcafe.com when you purchase a book via the amazon affiliate link provided (at absolutely no extra cost to you!). Do let us know if you need information about other children’s books by writing to email@example.com.]