Feb 282022
New to non-fiction children’s books? Here are pointers to make non-fiction reading exciting!
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Non fiction is Neil’s (my almost 5 year old) favourite genre, but when we first started reading non fiction books it required me to totally change my reading style. I could no longer read a book from start to finish, in rhyme, and expect him to sit and listen. Reading Gail Gibbons, Nat Geo books and Zayn and Zoey books (BE SURE TO USE OUR SPECIAL COUPON CODE KBC15) required a different strategy from reading Julia Donaldson books!

First, it is Neil who picks which book and which part/page of the book we will read. This usually depends on what he has studied in school, or what has caught his fancy through conversation. He may have seen an ant and want to read about ants or heard an aeroplane and want to read about them!

We will then usually only read one or two pages of the book. I usually point at the pictures, pick up the terms used in the book, explain them in my own words, and try to do a drawing/craft/pretend play. For Zayn and Zoey Learn About Rockets (BE SURE TO USE OUR SPECIAL COUPON CODE KBC15), we made a balloon powered car based on the craft given in the book to understand action reaction. Craft and pretend play really cements the learning like nothing else can.

The interest of the child in the topic also matters immensely here. So, while Neil will read Let’s Read And Find Out Science – 2: Ant Cities in one go (since he is obsessed with creepy crawlies), we read other books in 3-4 sittings, and some like encyclopedias are never truly completely read!

A lot of children in our reading community have taken interest in non-fiction at a very early age. We asked parents with kids from three different age groups to share their insights on what works for them when it comes to reading non-fiction. 

Asma, whose daughter is less than 3 (and is deeply interested in sharks and insects), lays great importance in choosing books as per the interest of the child, timing the reading sessions carefully and doing lots of bookish crafts. She states,

“Ruhaani is very very interested in cooking and ingredients so we chose Z & Z Natural To Processed series (BE SURE TO USE OUR SPECIAL COUPON CODE KBC15) . She showed great interest in chocolate factory, sugar and milk titles.  Coming to how to read, we share a very brief version that kids can repeat, e.g. how is jaggery made that you are eating? Very tall sugarcane plants are crushed in a machine and juice is boiled till it becomes brown jaggery. Then encourage her to narrate the process to all family members and house helps. Similar thing goes for Nat Geo Everything series with sharks and insects. For sharks I show starting letter of each kind of shark and characteristics of fast slow big small color etc with shark figurines. All in all the book is never read as it is written, just gets into discussion and goes in different directions”.

Asma and Ruhaani’s favourite time to read is just before bedtime, and Ruhaani usually asks for the same books to read again and again.  

Priyanka, whose elder daughter Nirvana turned 4 a few months back (and has a great interest in weather, volcanoes and all things outdoors), believes reading books as per the current interest of the child, and mainly following their lead is what is important. She says,

“When we get a book, I never choose what to read. I wait for what she wants. We first open the pages, she points at what she wants to know in a page and we read only that part. Sometimes, like Usborne or DK sets or Nat Geo sets, she comes up with her questions because of the brilliance in the illustrations and that intrigues her. I think a very vital key for me is to NOT teach her anything at all. Just to follow her lead, see for sources for her questions and also question back to see what she thinks about a particular question.”

Shipra, whose son is almost 8 years old (and can tell you everything there is to know about dinosaurs), believes that the current interest of the child is of prime importance. She says,

“If you read aloud/co read a non-fiction book of a child’s interest, that is bound to hold his attention longer”.

Books with realistic pictures, reading from random pages and doing related activities are other things that have helped them read non-fiction better. She says,

“Pictures help a lot to put across facts & information easily. Picture reading is specifically helpful in the early years. Non-fiction books also give you the liberty to choose a page of your interest and read. Reading small portions is beneficial to retain and process the formation. We always try to supplement the reading session with some activities/experiments/videos which helps to make better connections and keeps the interest alive.”

Tanvi Jain’s 8yo son Bhavik, is a big encyclopedia fan. In fact whenever there is an encyclopedia related query, we first tag Tanvi for recommendations. Her daughter too has started following her elder brother’s steps. Quoting Tanvi:

In case of Aashvi who is now 4.5 years , she only reads the topics of her interests like Reptiles, Dinosaurs, etc in the Encyclopedias while leaving the rest. Mostly we go about how and what the child wants to read.

Achira spends a lot of time with her boys and they read a variety of genres. She shares what they do:

Non fiction is something that I personally love to read with both Divit and Advit. The one big reason being it gives us the chance to talk endlessly and oh how much I love those conversations. The way we love to do it is while discussing examples from real life. Like when we were reading the Zayn and Zoey on earthquakes we discussed the major ones that had happened, how it is very specific to certain regions and so on. We like to do hands on activities related to what we are reading. As you rightly mentioned a practical approach to the theory we read makes them understand the concept completely. And I always let them decide which book they want to read.

Non fiction books often seem daunting to us adults and because we think we need to read them out entirely, word by word, cover to cover, to our children, we think non-fiction isn’t meant for toddlers. Children are by nature curious about everything they see, and they absorb everything we tell them like a sponge. So, we just need to change how we read to them, and they will happily absorb it all! 

We have shared some of the most recommended non fiction books as shared by our members in this curated post here. Please feel free to add to the tips here or add to the curated list so it helps other parents introduce awesome non fiction books to their smallies.

Added by Asha: Many thanks to Amardeep, Asma, Priyanka, Shipra, Tanvi, Achira and of course #the14yearold for helping us curate this post.

[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 asha@kidsbookcafe.com.]

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