Every time I feature a “Wonder Teacher,” I ask them to share some of their favorite children’s literature titles with the Wonder Teacher audience. Cassie Norvell (being the book collector that she is!) was happy to comply. (Just take a look at her library!) However, she gave it a little twist. She only selected non-fiction titles! Why? “Because good nonfiction picture books can be hard to find.” Amen to that!
I must admit that nonfiction has never been my favorite. I love informational text as much as anyone- cookbooks, educational journals, interviews with interesting people, my morning newspaper, etc. However, the old “nonfiction book” (i.e.- All about Bugs) never did a thing for me.
Oh, how nonfiction has changed in recent years! Check out this list of fantastic books, recommended by Cassie Norvell.
How Things Work in the Yard by Lisa Campbell Ernst
This book poses questions such as “How does a bird work?” and then gives the answer. Key words are printed in bold. It also has hints of humor sprinkled throughout: In the answer to “How does a ball work?” Ernst shows different balls and one is a cheese ball. It says “Never hit, kick, or roll a cheese ball.” Ha! That’s solid advice.
This would be a great book to “innovate” with children. Each child could pose a “How does ___ work?” question and write the answer. Bind them together and you’ve got a class book!
Take a peek inside and I think you’ll see- it’s very kid-friendly.
A companion title is Ernst’s How Things Work in the House. Same idea, just inside instead of outside.
Backyard Books: Are You A Dragonfly? by Judy Allen
This is a fantastic nonfiction series! It’s interesting enough for older children but the voice is perfect for younger ones. Here’s a text excerpt from the first page: “Are you a dragonfly? If you are, your mother laid her eggs in the stems of water plants. You swam out of one of them and so did lots of others just like you…” The artwork is beautiful. Other books in the insects series include, Are you a Grasshopper? Are You A Ladybug? (Among others.)
An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long
You would be hard-pressed to find more beautiful art than Long’s ink and watercolors depicting the finest details of nature. Truly, I haven’t seen anything more lovely in a museum or gallery. The text is also compelling and is written in “layers”- each page spread gives an egg descriptor such as, “An egg is shapely.” Aston then provides further information on that topic, listing different egg shapes (round, pointy, tubular, etc.) and Long’s illustrations provide the examples. Finally, Aston offers interesting mini-facts to further develop her point. i.e.- Pointy eggs roll in small circles which makes them safe for high cliffs. The whole book proceeds in that manner. Highly recommended along with the others in this series: A Rock is Lively, A Seed is Sleepy and A Butterfly is Patient.
Note: Pay attention to the endpapers! Many of the eggs featured on the inside of the front cover have hatched on the inside of the back cover!
How Artists See the Weather by Colleen Carroll
This book connects visual art with science content. (And some history!) It showcases famous pieces of art associated with different types of weather scenes. Carroll offers thought-provoking questions and brief artist biographies. There are other titles in the series, such as How Artists See Animals, How Artists See Families, and How Artists See Feelings.
Bones: Skeletons and How They Work by Steve Jenkins
Steve Jenkins is a nonfiction superstar. His beautiful collage illustrations really bring science to life. Bones is about… bones! Bones of every size and shape. Seeing all those different animal skeletons is fascinating. Even your most adamant “I don’t like science!” kind of kid will find it hard to resist Jenkins’ books.
He has written/illustrated many excellent titles. Some of my other favorites include The Beetle Book, Biggest Strongest Fastest, Down-Down-Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea, and What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?
(Note from Cassie: My children and I had a Steve Jenkins morning earlier this year! I shared one of his books with my children and they were so amazed by his work that I pulled out all of his books and we spent some time reading through them. They loved it.)
Move! Written by Robin Page and Illustrated by Steve Jenkins
This is another “Steve Jenkins” but it was written by Robin Page. I love the different kinds of movement words children learn from this book. It’s also cleverly laid out- each page is connected to the next.
Seeds by Ken Robbins
This book is full of large, color photographs that accompany factual prose about seeds. Here is a brief excerpt, “When you eat a sandwich, consider this: The bread is not much more than the seeds of a grass called wheat, ground up into flour and mixed with some water and a little bit of yeast.” Actual photographs can be very compelling in nonfiction books.
Lili at Ballet by Rachel Isadora
This book is precious. It’s the perfect book for those “girly” girls who might not be as interested in some of the animal or insect titles. (Though often they end up liking those more than they thought they would!) As we sometimes find in nonfiction these days, this book is actually a blend of fiction and nonfiction. The text tells the story of Lili, a young ballerina. However, throughout the pages we are exposed to factual information about ballet, accompanied by delicate watercolor drawings. My own daughter loves this book. Isadora is a prolific author/ illustrator with many wonderful books to her name. There are several other “Lili” titles (unfortunately, currently they are out of print. However, you can still get Lili at Ballet.)
Who Will Plant a Tree? by Jerry Pallotta and illustrated by Tom Leonard
This is a clever story about seed dispersal. We meet a variety of animals who, by simply moving as they normally would, transport seeds that will grow into trees. There is interesting variety- squirrels bury acorns, an owl eats a mouse that recently ate a seed (then coughs up the pellet of fur and bone), ants take a pine nut into their underground home, and we even learn that animal poop contains seeds! (The kids will love those examples!) It’s something a little different from Jerry Pallotta and is well done.
About Insects by Cathryn and John Sill
The “About” series is appealing nonfiction. Husband and wife team, Cathryn and John Sill, collaborate to write and illustrate these informative texts. The text is straightforward and simple. The illustrations are gorgeous, highly realistic watercolors. While these books are perfect for young students because of their simplicity, older students would find them very accessible as well.
ABC Animal Riddles by Susan Joyce and illustrated by Doug DuBosque
This book has beautiful, lyrical riddles about animals. The answers are in the back. You could read one per day or read it all at once. It also makes a great inspiration for students. Once they get the hang of “riddle language” they become quite good at writing their own riddles. Wouldn’t it be fun to create a class book of riddles?
Here is a sample page from the inside of the book:
The final four titles are authored by the magnificent Nicola Davies. A zoologist and writer, she has become a trusted and favorite author of nonfiction picture books for children. Each of the titles listed below is illustrated by a different artist (noted next to the title) but they all contain fantastic art and they were all written by Davies.
Just Ducks! illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino
As with most of Davies books, this book contains a story in addition to the factual information that is presented. As mentioned earlier, I find that the combination of fiction and nonfiction really bridges nonfiction for many children who are just not “into” nonfiction books (like my daughter!) The story is about a little girl and the ducks she sees out her window but the book is packed with interesting facts about ducks.
One Tiny Turtle illustrated by Jane Chapman
I love this book! It is so precious. Chapman’s illustrations are gorgeous! Again, Davies shares a story about the life of a sea turtle while adding factual information on other parts of the page. Just listen to this language, “”Floating in the sea she weighs nothing, but on land she’s heavier than a man. So every flipper step is a struggle, and her eyes stream with salty tears, which help keep them free of sand.” Lovely.
Surprising Sharks! illustrated by James Croft
I never thought I’d like a book about sharks, but I love this one. It’s just so lighthearted and fun! (While still presenting accurate scientific information about sharks.) Just look at this spread:
Do you see the little fish in the bullseye? Isn’t that a clever visual joke!?
Notice, too, the labeling on these pages. This book presents factual information through various text structures.
It’s a “must have” for your classroom library.
Extreme Animals illustrated by Neal Layton
Unlike the Nichola Davies books listed above, this one is geared for older students (4th-6th grade.) Of course, it would work quite nicely as a read-aloud with younger children. Extreme Animals is full of fascinating information about animals in our world that can live (and thrive) in extreme conditions- heat, cold, etc. The cartoons really help convey the information in a fun manner. Here’s an example:
I can’t think of many kids who wouldn’t love this book.
Don’t you think it would be awesome to do an author study on Nichola Davies? Yes, I think it would! She has many more fantastic titles in addition to those featured here.
Thanks so much to Cassie Norvell for sharing these wonderful non-fiction titles with us! (And if you missed the post about Cassie’s Shoe Store unit, please go back and read it. It’s not to be missed!)
She has inspired me. I think I’ll take the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge over at Kid Lit Frenzy. The idea is to set a goal for the number of nonfiction picture books you want to read in 2013. I am going to set my number at 50. And part of my goal is going to involve reading them with my own children! They need more exposure to nonfiction than I am currently providing.
What about you? Want to link up and play along? Just click the image below and join us! I’ll be reporting periodically and sharing some of my favorite titles as I go.