Successful readers and learners have one thing in common: they know how to navigate a multitude of different genres, and apply the comprehension skills and strategies they know to texts that may differ widely in structure, format, and style. Understanding how to read informational texts as well as explore the familiar world of fiction is a big part of that flexibility. And the earlier young readers begin to explore nonfiction, the better.
Not only does great nonfiction help to demonstrate the extraordinary variety of tools a writer can use to inform, entertain, and persuade, but it works to expand children's understanding of the world around them. A favorite book can easily lead to a favorite new hobby, or awaken a powerful scientific, artistic, or historical interest that may linger well into later childhood. Here are five exciting, beautifully illustrated books of nonfiction for early readers ages four and older:
An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston (illustrated by Sylvia Long)
The gentle watercolor paintings in this whimsical book are the perfect complement to the simple, evocative text that introduces children to the sizes, shapes, and origins of a diversity of eggs. Readers will enjoy comparing the fingernail-sized hummingbird eggs to the giant eggs of an ostrich, and birds are not the only egg-layers represented here. Beads of fish roe and muddy dinosaur eggs make charming appearances as well. The book also offers an opportunity to teach the concept of a life-cycle, since it includes a spread that depicts embryos growing inside egg-shells.
Hard Hat Area by Susan L. Roth
This lively, vivid tour around the tools and specialized jobs of a construction site is based on the real-life experiences of Kristen Doyle, a young woman in New York who is going through an apprenticeship as an ironworker. The book is illustrated with a delightful combination of paper collages and photomontages that bring the unusual workplace to life. Notes on each spread explain specialized vocabulary for readers who are especially interested in construction!
Making Cents by Elizabeth Keeler Robinson (illustrated by Bob McMahon)
Besides introducing children to the concept of money—and explaining the names and values of all the denominations that belong to the U.S. currency—this is a cheerful mathematical adventure as well. Readers will enjoy learning how four quarters, for example, are equivalent to one dollar bill—and which historical figures make appearances on the coins and notes they may already be saving in a beloved piggy bank.
Ox, House, Stick: The Story of Our Alphabet by Don Robb (illustrated by Anne Smith)
Children who have just learned about the relationship between symbols and sounds will be fascinated by this energetic history of the Roman alphabet. It explains both the origins of written language (people needed a way to communicate over long distances and record information for later) and the development of pictograms into stylized letters. Though the text in this volume will be more challenging for very young children, it is a great choice for a shared reading session or for a confident reader who is interested in the nuts and bolts of language.
Pumpkins by Ken Robbins
This is the perfect late-summer book to read with a child who is excited about the cool weather, changing leaves, and Halloween celebrations that are on their way! The gorgeous photographs that fill its pages show the many different stages in the growth of a pumpkin, from seed to fruit and back again. The rhythmic, elegant text is always set off on a clean white background, and the simple vocabulary makes this a good choice for an enthusiastic reader who is starting to read on his or her own. Robbins even includes a set of easy-to-follow instructions for carving a jack-o'-lantern.