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5 Tips For Reading Nonfiction

5 Tips For Reading Nonfiction

During our weekly library trips, my son would spend most of his time perusing the nonfiction section.  He would scoop up every book about sports and animals.  He can spit back random facts about players, game rules, animal habitats, and interesting eating habits.  I always tried to encourage him to check out a combination of fiction and nonfiction just to balance his reading diet.  But honestly, as interesting as nonfiction books are, I selfishly knew that they don’t afford the same opportunities for funny voices, dramatizing various scenes, or creating a different ending.  It wasn’t the same.  

As the Common Core Standards placed a heavier focus on informational text, I reflected on how often I chose a nonfiction text for read-alouds both at home and in my classroom. There was no doubt that I reached for fictional books overwhelmingly more often.  There’s a great deal of research that shows the benefits of adding nonfiction texts to your child’s library. Nonfiction boosts vocabulary, improves comprehension, ignites curiosity, and prepares them to access information necessary for their later school life.  In fact, several studies suggest that kids actually prefer nonfiction over stories. Kids love to learn about real people, places, and events. Often times, we may be the barriers standing in their way of consuming more.   If you are looking for ways to fall in love with nonfiction books, here are a few tips.

    1.Choose great books

There are some amazing nonfiction texts out now.  Publishers are pouring out options with information organized in interesting ways and captivating images.  Start with thinking about your child’s natural desire to find information. Simply ask, “What information do you want to find?” rather than “What do you want to read?”  Let them be the guide but find books that you’ll actually be excited to read on the topic. 

     2. Adjust your reading approach

The great thing about informational texts is that they don’t have to be read cover to cover.  You can jump around finding the most interesting information.  This will help them understand that books are read for different purposes and in different ways.  Check the table of contents to see how the book is organized.  Jump to the section where they can find answers to their burning questions.  Use the glossary to figure out the meanings of words.  You can teach them how to be the boss of that book.  (This may also be a go-to strategy on those nights when you don’t have the energy for a full-story.  You can find a page or two to discuss and still get the benefits of a nighttime read aloud)

     3.  Leverage the pictures

A lot of information can be gained by reading the photos and illustrations.  They help kids make sense of the ideas on the page and spark so much conversation.  Whether it’s getting a closer look at the teeth of a shark, a diagram of a steam engine, or noticing the details of the costumes for a traditional celebration, encouraging kids to question and make comments will add to the experience for you and your child.  This is a great way to build vocabulary and language skills.  Sometimes your child might grab for those books that are a bit advanced for them. By “reading the pictures”, it develops your child’s natural curiosity and independence, while still building those comprehension skills.


    4. Diversify your nonfiction reading

Nonfiction books are not a one-size-fits-all type of deal.  Just like some kids love fantasy or science fiction and others prefer realistic fiction or comics, nonfiction doesn’t just have to be facts and figures.  My son loves a great facts book like Jack Hannah’s The Big Book of Why or a biography about his favorite sports players, but now he’s easing into narratives that read more like stories.  Whether you choose some concept and ABC books or question and answer and how-to-books, there is something great for any kind of reader (or adult for that matter).  


     5. Make it interactive

While it’s easy to think that you can’t spice a nonfiction book up, there are plenty of ways to make it interactive.  Simply ask your child how the book wants to be read.  Is it providing information, and you need to use your best newscaster voice and pretend to be a reporter?   Is it a cookbook, and you need to transform into Marcus Samuelsson and read the steps?   For a question and answer book, you can pose the question and have your reader predict the answers and search for the correct response.  You could also create scavenger hunts to find some of the items within a book.  


With nonfiction books, there are so many possibilities that you can tap into.  It doesn’t have to be a dry and boring experience for your child or you.  Reading nonfiction will help children build background knowledge that they’ll utilize in school and life.  The great thing about nonfiction books is there are bound to be dozens of books on the same topic to deepen a child’s understanding.  The more they engage in the topic, the more familiar they become with the vocabulary, and more likely it is to stick.    Here are a few nonfiction books to start you on your journey to loving them.


What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

A nose for digging? Ears for seeing? Eyes that squirt blood? Explore the many amazing things animals can do with their ears, eyes, mouths, noses, feet, and tails in this interactive guessing book, beautifully illustrated in cut-paper collage, which was awarded a Caldecott Honor.


Biblioburro: A True Story of Colombia by Jeanette Winter

Luis loves to read, but soon his house in Colombia is so full of books there’s barely room for the family. What to do? Then he comes up with the perfect solution–a traveling library! He buys two donkeys–Alfa and Beto–and travels with them throughout the land, bringing books and reading to the children in faraway villages.



Follow Your Dreams, Little One by Vashti Harrison

This beautifully illustrated board book highlights true stories of black men in history. The exceptional men featured include artist Aaron Douglas, civil rights leader John Lewis, dancer Alvin Ailey, lawman Bass Reeves, tennis champion Arthur Ashe, and writer James Baldwin.


What Do They Do With All That Poo? by Jane Kurtz (author), Allison Black (illustrator)

Find out what happens to all of the poo at the zoo in this funny and factual picture book!There are so many different kinds of animals at the zoo, and they each make lots and lots (and sometimes LOTS!) of poo. So what do zoos do with all of that poo? This zany, fact-filled romp explores zoo poo, from cube-shaped wombat poo to white hyena scat, and all of the places it ends up, including in science labs and elephant-poo paper–even backyard gardens!



Día de los Muertos by Hannah Eliot (author), Jorge Gutierrez (illustrator)

At the end of October each year, it’s time to celebrate an ancient tradition: Día de los Muertos! With vibrant illustrations by Golden Globe-winning Mexican illustrator Jorge Gutierrez, this festive board book teaches that Día de los Muertos honors ancestors and loved ones who have passed. From sugar skulls to papel picado, this is a holiday that truly commemorates the cycle of life.

Dreaming Up by Christy Hale

A picture book that connects great works of architecture to the ways children build and play. Here is a unique celebration of children’s playtime explorations and the surprising ways childhood experiences find expression in the dreams and works of innovative architects. Come be inspired to play-dream-build-discover!


What do you spice up your nonfiction books?  Share in the comments below. 

Kanika Mobley

Hi! I'm Kanika. I'm a mother and 20+ year educator. I started my career as a kindergarten teacher and fell in love with helping kids discover their reading identities. As they asked for certain books, I tried with all my might to keep the classroom library filled with high-engaging books that were both mirrors and windows for their experiences.

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