Reading non-fiction aloud

I have two boys, 6 and 3. They must be read to, they must learn to read, I must help their young minds unfold like the petals of beautiful flowers (ha ha ha). I must find decent non-fiction to read to them, in order to do all of the above. They also happen to like non-fiction.

Non fiction for 6 year olds these days seems to be divided into two groups --the banal learning to read books, about which I will say no more, and the lavishly illustrated, lots of information in clumps all over the page, style (ala the D.K. "Look Closer" series).
Now, I am a good reader out loud. I can even handle Magic School bus books with grace and aplomb (including reading all the dialogue bits and random thingies). But I am getting really tired of these non-fiction books that break up the text into info. bits. They are hard to read, and because they aren't written for reading out loud, the prose is often stilted. Even when the prose is just fine, it can be tough going (The Way Things Work. Heavy going, pun intended). So I find myself editing, altering, explaining and expanding, to keep their interest up as we bounce through the books. Not very relaxing, even with a beautiful and informative book (like Tide Pools).

So I got out my own non-fiction books, read repeatedly during my well-spent youth - the Fish/Birds/Reptiles/etc do the Strangest Things series (Random House Step Up Books Nature Library, mostly 1966). They are not beautifully illustrated, they are not at the cutting edge of information transmittal to the young, and somethings are even wrong. But darn it, they have large pieces of text that can be read aloud, not quite by my six-year old, but almost, they use straightforward language, and they keep the interest of both boys, even though the interesting facts are contained in the text and not floating around the page.

Just another small grievance with the banal You Can Read Non-Fiction book genre -- what's all this 1st person business? "I am a shark" "I am a snowflake" "I am a wolf" (it could be just my library's fault). I've never been a fan of first person narratives. Are publishers somehow trying to connect readers to words by making it as personal as possible? Is it part of some hideous self-actualization process that they think young readers have to go through to Master the Text? Or is it simply that "I" is easier to read than "you"?


  1. Thanks for the ballet book recommendations, and thanks for dropping by Bildungsroman!

  2. I feel your pain, Charlotte. My six-year-old son likes NF too. I'm a fiction gal all the way, as is my 11-year-old daughter. It has been a difficult transition :)

  3. Oh, dear, yes. Boy do I feel your pain.

    One of my favorite recent nonfiction books is "Boy, Were We Wrong About the Dinosaurs!" I'm a hardcore fiction gal too, and brought it home to read to my daughter expecting it to be an ordeal in the service of helping her mind to flower etc. But it went down surprisingly easily, and was chock-full of fascinating information besides.

    And I tend to be grumpy about reading aloud at home (won't read Berenstain Bears or anything I hate) b/c I do it all day, so it's something of a busman's holiday.

    Other nonfiction books I've found relatively painless to read aloud (no authors since I'm at home now):

    Chameleons are Cool
    The Emperor's Egg [I think]
    A Drop of Water
    Chickens Aren't the Only Ones

    Hope this is helpful...

  4. Wow -- you read even the random thingies in Magic School Bus? I can go only so far as the dialogue bits -- and marvel that those books are so well constructed that a reader (child or parent) doesn't even have to read those.

    I'm with you on not caring much for the nuggetization of nonfiction text. Please, let me and my kids enjoy the uninterrupted flow of text, just for a little while. And if there are extra goodies on the side of the page -- bonus!

  5. The DK books are beautiful is many ways, but so frenetic. They work better as videos, I think, and the videos are only 30 minutes long. (Having seen "Volcano" 130 times, I should know.)

    You might like Jean Craighead George's narrative nonfiction for younger readers, like "All Upon a Sidewalk," which is about ants. "All Upon a Stone," about a mole cricket (really, not as dire as it seems), is another one.

  6. My daughter (3) loves Paul Collicut's MY TRAIN and MY PLANE. Very simple, so your older one might be bored with the text, but the illustrations are detailed enough for him to pore over while the little one reads.

    And at the risk of being a shill for my own books, here's a few from Charlesbridge:

    A MOTHER'S JOURNEY and LITTLE LOST BAT by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Alan Marks. True stories of the lives and struggles of Emperor penguins and Mexican free-tail bats, respectively. Might be a little flowery for your boys, but there's great drama, too (hint: things get eaten).

    FEATHERED DINOSAURS OF CHINA and GIANT DINOSAURS OF THE JURASSIC by Gregory Wenzel take a you-are-there approach to dinos and their prehistoric ecosystems. It's all in a single narrative, so no jumping around to sidebars.

    And forthcoming this fall, WIRED by Anastasia Suen, illustrated by Paul Carrick -- all about electricity, in a two-level text that could work for both boys.

    Here endeth the shameless plugs.


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