I’ve been a kindergarten and first grade teacher for a long time, so I have a huge stash of children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction, for little kids. I’ve collected books from bookstores, Scholastic book orders, book fairs, Amazon, library book sales, you name it! (anyone else like this?). Every once in a while, though, I happen across a book that’s aimed at older kids (and therefore useless in my classroom) but that’s just SO COOL I can’t resist buying it. These are books that are aimed at kids from about 3rd through 6th grade but are so ridiculously awesome that even I, as an adult, couldn’t resist sitting down and reading them cover to cover… sometimes more than once! Take a look and see what I mean for yourself because these are…
The Most Epic Nonfiction Books Ever!
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by Basher and Dan Green
I have to admit, there was a time that I was pretty addicted to collecting the Basher Basics books. They do such an awesome job of breaking concepts down and making them fun! In this one, each page has a funny little caricature of an element, and the accompanying text is written from the element’s point of view and describes it’s characteristics in an engaging way. The text is friendly and funny but also contains some really awesome vocabulary words. It’s such a fabulous way to make learning fun! Not studying chemistry? Don’t worry! There’s a whole library of these books! You can find these books on a ton of topics, like dinosaurs, math, physics, grammar, presidents, and even Greek mythology! They are definitely worth checking out!
by Theodore Gray and Nick Mann
If there is even the teeniest, tiniest bit of nerd in you, you will absolutely not be able to resist this epic nonfiction book! There is a two-page spread dedicated to every element on the periodic table, with stunning photographs of the element in it’s pure form, and on the facing page, photos of familiar items that contain the element and a description of the element’s properties and uses, as well as nifty little charts that show the freezing and boiling points and other basic information. It’s so fascinating to find out what all of the items in our world are made from! This book is large (about 12 x 12 inches) and beautiful enough to decorate your coffee table.
By Joann Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut
If your child (or you) is an artist, loves rainbows, likes history, is a nerd, or just generally likes colors, this is the book for you! It contains a ton of information about how colors work, a history about how each color has been perceived through time, what associations different colors had, how they were named, and how and when people developed dyes for them. The text is liberally interspersed with absolutely stunning photographs and reproductions of artwork. This is another one that you could read cover to cover and then display on your coffee table. As a bonus- I also used it once to settle an argument about whether you can go “around the corner” and put red and purple next to each other when you’re putting colors in rainbow order (it has to do with the difference between colors in light and in pigments). Rainbow lovers won’t be able to resist this gorgeous book!
By Ann Millard and Steve Noon
This book shows the changes that happen in one location on a riverbank in England from 10,000 BC to the present day. In the earliest picture, you see the people living in huts, hunting and gathering. It follows the same little area through advances in architecture and technology, through invasions, advances, plague, the industrial revolution, and more! Even as an adult, I learned a ton from this book. The illustrations are a little cartoony but incredibly detailed with lots of action. Although the bigger concepts are aimed at older kids, my kindergarteners pored over this book for ages, looking at what all of the different people in the community were up to. This book really brings history to life!
by Dr. Mike Goldsmith
The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning. Each two-page spread is a full color illustration of a different time period in Earth’s history- starting before the birth of the sun and going until the future. This book is all about the big picture of what’s happening with our planet. Each page has a small caption explaining what’s happening, but at the back of the book there’s additional material for more advanced readers. If there’s even a little bit of a nerd in you, you won’t be able to put it down- and if there isn’t- you’ll love the artwork!
By Brian Floca
This is the story of Apollo 11. Although it’s non-fiction, it’s written like a story, and almost like a poem.
“In the dust and stone beneath their feet, no seed has ever grown, no root has ever reached. Still secrets wait there, the story of the Moon…”
The phrasing makes it one of my favorite read-alouds ever, and kids of all ages are absolutely mesmerized. The illustrations are detailed ink drawings with watercolors. The whole book strikes an amazing balance between being informative and beautiful. It also has suspense, drama, and even a bit of humor! It’s an amazing addition to any book collection.
If you know any kids that are fascinated by the bottom of the sea (honestly, do you know any kids that aren’t fascinated by the bottom of the sea?) then you’ll love this book. It starts at the surface and travels down through the different zones of the ocean, showing and describing the animals in each layer. The illustrations are, again, full color, two-page spreads, with a block of text in a corner and labels next to each creature. Like “Earth,” there is additional information for advanced readers in the back, which means the pages stay pretty clear with a focus on the illustrations. It is a seriously fascinating book that you won’t want to miss.
by Tom Jackson
Okay, this might just be me, but as a teacher I had a compulsive need to make sure that my classroom library had a book for any topic that a child might be interested in. No matter what they were looking for, I wanted to make sure I could hand them a book about it! This book was a wonderful addition, because it covers so many animals. It has beautiful drawings and concise facts. Obviously, it doesn’t cover every single species, but the major groups are there, with a good set of examples for each. There’s something for every age- non-readers will love poring over the pictures, and even as an adult there was a lot for me to learn! Although it’s better as a reference than a book to read cover-to-cover, this one is definitely worth having in your collection and you’ll find yourself returning to it again and again.
National Geographic Kids
National Geographic has really been expanding their library of kids books recently, and I’ve been very impressed with the quality in general, and geography (duh) is where they really seem to excel! Each country gets a two page spread, with a detailed map, fun facts, and several supporting photos. There’s also an overview of each continent, and some games and puzzles. It’s written like a guidebook, so the kids can read it and imagine themselves about to travel to each country. It’s a great way to introduce the world to your kids.
By Walter Wick
I’m a massive fan of Walter Wick’s I Spy books in general, and especially this series- and what’s not to love? The gorgeous and detailed photographs, paired with rhyming search-and-find puzzles are enough to keep kids entertained for hours on their own. What sets this one apart, though, is the crazy link between the pages. The first page is an incredibly detailed gold coin. The next zooms out a bit to a whole pile of treasure- with the coin from the first mixed in. The next zooms out to the whole treasure box- under the ocean! As it zooms out slightly from one page to the next, more and more of the context is revealed- but there are some crazy and unexpected twists! Kids will want to flip back and forth through the pages several times before they even start the “I Spy” activity. The photographs are gorgeous and there’s so much to look at that it’s guaranteed to entertain them for a good, long time.
To find out about another crazy-awesome Walter Wick book, make sure to check out Hands-on Optical Illusion Activities, Inspired by “Walter Wick’s Optical Tricks!”
by Paul Griffith, Nick Dragotta and Joost Bonsen
I’m cheating a little bit by including this one, since it’s partially fiction as well. This is a comic book about the adventures of two awesome maker kids, who solve problems by creating all sorts of things out of household materials (for example, soda bottle safety glasses!). Between the “story” pages are detailed directions for each of their projects, still in cartoon form. Your kids can just read it like a fiction book, or they can attempt their own turkey baster flute, underwater scope, terrarium, or homemade ice cream (among other things). This book is perfect for tinkerers, inventors, comic book lovers, reluctant readers, or basically just anyone. It’s a very cool book. Check it out!
What nonfiction books would you recommend? Any great ones that I’ve missed? Leave a comment and let me know!
Looking for more cool books that get kids excited about reading? Make sure to check out The Ultimate Guide to Children’s Books about Firefighters!
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