I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a fiction kind of guy. I usually gravitate to books that are fanciful and made up. This goes for my story times, too. I generally like to read fiction picture books to my classes. Not everyone is like me, though, and a lot of my students think nonfiction books are great. I want to read books that they love, too. Plus, I like to wow the kids with some “I did NOT know that!” facts every once in a while.
It’s tough, though, to find a nonfiction book that reads aloud well. It’s got to have good narrative and flow.
Today I wanted to highlight four great nonfiction titles that I like to read to groups of kids. All four are very different, but that have one thing in common. They have excellent narrative and fit right into my storytimes. I can read Fabulous Frogs right after A Ballet Cat book, and no one even bats an eye.
Since I already mentioned it, I’ll start with that one.
1. Fabulous Frogs, written by Martin Jenkins and Illustrated by Tim Hopgood.
Ok, first can I pause and remark that the illustrator’s last name is Hopgood? And he has illustrated all of these lovely frogs for us? Hop good? Am I the only one that thinks this is hilarious? I am? Ok, well moving on….
This books is stuffed full of those cool facts that make a kid say “Wow!” It has a HUGE frog (with a life-sized illustration), tiny frogs, hairy frogs, frogs that can float on the air with the skin between their toes, and frogs that keep their eggs in their throat (and many more!). Mr. Hopgood’s (sorry, I can’t stop laughing) mixed media illustrations are fantastic pairing great with the text which never gets too heavy or dense, making it a perfect story time read.
My favorite moment of the book is at the very end. The narrator has just shown us all of these wonderfully remarkable frogs, but he brings us back home by remarking, “All of these frogs are wonderful, but my favorite frog of all is the medium-size, greeny-brown one that sits on a lily-pad in my backyard pond.”
Isn’t that a lovely way to wrap things up? It invites the child reader to think about the frogs that they’ve seen in their backyard. And they do. Out loud. So I like to give them a moment to talk about their own amphibian experiences at the end of the book.
I like to read this book to kids in Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade.
2. Wolf Snail by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell
See, this is the beauty of book awards. This book would never have been on my radar if I hadn’t been going back to look at old Geisel award winners, a few years ago. I’m so glad I came across it. My students love it.
It’s about the wolfsnail, which is basically this mustached, Canibal snail that slides around eating other snails with this long, toothy tongue called a radula. The content matter alone, would make this book a decent purchase. The kid appeal is off the charts, but when you add the fantastic photography and the simple, but informative text, you have a nonfiction book that’s a perfect read aloud for 1st-3rd graders. There’s some great back matter as well, for the students to explore on their own.
3. The Airport Book by Lisa Brown
This one is a delightful picture book for younger groups. The narrator feels like an older sibling telling a younger sibling (probably the pair on the cover?) all about the ins and outs of the airport. There’s a lot of side conversation and humor going on in the word bubbles for readers to discover on their own, but they don’t really work for a read-aloud. It just adds an extra element to the book. The only minor flaw that I’ve seen in the book (thanks to notables) is that the narrator mentions that planes run on gasoline, which isn’t true. This is a small thing, though, and doesn’t really affect the awesomeness of this book for me.
I like to read it to preschoolers, kindergarteners and begining of the year 1st graders.
4. One Proud Penny by Randy Siegel and Serge Bloch
This is a funny picture book about currency, specifically pennies, with a penny as a narrator. There’s lots of good information about how pennies are made, what they’re made of, how many there are in circulation and so on. The funny penny narrator doesn’t feel like a teacher, though, so the kids are learning and laughing at the same time.
I read this one to first graders and fifth graders and everyone in between.
5. Her Right Foot by Dave Eggars and illustrated by Shawn Harris.
I saved my favorite for last. This one may not seem like pure nonfiction as there is a thesis and a timely commentary on immigration at the end, but the book is packed with facts about the statue, about how, when, where and why it was made, what the statue is made of and all sorts of cool “I-didn’t-know-that” material.
The narrator has a friendly and unique voice, and he or she gets kind of passionate at the end, when speculating *Spoilers* that Lady Liberty’s right foot is lifted because she is moving to meet and welcome immigrants on their way to the U.S. This is a message that I love, and one that I think our kids today need to hear, along with all of the good facts stuffed into the book.
I’ve read this one to 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, but I think younger elementary students would appreciate it as well.
So there you have it, five nonfiction books that I like to mix into my story times. The great narratives of these texts keep them from feeling like a bunch of facts, and they are engaging read-alouds. Does anyone one else have any favorites like this? Please, share them. My students will thank you.