Nonfiction children's literature has soared in popularity as educational trends seek to incorporate more literature in learning the basics of history, science and math. There are excellent nonfiction books out there, for just about anything you want to study. Whether you're doing a thematic unit on rainforests, or the American Revolution, there is a book available. One easy way to find these gems is to find award winners, or go with a noted author.
Nonfiction Award Winners
If you're looking for any nonfiction books not necessarily related to a particular theme, the best thing to look for are those that won awards. While there any number of nonfiction children's book awards, three in particular stand out as really singling out the best of the best:
The Boston-Globe Horn Book Awards
Established in 1967, the Horn Book Award is one of the most prestigious awards in children's literature. The Horn Book Award is given to the best books of the year and is awarded for the best picture books, best fiction or poetry in addition to nonfiction. Some recent non-fiction winners include:
- The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming, who is already known well for her other scrapbooking books of history greats like Ben Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
- The Way We Work by David Macaulay is similar in design and layout to "The Way Things Work," which also won awards.
- Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone explores a topic that seldom receives attention in history classes.
The Orbus Pictus Award
The Orbus Pictus Award is presented by the National Council of Teachers of English to award those books that are selected by a panel as truly outstanding examples of nonfiction literature. Generally, these books are not picture books but are geared toward an upper elementary reading level.
- Monsieur Marceau: Actor Without Words by Leda Schubert creates a fascinating biography of the world-renown mime, Marcel Marceau.
- Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges and Margo Lundell tells Ruby's story as the first African American student to walk into a newly desegregated school.
- A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano is a look into what a black hole actually is, how scientists study them, and just about anything else you would want to know about them.
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal
The Sibert Award is for the best informational book published for the preceding year.
- Bomb - The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin is a unique look at the development of the atomic bomb.
Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd gives a chronicle of Ben Franklin's life and his propensity toward invention.
Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson takes a look at the Titanic tragedy through interviews with those who survived.
Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award
The ALA's Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction is awarded to an outstanding book whose intended audience is between the ages of 12-18.
- The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin covers the life and motivations of Benedict Arnold, and leaves readers pondering his acts of treason.
- Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman juxtaposes the idea of faith with one of the world's most well-known authorities on evolution.
- Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel is a biography about Janis Joplin, her rise to fame, and her descent into the drugs that eventually killed her.
Notable and Prolific Nonfiction Authors and Series
Another way to find great material if you are looking for nonfiction books for children is to find notable authors of children's nonfiction.
Jean Fritz is notable not only for being prolific but for introducing young readers to American history in a fascinating and interesting way. She is well known for many of her historical fiction novels like The Cabin Faced West. However, her numerous nonfiction books about the American colonial period garnered her substantial recognition:
- What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?
- Can't You Make Them Behave, King George?
- And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?
Telling it like it really was, Salarya pairs with various authors to create books about what it was like to live long ago. Focusing on the disgusting truths of life hundreds of years ago, the You Wouldn't Want to Be a. . . series brings history to life in a way that kids can relate to. Some of their titles include:
- You Wouldn't Want to Be a Viking Explorer
- You Wouldn't Want to Be in a Medieval Dungeon
- You Wouldn't Want to Be an Egyptian Mummy
Say the name Joanna Cole and you'll likely elicit hardly a murmur. However, if you mention Miss Frizzle, or the Magic School Bus, you'll likely have an instantly interested child. Kids love to follow the consistent characters on their classroom adventures with Miss Frizzle, whether it is to the bottom of the city water works or through the Amazon rainforest.
These cartoon-like books are packed to the brim with interesting facts woven in throughout the story line. History buffs will be happy to know that Miss Frizzle also does a little time traveling now. Some of her titles include:
- The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor
- The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body
- Miss Frizzle's Adventures: Imperial China
Macauley's book, The Way Things Work was his inaugural piece that detailed the inner workings of just about everything under the sun from toaster ovens to watches to a digital microchip. Since his first great success, he has written numerous other books focusing on topics like architecture, the human body and city planning. Some of his notable titles include:
If you've ever checked out a science book full of experiments you can do at home, chances are you're already familiar with Vikki Cobb. Making it her mission to present science in a way that is accessible and fun for readers, Vikki has written a number of do-it-yourself and science play titles, including:
- Science Experiments You Can Eat
- I Face the Wind (Science Play Series)
- Your Body Battles a Broken Bone
Gone are the days when non-fiction books consisted of textbook print and simple pictures or diagrams. Today's genre of non-fiction blends anything and everything into an exciting package to get kids really excited about using literature and about learning the subject at hand.