Non-fiction: why is it so important for children’s reading?

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You may have noticed that November has been National Non Fiction Month. With so many days and occasions to celebrate reading, the focus is often on fiction.  This of course, is wonderful and absolutely as it should be. But it’s also wonderful and as it should be that we celebrate the plethora of amazing non-fiction books out there for children.  And that’s just what the Federation of Children’s Book Groups does through National Non Fiction month.

So why is non- fiction so important for children’s reading?  Well, one might say, it teaches them about the world and helps their education perhaps supporting whatever current topic they’re working on. And of course this is true; knowledge is empowering at any age. But it’s more than that. Because for some children, reading stories just isn’t something they want to do or perhaps it’s something that they can’t do.  So non-fiction opens a door to reading ensuring they too can experience the wonder of words.

Non-fiction books help children unlock the world around them, but also enable them to participate in reading, tapping into their varied interests and engaging them in a way that stories sometimes can’t.  If a child has a learning need, they can struggle with understanding the often inferred narratives in a story – with non-fiction they don’t have to worry about this, they can just read the facts off the page!  Would you believe that many children I have worked with say they don’t want to read because they don’t like stories? Of course I explain to them that this is simply not true, they haven’t found the right book yet.  But if they are adamant and don’t want to read a ‘story-book’, I will establish what their interests are and recommend a wonderful non-fiction book as a starting point that fits the bill; whatever the topic there’s bound to be something they will enjoy.  As it’s not a ‘story’ and it fits in with their interests, they start to read.  And whilst they read they are still benefiting from language, vocabulary and expression through the information presented in front of them.  This is amazing sight to see, when you’ve had a student roll their eyes on being asked to read – and a little while later they’re busy enjoying a book!

There are some simply gorgeous and amazing non-fiction books produced today for all ages with beautiful illustrations bringing the information to life. The FCBG have put together an amazing list of 100 children’s non-fiction books; plenty of ideas to choose from!

And there’s always what are viewed as the more ‘commercial’ non-fiction books; the Guinness Book of Records, Lego, Minecraft……a bone of contention for some; ‘It’s not reading’.  Well actually, yes it is. It’s a start. And for those young people who are so switched off from reading they’d rather stare at the wall, it’s the perfect combination of words, pictures and fantastic facts.  Without even realising it they become engrossed in a book, through something that interests them.  It’s a step on the road to reading – it’s fun and above all we want children and young people to associate their reading experiences with fun.  Once they find the joy of books, they are far more likely to develop a reading habit. Sadly not all have had a positive start to their reading journeys, not all have homes with books in and many have a complete lack of input as they get older.  So if we can find something that hooks them, non-fiction or fiction, little by little they will discover reading for pleasure.

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