July 27, 2016

Our Top Eleven Nonfiction Books for Teaching…EVERYTHING!

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On Monday, we shared and celebrated the fiction books that serve to support our literacy instruction in just about every way imaginable. However, it can’t be all fiction all of the time, so of course we have favorite nonfiction books, too. The following is a list of eleven of our favorites, once again, in no particular order, with some brief notes about how we use these books to support our goals for helping children become increasingly proficient with informational text. You will notice, that none of these titles are narrative nonfiction, as this list leans in the direction of the CCSS definition of informational texts. Next Thursday, we will be in New Orleans at IRA and we will write posts related to the conference. Due to the lovely response, IRA has moved our pre-conference institute to an even bigger room (Institute 11-Aligning to the Common Core Without Sacrificing Your Inner Teacher: Joyful Lessons that Support Independence and Proficiency with Complex Texts), so please join us for a joyful day of learning! The week after IRA, we will post lists of “Our Top Ten NARRATIVE Nonfiction Books for Teaching…EVERYTHING!” and “Our Top Ten Poetry Books for Teaching …EVERYTHING!” We hope to see you in New Orleans!

1. It’s Back to School We Go by Ellen Jackson

It's back to school we go

This book is structurally interesting because information is presented in both narrative and expository formats.  Featuring first day of school stories of children from eleven different countries, the instructional possibilities feel endless. We have used it to help show children the different ways that authors present information as well as a resource for teaching children about comparing and contrasting information. In addition, because each of the stories are told narratively, this text is great for supporting students as they work to make inferences and understand point-of-view. This is one of many titles from Lerner Publishing that we love. We reviewed all their books and assembled a collection of our favorites, which you can find in their Common Core catalog. Full disclosure: We get no compensation (other than our initial compensation for selecting and reviewing our favorites) or other perks from promoting our favorite Lerner titles. We just like these books and this company. 🙂

2.Guess What Is Growing Inside This Egg by Mia Posada

Guess What's Growing Inside this egg

Another structurally interesting book, Guess What Is Growing Inside This Egg presents information in a guessing game format.  Readers are given clues in both the written text and illustrations and are asked , “Can you guess what is growing inside these eggs?”  The rich textual detail invites readers to look and look again at both the words and illustrations making this an excellent book for teaching children about close, careful reading. Reading about each of the different animals builds background knowledge that  helps students synthesize information to formulate new ideas about animals that grow inside of eggs.

3. Creature Features by Anita Ganeri

Creature Features

Whenever we set this book in front of children, they cannot resist picking it up because it is so interesting to look at.  In this book, the drawings serve as the hook for reading closely and carefully. Funny things like an elephant standing on pillows or a kangaroo wearing boxing gloves inevitably inspire readers to wonder why the illustrator included such details.  In order to find out, children begin to look between the illustration and the expository text and synthesize the information to formulate new ideas about each of the animals. When children read this book, there are giggles and echoes of “ohhhh!” as children celebrate the joy of figuring out something they didn’t first understand as well as revel in new information about animals they find interesting.

4. Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins


Can We Save the Tiger? is just as beautiful as it is informative. Written with an engaging voice, the descriptive passages describe the reasons different animals have gone extinct, making the text very versatile for instruction. It is great for looking at the descriptive structure of expository text. It also lends itself to compare/contrast. The large format, the spectacular composition, and the interplay between the text and the images make this text a favorite with teachers and students, alike. This is one of those non-narrative informational texts that even makes a great read aloud. It also serves as a wonderful mentor text for writing. If we were building a classroom library, this is one of the first titles we would buy.

5. Press Here by Herve Tullet

Press Here

Press Here is a clever introduction to procedural text. With each page, readers follow the directions and turn the page to see the results. While this book trailer shows young children interacting with Press Here, it is equally appealing for older readers. It has a built in comprehension check, as one can’t interact with this text without reading for meaning. This book is great for identifying transitional words in procedural texts and thinking about the “voice” in directional writing. This is a quintessential example of CCSS-style informational reading and writing, as it offers a writing that is comparable to reading a manual. Reading Press Here is just a lot more fun!

6. Plants That Never Ever Bloom by Ruth Heller

Plants That Never Ever Bloom (Sandcastle)

Of course, what nonfiction library would be complete without an assortment of books by Ruth Heller. Ruth Heller wrote wonderful nonfiction before it was cool to write nonfiction! Her texts continue to intrigue and inform readers. We are partial to Plants That Never Ever Bloom because it is a rather obscure topic. It is great as a nonfiction mentor text because it illustrates the fact that nonfiction writers look for topics that no one else is writing about. It also shows the ways that creative topics can prove interesting for an audience. Of course, Heller’s illustrations are rich and engaging.

7. The Human Body by Seymour Simon

The Human Body


Seymour Simon is another pioneer of nonfiction writing for elementary readers. His books were the cornerstone of our classroom libraries back when nonfiction picture books were few and far between. We love his books for their exhaustive and in-depth coverage of topics. The illustrations are expansive and intriguing and they offer a perfect complement to the text. The print is often a rather large font, but the is substantial text, unlike many books that just offer small bits of information, such as the Eyewitness books (which we also love). Seymour Simon’s books are a great introduction to reading more substantive nonfiction.

8. How Artists See Families by Colleen Carroll

How artists see families


The How Artists See Series is a favorite of ours. We are partial to books about visual art, and these books do not disappoint. The series explores how artists see everything from cities to work to feelings. Each book follows the same format, with a full page image of a classic work of art and a full page of text set around an zoomed in portion of the focus artwork. The text elaborates on some point of the artwork, explaining the way the artists saw and sought to portray the subject. We love the way this book requires students to read both the text and the images closely, as the two so are so intimately connected.

9. The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins


Steve Jenkins is another author of informational books, without which no classroom library can be complete. We love all of his books, as well as those he writes with his wife Robin Page. The Beetle Book is particularly spectacular. You will never look at a beetle in the same way! Prior to reading this book, we didn’t think of beetles as beautiful, but now we are in awe of them. If you like Steve Jenkins, be sure to check out his Think Books–free, downloadable PDFs of guided reading books with illustrations by Steve–a special collaboration with Burkins & Yaris and Literacyhead.com.

10. The Family Book by Todd Parr

The Family Book

We love to use Todd Parr’s books as nonfiction mentor texts for young children. It shows them how they can observe their world and access their background knowledge to write informational texts. The colorful and simple illustrations inspire students as well, and they can borrow Todd’s language patterns, too. We love everything Todd Parr does, so we are happy that many of his books fit so nicely into our explorations of nonfiction with young children.

11. Jumping Penguins by Jesse Goossens

Last, but certainly not least, is one of our new, favorite nonfiction titles! The illustrations are unbelievable and the text is fascinating. The text is 3-5 grade in difficulty but it is very short, so it makes for great complex text explorations for younger readers. It also lends itself to read aloud. Older readers will enjoy interpreting the ways the illustrations and the text connect. One teacher we know puts a new page from this book under the document camera for students to interpret each morning and discuss during their morning meeting. The book is also great for teaching vocabulary. Students find Jumping Penguins irresistible, and so do we! For your enjoyment, we conclude today’s post with the interior pages about the Marabou Stork.


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