Thursday, November 26, 2015

20 Great Non-Fiction Books for Reluctant 6-12 Year Olds

This is a repeat post as I haven't posted on non-fiction for a while. Some of these are ideal books for boys who are reluctant. Some young readers find non-fiction more engaging than fiction, so finding good non-fiction is worth the effort. In an earlier post I talk about this at length (HERE). This post is simply a quick review of some good books published in the last few years, it isn't meant to be comprehensive. I have arranged the examples I offer roughly in order of difficulty and age interest. It goes without saying that there are girls too for whom non-fiction is also more engaging.

'Bilby Secrets' Edel Wignel, illustrated by Mark Jackson

This is a delightful non-fiction picture book that teaches us in narrative form about the life of the wonderful bilby, an Australian marsupial. It traces the events of a typical day for mother and baby, and the perils of native and feral animals as the baby Bilby tries to survive life in the Australian landscape. Edel Wignel's story keeps the reader interested, while Mark Jackson's brightly coloured illustrations add drama and detail to this piece of discovery learning in narrative form. Children aged 2-6 will love this book. It is also a great book for classroom-based units and learning. 

'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide (Lothian)

'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide won the Eve Pownall prize for information books. This delightful true story of a great Australian character is based on Weidenbach's story of Tom Kruse who was the driver of the Marree-to-Birdsville mail. Once a fortnight for twenty years Tom loaded his Leyland Badger truck and drove 1,000 km across perilous territory on little more than a dusty dangerous rutted track. His job was to deliver mail and provisions to arguably the most isolated residents in the world. Tom was a great Australian character who lived in the middle decades of last century

The book is a version for younger children (aged 5-8 years) that Weidenbach has adapted into a delightful picture book for young readers. It offers just a small slice of the events of Tom's life. When floods cut the Birdsville Track, the station residents run out of supplies and worse still, the Birdsville Hotel runs out of beer! It takes Tom’s ingenuity to beat the floodwaters and get the mail and the beer through. Timothy Ide provides wonderfully detailed watercolour illustrations that add to what is already a compelling narrative account.

'Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook' by Angela Wilkes and published by DK Publishing.  

The Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook has 60 simple recipes that children will enjoy. The recipes are easy enough for most children to use, and are mostly suitable for the whole family. It contains a mix of healthy snacks, full meals, and delicious treats and sweets. The meal recipes include pita pockets, falafel, pizzas, Turkish meatballs, tacos, Thai satay kebabs, lemon fish sticks, filled crepes, chicken curry and rice. There are also many wonderful sweets including simple baked bomb Alaska, Tiramisu, parfaits, carrot cake, cookies and many more.  

The book also outlines cooking techniques, good food hygiene, kitchen safety, and step-by-step instructions. Full colour photographs are used throughout the book.

'The Lego Ideas Book' by Daniel Lipkowitz and published by DK Publishing 

If you have a box of Lego pieces resulting from your purchase of dozens of Lego sets, then you need this book. The book has 500 ideas for how you can make new things out of your box of Lego pieces. The book has six themed chapters—transportation, buildings, space, medieval history, adventure, and useful things to make. Each section has templates for models and ideas for how you might create your own. The book has 200 pages of tips and advice, illustrations and ideas.  It is well illustrated and beautifully designed. This book will keep children aged 7 to 70 years busy for hours.

'How Machines Work: The Interactive Guide to Simple Machines and Mechanisms' by Nick Arnold & Allan Sanders, published by Quarto Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books.

This book is a unique interactive guide to understanding simple machines and mechanisms. It introduces basic physics both in words and through models that the reader manipulates. It has 9 double-page spreads that introduce the reader to a key mechanical principle that you then put into practice by building one or more working models. The text and illustrations offer an easy to understand description of the mechanical principle and how to make a model that demonstrates it. This hands-on approach makes it easy to understand how these principles work and how they can be applied to everyday objects, such as cars, bicycles cranes and seesaws. Everything that you need is within, or attached to the book. The concept is brilliant

'Locomotive', written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2013).

Floca is the author and illustrator of many books for children, including three Robert F. Sibert Honour Books: 'Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11', 'Lightship', and 'Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring', written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

'Locomotive' is the story a family’s journey across America in 1869 on the newly completed transcontinental railroad. The star of the story is the steam engine, but a mother and her two children and all those who keep the train moving are essential extras as it races down the Californian coast.

For the true enthusiast of trains the author gives us plenty of technical information about 19th-century railroading. This is not surprising, as Floca seems to have aimed at a very broad audience. Some will be pulled along by rhythm of the story, others will love the train details, and some will revel in the sense of history (even in the very typefaces used). Floca uses free verse and as you'd expect plays with words and sound to great effect. 

The technical craft and book design are both brilliant, as Floca uses every device to good effect to engage readers in this exciting journey by an incredible piece of 19th century technology.

Even the way he uses his pictures provides a cinematic style that is hard to create, but which adds to the richness of the text. The detail in the illustrations is superb; it is as much draftsmanship as it is fine illustration.

'Locomotive' won the 2014 Caldecott Medal.

'Kubla Khan: Emperor of Everything' by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Robert Byrd

Kubla Khan is not well known and has often been mentioned historically only indirectly or in passing. Who was the man who Coleridge described in his famous poem 'Kubla Kahn'? This is the presumed grandson of Genghis Khan who reputedly built the imperial city of Beijing, and fathered a hundred or more children. History and legend suggest that he ruled over the greatest empire of the time, and that it was more advanced than previous civilisations in science, art and technology. The narrative text is engaging and should hold the interest of young readers, and Robert Byrd beautifully illustrates the book. Readers aged 7-9 years will enjoy this 42 page illustrated book.

'Simpson and his Donkey' by Mark Greenwood & illustrated by Frané Lessac

Every Australian and English child who grew up in the 1950s to 70s in Australia would know of the story of Simpson and the donkey he used to retrieve wounded men on the WWI battlefields of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. This was one of the greatest of all defeats for the forces of Britain, France and of course the Australian and New Zealand armed forces (the ANZACs). In the midst of the massacre of thousands of allied troops and the eight-month siege of this isolated beachhead, a man and his donkey were responsible for saving many lives, before Simpson was eventually killed on yet another mission.

Mark Greenwood offers a moving story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick and how he and his donkey, Duffy, rescued over 300 men during the campaign at Gallipoli. It traces his life from his home in South Shields in Newcastle (England) and his journey from the Tyne Dock to Turkey. Informed by detailed research, the text includes a brief biography of the man, details of his work at Gallipoli and also the little known story of how one of the many he rescued was actually a childhood friend.

Frané Lessac's illustrations are a wonderful complement to the story and have strength of colour that is not controlled by conventions. There are skies of yellow, orange, aqua, purple and all shades of blue. Her unique style draws your eye deep into each plate; no details can easily be missed.
'Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas' by Fiona Watt and published by Usborne

The Usborne Art book has almost 300 pages of original ideas for painting, drawing and making collage. This fantastic book is ideal for children of varied (and minimal) artistic ability. It is also suitable for just about any age (but it's ideal for 7-12 year olds). The book will help children to explore varied artistic forms and materials, including chalk, pencil, paint and watercolour. It offers ideas that require the use of a wide variety of artistic techniques, including painting, drawing, sticking, ink, ripping, rubbing, smudging and colouring. Each of the many ideas is illustrated with very easy to follow step-by-step instructions. The book also offers tips on brushwork, mixing colours, thinning and thickening paint, how to shade and add patterns, using oil pastels, acrylics and more. 

'I Was Only Nineteen' by John Schumann and illustrated by Craig Smith (Allen & Unwin)

John Schumann wrote an unforgettable song 'I Was Only 19' in 1983 with the band Redgum. It had the memorable refrain 'God help me, I was only 19'. The lyrics of this well-known Australian song have been brought to life in a children's picture book illustrated by the widely acclaimed Australian illustrator Craig Smith. The words are used exactly as in the song. With Craig Smith's wonderful watercolour and line drawings they are a moving reminder of the Vietnam War. This was a war that was fought in different ways to the previous great wars and had less universal support than previous conflicts in which Australia and other nations had fought. This was a war that for many didn't seem 'quite real', and our servicemen still carry the physical and mental scars. The book is a moving insight into a war fought by young men who knew little about the country in which they fought and why they were there. It would be an ideal book to share with children aged 6-12 years as we approach ANZAC Day in Australia on April 25th.

'Tales of the Greek Heroes' by Green Roger Lancelyn (Penguin, 2009)

The beautiful land of Greece is haunted by more than three thousand years of legend and history. In this gripping retelling of the Heroic Age, you'll meet the mighty Poseiden, God of the Sea; Zeus, the King of Heaven and Earth; Hades, Lord of the Dead; Artemis the Huntress; Aphrodite, Immortal Lady of Beauty and Love; and many more mortals and gods. Their adventures are some of the oldest and most famous stories in the world.

This collection of well-known Greek myths will be enjoyed by readers aged 11+

'A Tale of Troy' by Lancelyn Roger Green (Penguin, 2012)

This book is a companion to 'Tales of the Greek Heroes'.

Step back into the Heroic Age with the story of Helen and the judgement of Paris; of the gathering of the heroes and the siege of Troy; of Achilles and his vulnerable heel. And join Odysseus, the last of the heroes – famous for his wisdom and cunning – on his thrilling adventures as he makes the long journey home to Greece.

Once again, perfect reading for children aged 11+

'Tales of Ancient Egypt' by Lancelyn Green Roger (Penguin, 2011)

In this thrilling collection of the great myths, you'll encounter Amen-Ra, who created all the creatures in the world; Iris, searching the waters for her dead husband, Osiris; the Bennu bird and the Book of Thoth. But there are also tales told purely for pleasure, about treasure and adventure – and even the first ever story of Cinderella.

Ages 10+ will love this collection

'Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles. America’s First Black Paratroopers' (Candlewick Press, 2013)

This is a true story that has been a long time coming. It tells in a fair but powerful way of the racism that has often existed in armed forces around the world. Americans may well have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, but few would know of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion - the Triple Nickle. These were the first US black paratroopers. They showed that black soldiers could do anything their white counterparts could do. The text and over 100 carefully labelled photographs in this 150 page book offer us an insight into how some brave and persistent African American men paved the way for others to be a full part of the US armed forces.

Tanya Lee Stone (author of 'Almost Astronauts') has done extensive research to tell her true story for readers of all ages. Boys in particular will love reading and looking at the historic photos. The work took Stone almost 10 years and the meticulous care and passion shows in this wonderful book. This amazing story will challenge all readers irrespective of age, race or ethnicity. The book recently won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. It is a very worthy winner.

'The Dangerous Book for Boys' by Conn Iggulden & Hal Iggulden (Harper Collins)

As they say, this book is an 'oldie' but a 'goodie'. It offers a range of ideas for making and doing things. For example, how to make the greatest paper plane in the world, building a tree house, all about dinosaurs, making a G0-cart, how to go fishing, juggling, all about Australian snakes, skimming stones and so on. This isn't a simple book (about grade 4-5 standard) but the content will help boys to 'stretch' themselves. It is also a great book for boys to read and 'do' with an adult. I've reviewed it in more detail here.

'You Can Draw Anything' by Kim Gamble

Kim Gamble is a well-known illustrator of Australian picture books. In this very accessible book he shows you how to draw just about anything you want to. Most how-to-draw books are either simple and recipe like or far too complex. The book offers principles and guidance for drawing many objects, including varied animals, people (bodies and faces), and landscapes including perspectives. He also offers techniques for shading and colouring. He intersperses the many diagrams and drawings with stories, jokes and examples that make the approach lots of fun, engaging and effective. It is ideal for children aged 7-10 years.

'Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea' by Stephanie Owen Reeder
This is a story about the courage of 16-year-old Grace Bussell. The year is 1876, when a steam ship, the 'Georgette', runs aground near Margaret River in Western Australia. On shore an ordinary 16 year-old girl sees the unfolding drama and heads off on horseback with the family servant Sam Isaacs to try to help the stranded passengers. Grace and Sam head into the water with their horses and rescue many people. Using eyewitness accounts and other historical documents as well as some slight embellishment to fill in details to sustain the narrative, Stephanie Reeder brings this true story to life.  This wonderful story is an excellent follow on from Stephanie Reeder's previous book, 'Lost! A True Tale From the Bush'. This previous story was also a true story. It told the story of 3 children who became lost on their way home in 1864 and spent eight days alone. It was shortlisted in the 2010 CBCA children's literature awards.  
'The Boy from Bowral' by Robert Ingpen

Robert Ingpen is known primarily as an illustrator but he is also a fine writer with 13 works of fiction and over 20 non-fiction. His most recent book as writer and illustrator is 'The Boy from Bowral' which tells the biographical story of Australian cricketer Sir Donald Bradman who is the greatest cricketer of all time. Bradman is seen as a legend in any cricket playing nation and Ingpen provides a lucidly written and historically accurate picture of Bradman's early life in Bowral, his rise to prominence as a cricketer, and his sporting career. The images are drawings based primarily on existing photographs, so the keen cricket fan (like me) will feel that they recognise some of them. The cover (which wraps around to the back) is a wonderful sequence of images that appear like a series of video frames that capture the classic Bradman cover drive. I loved this book and any cricket following child or adult will also enjoy it.

'Neurology: The Amazing Central Nervous System' by April Chloe Terrazas (Crazy Brainz, 2013)

Neurology explores the complexities of the Central Nervous System, beginning with the different sections (lobes) of the brain, continuing to the spinal cord and concluding with the structure and function of the neuron. Readers will learn how to pronounce key terms like Cerebellum, Occipital Lobe and Sensorimotor Cortex. They will also discover the functions of the Cerebral Cortex, Basal Ganglia and the Hippocampus! The book will also help them to understand the way the brain is organised - Forebrain, Midbrain, Hindbrain... and much more. 

The book has wonderful images that will engage them and color-coded text will reinforce lots of new learning. A great book for boys who love science and fancy themselves as brain surgeons! This is a book that will appeal to boys (and girls) of all ages.

'Into the Unknown' by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty

This wonderful hard cover book from tells the story of 14 famous journeys throughout history, including 'Pytheas the Greek Sails to the Arctic Circle in 340BC', 'Admiral Zheng He Crosses the Indian Ocean in 1405-07', 'Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin Land on the Moon in 1969', 'Marco Polo Rides the Silk Road to China in 1271-74' and many more.

Each story has multiple drawings, maps and a giant fold out cross-section. Boys will read and look through this book for hours. You will also enjoy reading this exciting book to boys. There are many other 'cross-section' books by Stephen Biesty and others (here), including 'Egypt in Cross Section', 'Castles' and 'Rome'.

'Movie Maker' by Tim Grabham, Suridh Hassan, Dave Reeve and Clare Richards

'Movie Maker' is another wonderful resource from Walker Books designed for primary school aged children (7-12 years). It is a kit that contains ideas for making movies, and a handbook that shows you how armed simply with a video camera, you can make movies. The handbook talks about techniques like storyboarding, production, equipment, sound and lighting, design, special effects, how to vary camera shots and so on. It also includes some very cute aids such as a binocular mask, an adjustable frame, sample story boards, character props (e.g. glasses, moustache) and even authentic theatre tickets. All it doesn't include is the popcorn.

'The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists' by Sean Connolly

I wanted this book as soon as I saw it.  Well, as soon as I saw the title!  The book is all about igniting interest in science. Sean Connolly achieves this with lively, hands-on activities that suggest excitement and "danger". Simple experiments that pop, ooze, surprise and teach will delight boys and girls in upper primary. He also leads the reader through the history of science, and uses simple experiments to demonstrate key scientific principles.

The reader can rediscover the wheel and axle with the ancient Sumerians, or perform an astounding experiment demonstrating the theory of angular momentum. Children can build a simple telescope like Galileo's and find the four moons he discovered orbiting Jupiter.  They can experiment safely with electricity and avoid the more risky approach of Ben Franklin with his Lightning experiment. They will also learn how to re-create the Hadron Collider in a microwave with marshmallows, calculator, and a ruler to demonstrate the speed of light. Or they might simply crush a can using Stephenson's steam can experiment. This is a wonderful book for children aged 9-12 years.

Related Posts

'Meet the Author: Mark Greenwood & Frané Lessac' HERE
'Author & Illustrator Focus: Robert Ingpen HERE
'Getting Boys into Books Through Non-Fiction' HERE
'Making Reading Exciting for Boys' HERE
'New Title for Young Independent & Reluctant Readers Aged 6-12' HERE

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