This Q&A describes informational books and the many ways they can be shared with young children.
What are informational books?
Informational books are sometimes called “nonfiction” books. Their main purpose is to provide a source of knowledge on a variety of topics. Informational texts are written at a variety of reading levels to accommodate diverse learners. Informational texts range from simple word and picture books to those that explain more complex science concepts with photographs and diagrams. There are informational books written for children on a variety of topics such as animals, plants, vehicles, families, jobs, interesting places, and the arts.
How are informational books different from fiction books or “storybooks”?
Informational books differ from “storybooks” because their primary purpose is to convey knowledge. “Storybooks” for young children are intended to be read from beginning to end. The primary purpose of “storybooks” is to share a narrative that describes characters and their actions. These books often have corresponding pictures for children to look at alongside the text.
Informational books tend to have greater variety in their format. Some informational texts include a narrative that conveys information on a specific topic. These types of informational books are usually read from beginning to end, similar to storybooks. Other informational texts appear in different formats that are not intended for beginning to end reading. Some examples might be an annotated atlas (book of maps) with text boxes that highlight animals in various regions of the world or a book with photographs of various vehicles and short descriptions of their functions.
Some books written for children cross over the divide between informational texts and what is typically thought of as a “storybook.” These books may include informational text alongside a story narrative or include a glossary section that provides background information about the topic of the text. For example, a story about the ocean might include a glossary that describes different types of sea life such as plants and marine mammals. Here are some suggested books of each type to get you started.
Books with narratives on a specific topic
- On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
- Next Time You See a Pillbug by Emily Morgan
- Ballerina Dreams by Lauren Thompson, with photos by James Estrin
- Follow That Map! A First Book of Mapping Skills by Scot Ritchie
- Our Skin by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, and Isabel Roxas
Books not meant for beginning-to-end reading
- Bone Collection: Animals by Rob Scott Colson
- National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Why by Amy Shields
- The Curious Kids’ Science Book: 100+ Creative Hands-On Activities for Ages 4–8 by Asia Citro
Crossover books (narrative and informational)
- Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
- Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins
- Song of the Water Boatman by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beckie Prange
- Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen
What are some benefits of introducing young children to informational texts?
Informational texts cover a wide variety of topics. Reading these books can introduce children to new vocabulary, concepts, and topics. Some of these topics (e.g., trees, insects, household items) can be studied first hand by young children. For example, after reading a book about vacuum cleaners, a child may count, draw, use, and describe the vacuum cleaners in their home.
Informational texts can also help children to find answers to their questions and deepen their knowledge about familiar topics or introduce new and unfamiliar topics. For example, children in Illinois can learn about animals in Australia and Africa through an informational text even though they may not be able to visit those places.
How should I choose informational books to share with children?
There are several factors to consider when selecting informational books.
Consider the age and developmental stage of the children. Board books with simple text, lift-the-flap books, and books with colorful photos are often the first informational texts for infants and toddlers. Exemplary board books/series with informational text include:
- Amy Wilson Sanger’s World Snacks series
- A Book of Babies, Il Sung Na
- Busy Bunnies, Busy Pandas, Busy Kitties, Busy Penguins, Busy Doggies, and Busy Chickens by John Schindel
- Peek a Boo! (Baby Faces Board Book) by Roberta Grobel Intrater
Preschoolers may seek informational books with simple text and corresponding pictures. They may also enjoy and listening to alphabet books and riddle books about a particular topic. However, all young children may be curious to browse through books with a higher reading level while looking at the pictures.
Teachers can think about curricular goals and choose informational books to support them. For example, books about the human body can provide opportunities to discuss healthy behaviors and books about birds can inspire conversations about the birds children see on the playground.
Consider the current interests of the children. Reading informational books can provide opportunities to have rich conversations about what is going on in children’s everyday lives. For example, children may be interested in books about the weather following a snowstorm or about butterflies after finding a caterpillar in the grass.
What strategies should I use when I introduce children to informational books in the classroom?
Teachers should read a book before introducing it to the class and can take the following steps to prepare:
- Consider which parts to read aloud to the children
- Think about the types of questions to ask the children
- Think about the types of questions children may ask
- Think about which pictures might capture children’s attention or invite curiosity
Teachers can also encourage children to ask questions, read books again and again, and create their own books to share information.
How can I incorporate informational books into my classroom environment?
There are many strategies teachers can use to make informational books part of children’s learning environment. Here are some ideas:
- Create a browsing box with multiple books on a particular topic. Encourage the children to use these boxes to find out information about a particular topic.
- Look for books with varied illustrations. Choose some books with illustrations and some with photographs.
- Seek out books of multiple reading levels to appeal to children of different developmental levels.
- Include informational texts alongside storybooks with a common topic or setting. The informational texts will expand children’s knowledge and help them think about the narrative in the storybooks in ways that are more complex.
- Include informational books in places where you might typically use them.
- Put children’s cookbooks in a play kitchen.
- Keep a nature field guide near the playground or in a bag you take to the park.
- Encourage children to explore maps when traveling.
Where can I find informational books for young children?
Most informational books for young children are in the nonfiction section of the children’s department of the library. A librarian can help locate books on a particular topic. Other sections of the library may have informational texts worth sharing. For example, young children may enjoy looking through catalogs, magazines, and newspapers for photographs. Nature field guides, cookbooks, and art books from the adult section of the library may also interest them. Adults can read some of the text that accompanies the images or use the images to inspire conversation.
For more ideas, explore IEL’s project guides, each of which contains a list of informational books on topics that are frequently studied in early childhood classrooms. Nonfiction for Kids, by Reading Rockets, also provides suggestions.