When our children were little and before the dawning of the Internet, it seemed as though the best investment we could make was to buy a set of encyclopedias. So we paid an exorbitant amount of money for a collection of heavy, classic, leather bound volumes. In hindsight, the Internet was just around the corner and the only volume that was heavily used was D—for Dog. There was a whole lot of wishing going on while those pages were pored over!
Reading nonfiction and learning facts and philosophies remains one of life’s great joys for children and adults alike—we just don’t really need encyclopedias to experience that joy anymore.
Now we have wide access to an almost immeasurable number of pages and sites devoted to information. But there remains something special about reading nonfiction between the pages of a book. There are a whole slew of papers and articles extolling the virtues of reading nonfiction to and with children, e.g. this one about building a classroom library, this short piece and this about 'information books for early childhood'.
The beautiful nonfiction books on in print today are at once a source of knowledge and the beginning of a sense of wonder. The benefits of reading nonfiction are many, but here are 4:
Reading nonfiction opens up the world and offers us a portal into the understanding that is vital for self confidence and for feeling powerful—when we understand science we are less likely to fall prey to superstition. We’re also more likely to value fantasy, the power of imagination and the hope of possibility. When we understand history we are less prone to judge + more prone to feeling compassion and to being optimistic about our ability to effect change and be a force for good.
Reading nonfiction can be the springboard to understanding how and why the world works the way it does—and every piece of knowledge like that leaves us all the more powerful, emotionally as well as intellectually.
Reading nonfiction helps us to assimilate the language of science, history and academia. In the same way that reading fiction helps us to gather a storehouse of conventions for writing and speaking, nonfiction lets us gather a storehouse of academic conventions, scientific language, critical reading skills and field-specific jargon. All of which means that we can approach study of an academic discipline with confidence. And when we share ideas and philosophies, we’ll be able to speak the right language and express our thoughts clearly and critically.
Nonfiction can be the very best way to seduce a nonreader into giving reading another try. Gaining access to facts and ideas about something that fascinates a child can be just the sweetener a child needs to struggle through those early reading days. Many nonfiction books for children are brilliantly set out so that there is information to be gained in reading just a sentence or two. It’s how Alec learned to read: a sentence here and a paragraph there as he needed information.
Reading nonfiction with a child can be one of life’s great joys— there’s equality in discovering the same fascinating facts at the same moment that is rare in an adult / child relationship. Sharing the sense of delight and excitement about the world that can be found in reading nonfiction adds another link in the chain that links lives.
If you'd like to explore a little, you can find some engaging and beautiful nonfiction books here—with more to come.