I’ve always read a lot of nonfiction aloud to my son: it’s one of my main strategies for teaching him about the world and helping him grow into a person full of wonder and curiosity. Nonfiction picture books are one of my favorite genres, and my own reading life is fairly balanced between fiction and nonfiction. (More fiction than nonfiction, but for me, that’s still balanced.) But although I recommend a lot of nonfiction in my Children’s Literature classes, I realized recently that I don’t read aloud nearly as many nonfiction titles to my students as I do fiction titles. In fact, in three weeks of #classroombookaday, there have been no nonfiction titles! How is that possible?
This post shares a list of 16 of my favorite can’t-miss nonfiction picture book read-alouds. It’s part of a series of lists I’ve been making of nonfiction picture books. You can check out the Starter Kit for Teachers New to Nonfiction, the Mentor Texts to Teach Craft, Style, and Voice and the list of 20 titles for upper elementary. With this list, I hope to remind myself to incorporate more nonfiction in my own classroom read-alouds as I revisit some tried-and-true favorites.
Not all nonfiction picture books read well aloud, and that’s not necessarily a knock against their quality. Some great nonfiction titles haven’t been rip-roaring successes as read-alouds with my son (The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings are two recent favorites of mine that come to mind).
There are many reasons why a quality nonfiction picture book might fall a bit flat as a read-aloud. What works visually doesn’t always work aurally. Sometimes there is too much information for easy auditory processing. Sometimes the different text features (multiple different fonts presenting multiple different types of information) make reading aloud challenging. Sometimes abstract concepts that might be clear upon careful review of an illustration or diagram are never made concrete enough for listening readers. And sometimes it’s just a mismatch between book and audience.
For me, a great read-aloud appeals to a wide range of audiences. I’ve shared the books on this list with young children, with my seventh-grade son who is a struggling reader, and with several different groups of college students. A great nonfiction read-aloud inspires wonder and compels further learning and discovery. Most of all, perhaps, it prompts conversation.
Be sure to check out Carrie Gelson’s list of Beginning Read Alouds and Alyson Beecher’s suggestions for reading nonfiction books aloud in the classroom and her list of favorite science-themed read-alouds.