Enjoyment and empowerment for all: Why we need to seek out and celebrate non-fiction
Even if you can’t remember back to when you were 3 or 4, you may have experienced (perhaps with tinge of exasperation) a small child asking you, “But why? Why is it like that? Why does it do that? Why, why, why?”
We start out life immensely hungry for understanding. We want to work out how things work; we’re full of questions and insatiably curious about the world. And when we discover an answer to our questioning, the world seems to make a little more sense and we feel braver and bolder than before. To be curious is not only natural, it helps us lead rich and wonderful lives. This is why I’m a passionate advocate for doing whatever possible to enable children and young people to keep asking “Why?”
Non-fiction books are my tools of choice for this; once opened, not only do they feed enthusiasm, foster wonder, and put wind beneath wings, they enable readers by delivering knowledge and feeding passion.
Like me, you probably want the children and young people you know to fall in love with books – perhaps because you know that all the research points to frequent readers being more successful in life, or perhaps simply because you know how enjoyable reading is, and want others to experience that warmth, delight, and pleasure.
But to fall in love with reading, children have to find books they love. Making their own choices about what they read is an important aspect of this.
In this light, these facts that give us food for thought:
- One recent study for #CoverKidsBooks found that a mere 12.5% of children’s book reviews in a given period were for non-fiction.
- Just 15% of the shelving in the children’s section of my local bookshop is given over to non-fiction.
- For the first 6 months of 2016, children’s non-fiction (excluding school text books) accounted for 11% of sales by value.
Yet, when children are asked about what books they like to read for pleasure, the gap between fiction and non fiction is much smaller: 48.2% of 7-11 year olds say they enjoy reading fiction for pleasure, 42% say they enjoy reading non-fiction. If this were reflected in shelf space, we might expect just under half of a children’s book shop to be dedicated to non-fiction (not unlike it actually is in most adult sections of a bookshop).
Given the general lack of coverage and shelf space devoted to non-fiction, how can we find fantastic examples to offer up to young readers?
Seek out award-winners
This month sees the announcements of not only the winners of the School Library Association Information Book Award but also the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize. More information on other non-fiction book awards can be found on here
Feast on booklists
As a starting point, The Federation of Children’s Book Groups has put together a list of 100 brilliant non-fiction books for children and young people. And what’s more you could win them all! Another terrific resource is Booktrust’s Bookfinder, where you can search for non-fiction by age (including for teens).
Max out in libraries
Libraries are especially strong on non-fiction, generally giving over a far greater number of shelves to information books than you’ll find in a bookshop. Challenge your family or class to find books on topics that excite them (Justin Bieber! Kittens! Making slime!) and then test your library card to the limit – all risk free!
Let’s encourage wonder, adventuring and questioning in the children and young people we know. Non-fiction isn’t just enjoyable, it’s empowering!
Zoe Toft is the National Non-Fiction Co-ordinator for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups (http://www.fcbg.org.uk/). She has a passion for bringing books to life outside of their pages, and documents the play and experiences her family share as a result of their love of books on her blog Playing by the book (http://www.playingbythebook.net/). You can find her on Twitter @playbythebook, where she will only be too happy to talk about books – especially non-fiction books for children and young people.