What is the best non-fiction book for kids in your field of study/work?
May 18, 2013 12:17 PM   Subscribe

My kids (currently 6 and 9) have become voracious readers. We have a large and varied collection of excellent fiction for them, but the non-fiction collection is more haphazard. They love learning new facts as they read (the type of thing that makes them look up from the book and say, "Did you know...?"). I want to make sure that the collection of books gives them a good introduction to fields where I myself may not have enough knowledge to judge the quality/accuracy of the book. So what's the kid's book in your field that makes you say, "If only every kid got to read this book, people would understand [topic] better."?

If you don't know whether it's a suitable reading level for my kids' ages, go ahead and suggest it anyway. We can figure it out or save it for later.
posted by winston to Education (19 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I was only a little bit older than your kids when I first read Richard Lederer's Crazy English. While it's not actually about linguistics in any meaningful way, it was part of what put me on the path to studying linguistics.
posted by capricorn at 12:24 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Inspiring works of non-fiction for children, and, with 1,758 favourites: What single book is the best introduction to your field (or specialization within your field) for laypeople?

I really like all of the The Penguin Dictionary of stuff and stockpile those for my kid. We also enjoy the DK "Eyewitness" titles recommended in the first link.
posted by kmennie at 12:24 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not my field, but your kids should love the article-collection books by Stephen Jay Gould (such as "The Flamingo's Smile").
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:25 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

It might not be accessible to them until they're a few years older, but I'd recommend having some John McPhee books lying around for reading. They're not especially thorough introductions to any particular field, but they're interesting, informative, enjoyable, and help elucidate how the world fits together.

Kinda similar, I loved David Macauley's books (City, Cathedral, Underground, etc) when I was younger.

Both of these are the kinds of books that give a good framework for integrating deeper knowledge later. Many's the time I've encountered some odd fact, either in an isolated news story or deep in the bowels of some other field of knowledge, and had an idea of why it was relevant / important / connected because of trivia I'd absorbed from sources like these.

They're also both kind of old: McPhee's most famous books are from the 70s, and Macauley's from the 80s. There might be more modern books along these lines. I grew up in the 80s, though, so my direct knowledge won't be any newer than that.
posted by hattifattener at 1:04 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most of the Magic Tree House & Magic School Bus books are fact based & Tree House have fact based companion research guides in English, Spanish, & French.
posted by tilde at 1:05 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was about 7 years old I was given a World Atlas. It was so long ago that many of the countries no longer exist, and there was a lot of 'pink' on the world map to represent those countries that formed part of the British Empire. But I loved it - LOVED it. It was just maps - of continents, countries, hemispheres - and it grabbed my imagination like no other book has ever done before or since. It made me want to explore the world.

This National Geographic Atlas looks awesome. It has much more than maps in it and if I was 9 years old I'd love it.
posted by essexjan at 1:40 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

You want Kathleen Krull's Lives of series. Each one includes 15 or so mini-biographies of several figures in a given field (artists, writers, etc) that mix in information about each person's key works/accomplishments with bits of wacky trivia. (Beethoven loved mac and cheese! That's a bit from the Lives of the Musicians book that's stuck with me to this day.)

The art in these is fantastic, the 'important fact' to trivia ratio is great, they all include women and people of color in a non-tokenizing fashion. Can't say enough good about these. I read lives of the musicians, artists, writers, and athletes over and over again at your oldest kid's age, and I see that there have been several new volumes since then. I'd read the hell out of 'Lives of the Pirates' even now.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:24 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Horrible Histories!
posted by DarlingBri at 3:34 PM on May 18, 2013

As recommended above: David Macaulay's "The New Way Things Work" and his excellent human body book, "The Way We Work." Seconding Horrible Histories as well as the DK Eyewitness series.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:47 PM on May 18, 2013

If the 9 year old has entered chapter book realm and wants to learn more about American History and virology I recommend An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy. Such a good read for kids and adults alike.

I also suggest The story of snow : the science of winter's wonder by Mark Cassino. It's an informative picture book about snow and is a great entry into meteorology. The photography in it is just so beautifully striking that it really is a joy to look through.
posted by donut_princess at 5:32 PM on May 18, 2013

Not exactly what you asked for- but as a school library coordinator I can't help but tell you about some of my favorite resources-there is a great series called Scientists in the Field and you should also check out the National Science Teachers Association's list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students
Finally, Interesting Nonfiction for Kidsis a great site that has an amazing nonfiction book list builder.
posted by momochan at 5:34 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Motel of the Mysteries, another David Macauley book, is not non-fiction exactly, but it's a great primer for thinking about anthropology and archaeology.

(For bonus points, find them a book documenting the discovering of King Tut's tomb - many of Macauley's illustrations are based directly on the photos of that exhibition - my sister and I thought it was hilarious when we were children).
posted by bubukaba at 5:47 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

American history biographies by Jean Fritz, A Little History of the World, the Brown Paper School Books, It's Perfectly Normal.
posted by latkes at 6:38 PM on May 18, 2013

Oh, totally didn't read the question closely. This is just a list of some non fiction my daughter and I loved.
posted by latkes at 6:41 PM on May 18, 2013

A Little Book of Language by David Crystal. It's probably aimed at ages 12-18, but if your 9-year-old is precocious...
posted by wintersweet at 7:36 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses so far (is there any point to marking best answers if I'm just going to make every answer a best answer?)

kmennie, I searched for 20 minutes before posting and didn't come up with those threads, and I even posted an answer in the second one. Thanks
posted by winston at 7:54 PM on May 18, 2013

Not quite books about my field, but they are pretty amazing non-fiction books written for kids: Gail Gibbons. She has a hilariously 90s website design, but her books are fabulous and about all sorts of interesting things.
posted by ruhroh at 10:49 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Magic School Bus.
posted by kettleoffish at 4:12 PM on May 19, 2013

"Magic School Bus" is a great suggestion, although some MSB books are more equal than others; there are the original MSB books (Cole/Degan, quite good!) and the skinny, less-well-illustrated (though still pretty good) versions that are probably adapted from the TV series. YMMV.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:05 PM on May 19, 2013

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