a collection of nonfiction books for children ages 4 and up

Tech & Media

Librarians Recommend Their 15 Favourite Nonfiction Books for Kids

Mar 7, 2018

When my almost-four-year-old goes to the library, he doesn’t head for the picture books or the play area with its dress-up stations and toys. He beelines to the juvenile nonfiction shelves, diving into his beloved animals sections, as well as science, arts and crafts and things that go. Before we leave with a packed bag full of borrowed books, we’ll head over to where the other kids are and pick out a few storybooks, but if it were up to him, his bedtime tales would all be fact-based reference materials.

For books, a lot of parents focus on fiction for their kids. And, yes, there are so many great picture books and early reader chapter books out there. But there are also really exciting nonfiction titles ready for your children.

Related Reading: 6 Sweet and Tender Books That Teach Kids All About Love

It’s possible the internet’s ability to tell you the latest in everything you need to know whenever you want to know it has rendered nonfiction kid books a thing of the past for some families, but this would be a shame. Whether they’re for kids or grownups, the best nonfiction books do more than provide information and explanation — they have compelling visuals, cleverly written (and true!) stories and a certain quality that can’t be replicated by a website scroll.

I asked librarians from across Canada to share some of their personal favourite titles. Here’s a wide-ranging list of 15 books worth checking out.

Little People, Big Dreams series (Written and Illustrated by Isabel Sanchez Vegara)

Recommended by Ann Foster, branch supervisor, Saskatoon Public Library

Children who enjoy compendiums like the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series will love these books, which introduce young readers to a diverse array of women from history. First published in Spanish and recently made available in English, the series so far includes biographies about Frida Kahlo, Ella Fitzgerald, Maya Angelou, Josephine Baker and more. The proportion of text to image makes them suitable for readers aged four and up. Ages 4 and up. 

Animals Illustrated series (Various Writers and Illustrators)

Recommended by Megan Clark, public service librarian, Yellowknife Public Library

This series about arctic animals, including books about polar bears, narwhals and musk oxen, is a snowy delight. Each book features a collaboration between a writer from the north (in the case of the titles exploring polar bears, narwhals and musk oxen, the authors are from Nunavut) and an illustrator from the south. Best for ages four to six, the books include fascinating and clearly written information about some of the north’s most charismatic creatures alongside stunning illustrations. The magic of the arctic is beautifully showcased here in the hands of those who know it best. Ages 4 to 6. 

Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers About the Human Body (Written by Katie Daynes, Illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay)

Recommended by Erin Morice, youth collection development librarian, Halifax Public Libraries

The human body is a marvelous machine! Children intrigued by the wonders of the human body will love exploring this interactive book with an adult or on their own. The delight found in lifting the flaps to find answers to over fifty questions — like how broken bones mend, why people look pale when they are sick and where does our food go when we swallow — will make this a book they return to time and time again. Although health information is abundant on the internet, it can be difficult to find resources as appealing to young children as this lift-the-flap book. Ages 4 to 7. 

Secrets of Winter (Written by Carron Brown and Georgina Tee, Illustrated by Georgina Tee)

Recommended by Anthea Bailie, collections strategist, Markham Public Library

This is one of a large series of interactive Shine-A-Light books, with each exploring a different concept such as the human body, construction sites or gardening at a kindergarten level. Children can use a flash light or hold the book up to a light to see the hidden pictures and explore their world. The interactive nature of the book inspires children to explore their world further — it may even inspire them to create their own shine-a-light art. Ages 4 to 8. 

Alpha Bravo Charlie: The Complete Book of Nautical Codes (Written by Sara Gillingham)

Recommended by Megan Clark, public service librarian, Yellowknife Public Library

This is a beautifully designed alphabet for children with seafaring imaginations. Aesthetically impressive, the book is filled to the brim with detailed information that manages to be comprehensive without being overwhelming. Perfect for little sailors and code-breakers. Ages 5 to 7.

At the Same Moment Around the World (Written and Illustrated by Clotilde Perrin)

Recommended by Tess Prendergast, Suzy Arbor and Sadie Tucker, children’s librarians, Vancouver Public Library

In a beautifully illustrated book about time zones, young readers are introduced to children around the world. Beginning at 6 a.m. in Senegal, each page in the book shows a different time zone and what a child who lives there might be doing at that moment. It's a great way to introduce to children in Canada the notion that people across our nation and around the globe are in different parts of their day across time zones every single day. This book employs the use of short vignettes about people all over the world and concludes with a fold-out map. Ages 5 to 9. 

Tell Me about Sex, Grandma (Written and Illustrated by Anastasia Higginbotham)

Recommended by Megan Clark, public service librarian, Yellowknife Public Library

Without a doubt, this is the best book I have found about sexual health, consent and identity for children. Thoughtful, respectful and open-minded, this welcoming and non-judgemental introduction to getting to know your body and your rights is an essential guide to raising sex- and body-positive people. Ages 5 to 10.

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-new Colors (Written by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Tony Persiani)

Recommended by Anthea Bailie, collections strategist, Markham Public Library

Who knew you could invent a new colour?! This is the fascinating picture book biography of brothers who did just that. Everyone wearing a safety vest, putting out pylons or using neon paint has these guys to thank for that bright, day-glo colour. Ages 7 to 10.

Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure (Written by Dr. Dominic Walliman, Illustrated by Ben Newman)

Recommended by Ann Foster, branch supervisor, Saskatoon Public Library

This book, along with others in the series like Frontiers of Space and Solar System, uses adorable retro 1950s-inspired illustrations to discuss scientific principles in a fun way for elementary school-aged readers. Each page contains a number of interesting facts, making it great to read and reread. You can open to any page and learn something new about energy, forces and the building blocks of the universe. Ages 7 to 11. 

The Building Blocks of Science Series (Written by Joseph Midthun, Illustrated by Samuel Hiti)

Recommended by Erin Morice, youth collection development librarian, Halifax Public Libraries

Science can be fascinating and daunting for children whose inquisitive nature leads to countless questions about how stuff works. And while the internet is filled with great information, finding online resources that are trustworthy, appealing and easy for children to understand can be overwhelming. I introduce you to World Book’s Building Blocks of Science — a graphic novel series that explores various scientific topics like electricity, fighting sickness, matter and many topics in between. Information is presented in comic panels with fun illustrations. Imagine their excitement when your children hear they can learn about science through graphic novels! Ages 7 to 13. 

13 Art Mysteries Children Should Know (Written by Angela Wenzel)

Recommended by Ann Foster, branch supervisor, Saskatoon Public Library

I like this title particularly, but I also heartily recommend Wenzel’s other books in the series like 13 Artists Children Should Know and 13 Paintings Children Should Know. These books offer a concise explanation of various notable painters, artists and art movements — and, in this particular book recommendation, there's mystery! Middle-grade fans of puzzles, ciphers and codes will enjoy learning about these real-life mysteries... and gaining some art appreciation along the way. Ages 8 and up.

Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community (Robin Stevenson)

Recommended by Tess Prendergast, Suzy Arbor and Sadie Tucker, children’s librarians, Vancouver Public Library

Many kids in Canada have been to a Pride parade, but they might not have thought about how these celebrations started and the challenges LGBTQ communities face around the world to hold similar celebrations. This book offers a comprehensive and accessible look at Pride celebrations locally and across the globe. It covers the history of Pride and includes present-day stories, helping children understand LGBTQ issues in ways that are interesting and accessible. Ages 8 to 12. 

13 ½ Incredible Things You Need to Know About Everything (DK Publishing)

Recommended by Myrrhita White, youth collection development assistant, Halifax Public Libraries

Children will regularly browse the internet to gather information for school projects, hobbies and general knowledge, but I'll reiterate this important the quest for finding trusted information can be difficult. 13 ½ Incredible Things You Need to Know About Everything is packed full of fun facts and mind-expanding knowledge, exposing well-known myths throughout its 176 pages. This eye-catching book bursts with current and factual information and is a great starting point for learner exploration. Supplemental websites listed throughout can assure parents and children of safe internet exploration for further learning. Ages 8 to 12.

Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation (Written by Monique Gray Smith)

Recommended by Tess Prendergast, Suzy Arbor and Sadie Tucker, children’s librarians, Vancouver Public Library

With a caring and powerful tone, this excellent and timely book draws on the experiences of residential school survivors to explore the importance of reconciliation for pre-teen readers. A great resource for exploring the topic of reconciliation, this book shows how it is taking place between people of all ages, across communities and cultures. It will help children of all backgrounds learn about the importance of reconciliation together, which is a great thing. Ages 9 to 13. 

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas (Written by Jim Ottaviani, Illustrated by Maris Wicks)

Recommended by Anthea Bailie, collections strategist, Markham Public Library

This tells the story of three remarkable women who devoted their lives to studying primates in their natural environments. It's perfect for teens who love science, biography, animals and stories of amazing women and adventure! This book is also great for reluctant readers who may have to write a report about an historical figure. Graphic novels can bring nonfiction topics to life in a way that resonates with young readers, and this is an excellent example. Ages 12 and up. 

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no hair and works in communications. He and his wife are the proud parents of a nine-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, both of whom are pretty great. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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