For some time, I’ve been thinking about making non-fiction the topic for one of my blogs, but when it came to checking on what to write about, I found relatively few new titles. This really is a pity because I think it is essential that excellent information books are published for younger readers.
We recognise that not every adult is a fiction reader, and that we need a range of genres available to satisfy everyone’s preferences. However, it seems that this choice is not consistently produced for those whose reading skills are not fully developed. I’m sure that those of us who have been teachers remember many students, particularly boys, who have been turned off the process of learning to read by the subject matter of the books on offer. They have really wanted to read about real things not imagination.
I realise that the cost of production of non-fiction books is probably higher than for fiction titles. I also realise that many children try to get all their information needs from the internet. However I am sure that there are many children who may find a new interest or obsession by browsing through a well-produced book.
So, which titles did I come across?
Angel of Kokoda by Mark Wilson : this paperback re-issue (first published 2010) tells the poignant story of hardship along the Kokoda Track during World War 2, as seen through the eyes of the young Papua New Guinean, Kari. Kari doesn’t understand why the fighting has happened but he does recognise the kindness offered to him and then the suffering of an Australian soldier. It’s a great picture book introduction to a serious subject.
Lyrebird: a true story by Jackie Kerin, illus Peter Gouldthorpe (Museum Victoria) : this picture book combines factual information about lyrebirds with the story (set in the 1930s) of the friendship between Edith, the Dandenong gardener, and James, the bird, as he performs for her, displaying lyrebirds’ great ability to dance, and mimic other sounds. Gouldthorpe’s detailed realistic illustrations add to the historical setting as well as creating accurate landscapes.
The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin) : this book has great hand-drawn illustrations (as opposed to photographs) with plenty of white space and clear explanations. It’s sure to entice the enthusiastic bug-collector, even though most of the beetles included are not ones found in our backyards. The major drawback for me is that it is not Australian and I haven’t seen it her in bookshops. But it can, of course, be ordered through your local bookseller.
Don’t Flush!: Lifting the Lid on the Science of Poo and Wee by Mary and Richard Platt (Science Museum) : I love books like this (it’s full of toilet humour) which have lots of information about body functions, and I know that young readers do too. They are sure to be fascinated (as well as sometimes repelled) by some of the information they’ll find in this book. For example, there’s a scale of hardness for excreta; making poo paper from elephant dung; eating and drinking body excretions around the world; use of urine in leather manufacture. There’s lots more too, combined with cartoon-style illustrations and short text boxes.
When walking past one of my local bookshops, my eye was taken by part of their window display. The books I noticed were the Zen Tails series written by Peter Whitfield. These are classical philosophical tales which include a moral, presented in picture book format. I look forward to sharing them with my five year old grandson, who I believe is now ready for a first introduction to them. If you haven't seen them please search them out.
And now, a few that aren’t information books, and of course, in my favourite picture book format.
Tom and Tilly by Jedda Robaard (Walker): Tom goes on an adventure on the high seas with his bear, Tilly. Lovely watercolours and a simple but reassuring story. I love the fact that the boat is made from a page from an atlas – southern Tasmania. Older readers may recognise some of the places.
Treasure box by Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood (Viking) : here we have a wonderful picture book for more mature readers. Peter and his father are forced to flee when war reaches their town but they can carry only one thing with them: their treasure box. During his exile, Peter can no longer even carry this and many years later he returns to find it. Blackwood’s illustrative technique is masterful in this book, creating a sense of serenity and beauty which is strongly countered by theme of the desolation of war.
Maude, the not-so noticeable Shrimpton by Lauren Child, illustrated by Trisha Krauss (Puffin) : this is another picture book for mature readers. Younger ones would understand the words and enjoy the pictures but may not get the subtleties. Maude is the only one of her family who doesn’t want to stand out. For her birthday she asks for a goldfish but instead is given a tiger, whose behaviour isn’t at all acceptable. Maude manages to avoid the treatment given to the rest of the family. This is the first of Child’s texts that I’ve read which she hasn’t illustrated too, but she has obviously had some input into the finished product.
Open This Little Book by Jessie Klausmeier and Suzy Lee (Chronicle books) : what a fun introduction to colours and books, as a book to share. It probably wouldn’t work well for a large group. It creates a story within a story within a story and carries the ideas from one cover to the next.
Enjoy them – I hope there are lots of new titles which you can savour through your local bookshop or library.