Monday 29 October 2018

The importance of non-fiction

If you ask people what their favourite book was as a child most tell you a fiction title.
Non-fiction books for children don’t get as much coverage as fiction and yet they contribute just as much to young people’s lives. It’s a pity, then, that they sometimes appear to have been denigrated to second best or not as memorable.
I’ve always thought that if fiction can take you on adventures, help you step into the lives of others, develop empathy, imagination and language, then non-fiction does exactly the same – just in a slightly different way.
The ability to read non-fiction is an important skill that needs to start at the same time as reading fiction. Later on students will need to tackle text books and all sorts of factual information and be able to understand and use it. The ability to use factual information is an essential life skill then.
But more than that: those early delightfully engaging non-fiction picture books and others aimed at young children really do help children discover and understand the world.
Studies have shown that non-fiction underpins our ability to engage with fiction and suggests a strong correlation between acquiring background knowledge from non-fiction books and achievement, including success in exams, at university and beyond.
Parents and teachers know that many children not interested in stories can take to non-fiction books – preferring to read about facts and subjects that interest them. When I was a volunteer reader helper for Beanstalk I definitely found this to be true. Many of the reluctant readers of fiction could become happily engrossed in a book about ships or the weather or space and normally hesitant readers made great progress in this way.
Children need a choice of books don’t they? Authors, illustrators and publishers go to enormous lengths to ensure non-fiction books for children are full of exciting and engaging accurate facts, promoting the desire to discuss and find out more. Some combine imagination and facts in a wonderful way.

The Drop in My Drink by Meredith Hooper and Chris Coady is one such book. I reviewed it for the Book Bag:
“This brilliant book tells the story of where water comes from in a wonderfully captivating way. In full colour picture book style, it does far more than explain scientific facts about our planet, the way life has evolved and where our water comes from. It takes the reader on an inspiring, exciting and eye-opening journey through millions of years – the same journey one little drop of water in one child's cup may have taken!
From the very first pages I could tell this definitely was going to be anything but a dull book of facts. The language has a lovely poetic feel to it in many places and this really drew me into the subject. One minute I was reading how water trickles and seeps and flows. It freezes into hard ice, It floats in the air. It is liquid and solid and vapour. It is never still and so on – and then the wonderful fact : All the water we have is all the water we've always had…” (continue reading here ).
When it comes to the importance of books in children’s lives fiction and non-fiction should go hand in hand and young readers benefit most when they are encouraged to discover both.
Hilary Hawkes

(A Witch Called Rosa)

1 comment:

Susan Price said...

No argument here. The first non-fiction book I read was Attenborough's 'Zoo Quest For A Dragon.' I was under ten. It introduced me to a lot of new concepts: Indonesia, travelling with a camera-man, red tape and officialdom and, not least, komodo dragons.

I continued to read a lot of non-fiction. When I read Hornblower, I read a lot of books about sailing ships. Reading the Norse Myths led me to reading a lot about the history of the Viking Age. And so on. There should never be any imnplication that reading non-fiction is somehow 'lesser.'