Book Reviews: Five nonfiction picture books that read like story books

I’ve got five books for you today that I awkwardly name “Nonfiction picture books that read like story books.” Each of these books are filed in libraries as non-fiction solar system books. When you hear “non-fiction solar system book,” what comes to mind? I usually think of fact-driven prose with a few photos or diagrams to help illustrate ideas. There is nothing wrong with that type of book, but I have a 2-year-old astronomonster who likes to be read to but doesn’t have the patience for lots of text yet, especially when there are more planet pictures to look at and exclaim over. That’s why these five stood out to me, because the text is either shorter, or more aurally exciting, so he liked to listen to it, AND the pictures are a big part of the books.

If you're looking for something factual, yet light and fun to read with your child, these five non-fiction books work well as story books.

This book about the moon phases has die-cut pages which reveal or cover up more of the moon as you turn the pages. (Page turning in the moon phase sections is also facilitated by marked tabs!) Warning: My 2-year-old likes to touch and tug on those cut-outs a little too much, though, but I’ve been able to rein him in quite well. The text is written in rhyme, so it reads as though you are reading a “regular” rhyming picture book, but you are also reading them an account of the moon phases. For each moon phase there is also a side note on each page telling when that moon phase rises and sets. Kids can get in touch with the phases and schedule of the moon with this book, especially if you use it in conjunction with a Moon journal project and have them go out to observe the moon phase and keep track of their observations in a journal. (For the record, the illustrations of this book show a kid keeping a moon journal, too! Have I posted about moon journals yet?) At the end there is a prose section and diagram about the moon phases, as well as some other rhymes for remembering other facts about the moon. Recommended for grades 1-3, but if your astronomonster is enough of a lunatic, s/he will enjoy this at a younger age as well–just watch out for little fingers tugging on the cut-outs!

Rated for grades 1-3, this book is modeled on “Over in the Meadow,” introducing concepts of the solar system through a rhymed dialogue between Mother Sun and the planets. For example:

“‘Tilt,’ said the Mother /’I tilt,’ said Three./So it tilted on its axis/And the seasons came to be.”

I love this quotation from John Peters, New York Public Library book review:

The information is accurate, if not always well phrased (“Saturn really ‘blows’…”).

My husband and I laughed when we got to that part. Otherwise, the information is correct and is expanded upon with planetary facts, resources, and classroom activities at the end.

Even though it is rated for grades 1-3, my 2-year-old loved this book. The rhythm and rhyme are fun to listen to, and he got to name planets on every page. Each planet got a two-page spread: one page for a painting of the planet, the other for the text and a diagram of the solar system. Each time a new planet appeared in the dialogue, another planet was added to the solar system model in the bottom corner of the text page, so he could count the planets.

National Geographic Children’s Book, Ages 4-8. The large-print text frequently rhymes, and so makes it read like a story book if you just read that text. Smaller-print text has more facts. I liked that this one had great pictures and simple text so it works well for a toddler or preschool astronomonster.

In Meet the Planets, Pluto hosts a pageant for the favorite planet. Parents can practice their game show announcer voices when reading this one out loud. Each planet gets introduced in the pageant, and in the end the reader is asked what their favorite planet is. The personified planets look a little weird or even creepy (planets with faces and limbs is a little creepy, sorry), but my 2-year-old was able to identify all of the planets by appearance. Nevertheless, the art for each planet is impressively detailed.

The art is richer than the text; each planet is introduced rather superficially in writing, but there is plenty of detail about each planet if you know enough already to be able to identify the clues to their moons, mythology, and history, portrayed in the illustrations. There is a guide to interpret some of the art in one of the six pages of learning activities in the back of the book, but you have to access the books’ online activities to get a detailed explanation of what is what and who is who in the art. Another idea is to pair the book with some other children’s book about planetary history/mythology and see if you can figure out all the art references before looking in the back and online. If homeschooling, you could turn interpreting the pictures into a research project.

The supplementary pages in the back include a tally sheet for scoring favorite planets if taking a poll of family and friends; time and temperature information of the planets and our moon; a distance-from-the-sun place-value activity; a solar system true or false questions section; the art reference section; and a solar system matching activity.

This book mostly fits my theme here, but sort of doesn’t. The text in this book is more traditional in the factual sort of way, but the illustrations and typeface make it look like a fun picture book…not to say that nonfiction isn’t fun, because it certainly can be! I really enjoy Wells’s illustrations and layout for his books. I reviewed another one earlier, What’s So Special About Planet Earth? Topics explored in Why Do Elephants Need the Sun? include the sun’s energy, how plants make food, the water cycle, and gravity. Ages 4-8.

Happy reading!

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2 Responses to Book Reviews: Five nonfiction picture books that read like story books

  1. Pingback: Some stars and planets software/sites/apps | Astronomommy

  2. Pingback: Raising Children to be Unafraid of the Dark | Astronomommy

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