There are few things better than a fabulous collection of reference books, especially reference books for kids. When you look through a mountain of reference books you realise that some of them are clear winners and stand out above the rest, they are well designed, well illustrated and packed with intriguing factoids. Just like fiction books, non-fiction books that are brilliant for kids tend to be just as enticing for adults. A good book is a good book, and is not dependant on the age of the reader at all. A week or two back a friend asked if I could think of 100 favourite non-fiction books for kids… and I thought easy peasy… but it turned out to be quite tricky. At first I thought it would be impossible to reach 100 books, and then I realised that keeping the number down to 100 books was actually a very hard task. Anyway let’s begin with my absolute favourite non-fiction book for kids, "Maps" (Aleksandra Mizielinska, Daniel Mizielinski), I have poured over this book for hours and hours and it has pride of place on the coffee table in the lounge.
Before you dive into the list: We divided our 100 books into categories… I thought we would use the Dewey Decimal System, but that got fairly complicated, fairly quickly… so we choose ten categories, to divide into ten books each. But that didn’t work either… we needed more than ten categories. So we chose 20 categories of five books each. I have to add that when it comes to selecting non-fiction books for children, a huge part of the non-fiction reading that my children do are biographies. I had to carefully stay away from biographies on this list… if I had included biographies then it would swell to over a hundred books way too quickly. I realised that we would need a whole ‘nother post for biographies. So here we go the great big list of 100 non-fiction books for kids…
Category #1: Reference
- Picturepedia: We love this book completely. It has lingered on our coffee table for months as well. You can read our review here.
- Wow!: The Visual Encyclopedia of Everything: This is another great book for pouring over… beautiful photographs throughout of so many incredible things. Wow indeed.
- "Children’s Illustrated Dictionary" (John McIlwain)
- "Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary" (DK) This is our go to dictionary for school and our kids linger over it long after they have found the word they were looking for.
- "The New Children’s Encyclopedia" (DK)
Category #2: Trivia
- "Guinness World Records 2016" (Guinness World Records)
- A World of Fascinating Facts in Graphic Detail
- "Pick Me Up" (Philip Wilkinson, Jeremy Leslie, David Roberts, Roger Bridgman)
- "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook" (Joshua Piven, David Borgenicht)
- "Strange But True!" (DK)
Category #3: Contemporary
- "The Lego Ideas Book: Unlock Your Imagination" (Daniel Lipkowitz) Of all the LEGO books, this is the one my kids return to again and again.
- "Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary" (Pablo Hidalgo) While we don’t own this book… one of my kids will have a massive Star Wars book out of the library every single week.
- "The Sports Book" (Dk)
- "The Fashion Book" (DK Publishing)
- "Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines" (Paul Fleischman) This is a bit of a teen read, it raises questions and provides the reasons why we should stand up for our planet. I am all for taking an informed stand on green issues.
Category #4: Make and Do
- "Complete Children’s Cookbook" (DK)
- "Write Your Own Story Book" (Louie Stowell)
- "The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas (Usborne Art Ideas)" (Fiona Watt)
- "How Does My Garden Grow?" (DK Publishing)
- "The Girls’ Book of Crafts & Activities" (DK Children)
Category #5: Literature
- The Hutchinson Treasury of Children’s Literature:
- The Shakespeare Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained):
- D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
- "Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry" (Michael Driscoll)
- "1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up" (Julia Eccleshare)
Category #6: Art
- "The Art Book for Children" (Editors of Phaidon Press)
- "Child’s Introduction to Art: The World’s Greatest Paintings and Sculptures" (Heather Alexander)
- "Children’s Book of Art" (DK Publishing)
- "The Usborne Art Treasury" (Rosie Dickins)
- "Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters (Bright Ideas for Learning (TM))" (MaryAnn F. Kohl, Kim Solga)
Category #7: Music and Dance
- "Story of the Orchestra : Listen While You Learn About the Instruments, the Music and the Composers Who Wrote the Music!" (Robert Levine)
- "Children’s Book of Music" (DK Publishing)
- "My First Classical Music Book" (Genevieve Helsby)
- "Dance (Dk)" (DK)
- "Child’s Introduction to Ballet: The Stories, Music, and Magic of Classical Dance" (Laura Lee)
Category #8: Culture
- "Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World" (Anabel Kindersley, Barnabas Kindersley)
- "Material World: A Global Family Portrait" (Peter Menzel, Charles C. Mann, Paul Kennedy) This book, and the following book, were not intended for children per se, but they are intriguing and my kids love them.
- "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats" (Peter Menzel, Faith D’Aluisio)
- "Where Children Sleep" (Chris Boot) This book is a similar genre to the previous two books, and an important to read. But it can be quite harrowing in places. Just to say not all childhoods are quite as magical as we might want them to be.
- "Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World" (Susan Hughes)
Category #9: History
- "History of the World in 1,000 Objects" (DK Publishing) This book we have been reading through a page a day for the longest time… we just love it.
- "When on Earth?" (DK) This book is perfect for strewing, where your kids will find it… they will be lost in it for quite a while.
- "A Street Through Time" (Anne Millard) We have had this book for years and years and years and my kids never tire of it…
- "History Year by Year" (DK Publishing)
- "Usborne Time Traveler" (Judy Hindley) This was my first and favourite Usborne book as a child, I believed I could live in it… My kids have enjoyed it just as much as I did.
Category #10: Around the World
- This Is the World: A Global Treasury:
- Atlas of Adventures: A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun festivities from the four corners of the globe:
- "Where on Earth?" (DK)
- The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A with 50 fact-filled maps!:
- "The Lonely Planet Kids Travel Book: Mind-Blowing Stuff on Every Country in the World" (Lonely Planet Kids)
Category #11: Environment
- "By Jane Bull Make It! (Hardcover) May 19, 2008" (Jane Bull)
- "Why Should I Bother about the Planet?" (Susan Meredith) see inside and quicklinks.
- "10 Things I Can Do to Help My World" (Melanie Walsh)
- "Recycle!: A Handbook for Kids" (Gail Gibbons)
- "365 Ways to Live Green for Kids: Saving the Environment at Home, School, or at Play–Every Day!" (Sheri Amsel)
Category #12: Great Outdoors
- "Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival" (Dave Canterbury)
- "The Outdoor Book for Adventurous Chaps" (Adrian Besley)
- "RSPB 365 Outdoor Activities You Have to Try" (DK Children)
- "The Dangerous Book for Boys" (Conn Iggulden, Hal Iggulden)
- "The Natural Navigator: The Rediscovered Art of Letting Nature Be Your Guide" (Tristan Gooley)
Category #13: Nature
- "A First Book of Nature" (Nicola Davies)
- "Poo: A Natural History of the Unmentionable" (Nicola Davies)
- "The Practical Naturalist" (DK Publishing)
- "Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World" (Julia Rothman)
- "The Curious Nature Guide: Explore the Natural Wonders All Around You" (Clare Walker Leslie)
Category #14: Animals
- "The Animal Book" (DK)
- "Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking" (Elin Kelsey)
- "Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World" (Steve Jenkins)
- "The Beetle Book" (Steve Jenkins)
- "Wildlife of the World (Dk Smithsonian)" (DK Publishing)
Category #15: Human Body
- "Utterly Amazing Human Body" (Robert Winston)
- "Picture This! Human Body" (Brian Close)
- "Boost Your Brain" (Joel Levy)
- "Bones: Skeletons and How They Work" (Steve Jenkins)
- "The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls, Revised Edition" (Valorie Schaefer) and "The Boy’s Body Book: Third Edition: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU" (Kelli Dunham)
Category #16: Technology
- "Cool Stuff Exploded" (Chris Woodford)
- "Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross-Sections (Stephen Biesty’s cross-sections)" (Stephen Biesty, Richard Platt)
- "The Spy Book." (DK)
- "The New Way Things Work" (David Macaulay)
- "1000 Inventions and Discoveries" (DK)
Category #17: Math
- "G Is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book" (David M. Schwartz)
- "Math Curse" (Jon Scieszka)
- "Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature" (Sarah C. Campbell)
- "Mathmagicians (Big Questions)" (DK Children)
- "Computer Coding for Kids" (Carol Vorderman)
Category #18: Science
- "The Science Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained)" (DK)
- "Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe" (Theodore Gray)
- "101 Great Science Experiments" (Neil Ardley)
- "Usborne 100 Science Experiments (100 Science Experiments Il)" (Georgina Andrews, Kate Knighton, Katie Lovell)
- "The Usborne Complete Book of the Microscope: Internet-Linked" (Kirsteen Rogers)
Category #19: Space
- "Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky: The Story of the Stars, Planets, and Constellations–and How You Can Find Them in the Sky" (Michael Driscoll, Meredith Hamilton)
- "Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations" (Jacqueline Mitton)
- "The Usborne Official Astronaut’s Handbook" (Louie Stowell)
- "Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space" (Dominic Walliman)
- "How to be a Space Explorer: Your Out-of-this-World Adventure (Lonely Planet Kids)" (Lonely Planet Kids)
Category #20: Series
This category is a little cheat because some non-fiction series for kids are so utterly brilliant that it is impossible to choose just one of them from the series. I can say that I rather wish our librarians would store these books all in one section of the library, a shelf for fabulous non-fiction series, would make it so much easier to find them, because we sure do love them.
- What’s Science All About? And Physics and Chemistry and Biology and Math. A fabulous series from usborne. More than a dictionary, a readable topic per page, and not at all overwhelming.
- Inventions (Usborne See Inside) The See Inside series is vast, covering topics far and wide. They are incredible, we have loved every single one we have read.
- "DK Eyewitness Books: Seashore" (Steve Parker) These books are just brilliant, on every topic under the sun.
- "The Most Stupendous Atlas of the Whole Wide World by the Brainwaves" (Ralph Lazar) These books will have whole families immersed in them for hours and hours… massive double spreads that fold out and filled to the brim with factoids.
- "Weather & Art Activities (Arty Facts)" (Janet Sacks) This is a series that all my kids have loved thoroughly… so much to learn and each spread has an interesting theme, and then a really cool arty crafts to go with the theme… totally doable projects, especially for kids who like to do things on their own.
Category #21: Local is Lekker
And this category pushes me over the hundred books, but I felt I should add a special section that was specifically relevant to us… all these books come from the same publisher, they have clearly marked this corner of the market – with fabulous, useful books relevant to what our kids are learning about.
- "The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A Field Guide to the Animal and Plants of the Region" (Vincent Carruthers)
- "Exploring Fynbos: Plants, Animals, Interactions." (Margo Branch)
- "Box of Rocks: Find, Understand, Collect" (Nick Norman)
- "My first book of Southern African Ocean Life" (Roberta Griffiths) This book is part of an exceptional series… clear pictures and illustrations, very little words to read and the words that are there are in a number of different languages.
- "All About South Africa: Our country, its people, history, cultures, economy and wildlife" (Penguin Random House South Africa) The go to book for South African scholars.