February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Giving the Gift of Nonfiction | Nonfiction Notions

Many holiday traditions include gift-giving and for librarians and teachers, what better gift to give than a book? Looking for publisher and bookstore holiday sales as well as haunting used bookstores can be a relatively inexpensive way to put together great gifts for a child or relative. Of course, as a librarian, I strongly encourage people to use the library for reading material throughout the year, but there’s value in owning books as well. Kids who have books around the house and are given books as gifts are more likely to pick them up. While many librarians normally recommend allowing kids to choose their own reading materials, picking out specific titles is a great way to show how well you know a person and how much you care about their tastes and interests. But how do you decide on the perfect one? What do you give to a reluctant reader who “hates” reading? What about an avid reader who has read “everything”? How do you choose something they haven’t yet read but will be willing to try? The answer is often: nonfiction!

My go-to publisher for nonfiction gifts is National Geographic. Their wide range of subjects, attractive layouts with awesome photographs, and quick bites of information are enjoyed by readers and non-readers alike. They will also entice a reluctant reader to give something new a try and provide some welcome relaxation for the avid student who needs a break around the holidays. Another bonus is that they offer most of their materials in inexpensive paperback bindings, which is great for those who have awildfire budget to stick to!

I’d specifically recommend two titles from National Geographic Kids to get you started. First, a title from a few years ago, Try This!: 50 Fun Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by Karen Romano Young. There are several reasons this makes a great gift for tweens, regardless of how interested they are in science. First, the photographs feature a cast of diverse teens which make it clear this book is directed to an older elementary or middle school audience. Second, although the book does include information for teachers and parents on science standards and the concepts behind the experiments, kids don’t need to see this as homework; the experiments are fun with or without a science lesson. Third, the experiments! Bored kids who don’t have anything to do over winter break can pick and choose from a huge variety of activities, including both indoor and outdoor options, like egg tricks, ghost gloves, and rockets. Every experiment was tested by the author and a panel of actual kids and their notes are included so readers know that not every project works perfectly every time. Another superb National Geographic Kids title is the newest addition to the “Extreme” series: Extreme Wildfire by Mark Thiessen. This may seem like an odd choice for a holiday gift, but it actually has wide appeal. Fans of action and adventure fiction and nonfiction, such as the “I Survived” series, will be mesmerized by the true-life stories. Those interested in science will find plenty of information about chemistry and geology.

All kids can appreciate the practical safety tips and who-winssuggestions for future careers and scientific research, especially if they live in an area with a high fire-risk or have been watching the news lately.

My second recommendation is to look for books that a library is unlikely to carry. There are many great novelty or write-in books out there, especially from publishers like Chronicle or Workman, which are awesome but have odd layouts or additions that make most libraries reluctant to purchase them–and most kids unlikely to have seen them. A great example of this is a recent title from Workman, Who Wins? by Clay Swartz. Fans of the “Who Was…” series and ardent gamers will become engrossed in this book/game and even the whole family will want to get in on the fun. The book itself is spiral-bound and divided into three sections. The right and left sections each feature one of 100 historical figures, including Booker T. Washington, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Marie Antoinette, and more. Each entry includes a short biography and a selection of little-known facts. The middle strip has a choice of 50 different competitions from running a marathon to hunting a vampire and a set of seven qualities ranking the competitors. Readers can pit Mohandas Gandhi against Archimedes in an air guitar championship. Who is the bigger exhibitionist? Who has more charisma? Who wins? You decide!

For readers of any age fascinated by the wonders of our universe, Chronicle’s wonderfully over-sizedEarth and Space by Nirmala Nataraj features glorious photos from NASA archives. It’s a coffee table book that will be beloved for years.

maker-labFor young makers and coders, DK has a ton of fun options, like the new Smithsonian Maker Lab by Jack Challoner, which features 28 projects and crafts. And The LEGO Ideas Book is a great title to pair with a box of the famous building blocks as a toy/book gift combo sure to spark young imaginations.

When giving the gift of books this holiday season, don’t forget about nonfiction. From science experiments to arts and crafts, you won’t need to worry about cries of “I’m bored” when the snow begins to fall and school lets out.



Books recommended:

Try this!: 50 Fun Experients for the Mad Scientist in You By Karen Romano Young. National Geographic Kids. 2014. ISBN 9781426317118.

Extreme Wildfire by Mark Thiessen. National Geographic Kids. 2016. ISBN 9781426325304.

Who Wins? By Clay Swartz. Workman. 2016. ISBN 9780761185444.

Earth and Space by Nirmala Nataraj. Chronicle. 2015. ISBN 9781452134352.

Smithsonian Maker Lab by Jack Challoner. DK. 2016. ISBN 9781465451354.

The LEGO Ideas Book by Daniel Lipkowitz. DK. 2011. ISBN 9780756686062.

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Jennifer Wharton About Jennifer Wharton

Jennifer Wharton is the youth services librarian at the Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. You can follow more of her library adventures at jeanlittlelibrary.blogspot.com.

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  1. Great idea for a gift! I think the national geographic idea is brilliant. Thanks for the post!