Two kinds of young readers are hard to buy books for: the reader who reads everything, and the reader who reads nothing. For the first kind of reader, finding out what the child has read lately can help avoid the disappointment of a second or third copy of a book that the recipient has already read. For the second type of reader, try informational books.
Nonfiction appeals to kids who don’t read much, because these books tend to have strong visual elements and often allow readers to jump around in the text depending on what interests them most. Believing firmly that you can’t make kids read but have to meet them where they are, I suggest the following stellar nonfiction for reluctant readers on your list.
“Moonshot: the Flight of Apollo 11” by Brian Floca. Ages 5-8. It’s been a great year for astronaut books, and this is one of my favorites, filled with detail but faithful to the mystery and wonder of the first moon landing. “Mission Control, This Is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon” by Andrew Chaikin, and “Almost Astronauts, 13 Women Who Dared to Dream” by Tanya Lee Stone are good choices for older readers (10 and up).
“Butterflies and Moths” by Nic Bishop. Ages 5-12. Stunning, ethereal and sometimes bizarre, the insects captured in Nic Bishop’s extreme-close-up photographs will grab readers right away. Don’t miss the multi-colored, spiny-tipped cecropia moth caterpillar on page 15! Text in three different fonts and levels makes this accessible to a wide age range. Bishop’s “Frogs and “Spiders” are winners, too.
“Bad News For Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U. S. Marshal” by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Ages 9-12. The first African-American deputy U.S. marshal was born into slavery and became a hero of the old west known for bringing in the bad guys, dead or alive. A great choice for adventure fans.
“You Never Heard Of Sandy Koufax?!” by Jonah Winter. Ages 8-12. Sporting the coolest cover of the year (tilt it to see Koufax wind up and pitch), this is told in a breathless, conversational style that will grab even those kids who have never heard of the “greatest lefty who ever pitched.”
“Written In Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland” by Sally Walker. Ages 12 and up. Centuries-old skeletons and mysterious deaths – what’s not to like? Walker accompanies archaeologists, including Fredericksburg’s own Carter Hudgins, as they carefully unearth the skeletons of early European settlers and figure out how old they were, how they died and where they came from.
“Women Daredevils” by Julie Cummins. Ages 9-12. Short chapters and energetic illustrations introduce the true stories of women from fifteen to sixty-three who walked on plane wings, shot out of cannons, and went over Niagara Falls in a barrel at a time when women wore long skirts and were expected to stay home with the children.
“The Frog Scientist” by Pamela Turner. Ages 9-12. Dr. Tyrone Hayes was an African-American kid who grew up in segregated schools but found a mentor when he enrolled at Harvard. Now he leads the “Frog Squad,” a group of Berkeley students who work with him to figure out the effects of pesticides on frogs. Great photos, an appealing protagonist, and fascinating insights into how science is done today.