Non-fiction is fabulous: encouraging reading across the curriculum

    Published: 05 July 2022

    Enhance reading and learning across the curriculum with our selection of some of the best current non-fiction.

    Blog authored by Rickella Griffiths, Amanda Webb and Juliet McCullion.

    “How do you ensure that children have opportunities to read across the curriculum?” A question our English subject leaders are often asked. We know children need to read often, in English and across the curriculum, but how do we fit it in and where do we find texts that help our children to learn? Printed worksheets? Internet research? A dusty old tome from the back of the resource cupboard? How about diving into the depths of immersive non-fiction books instead? This genre has seen a transformation in recent years, and it seems that every new book released is more beautiful and tempting than the last. Whether on the shelf waiting to be discovered, or brought out to support learning in lesson time, these books are simply irresistible and beg to be delved into, pondered over, enjoyed, learned from, and shared time and again. Is there anything more joyful than hearing the shared ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of children engaging together to discover new and exciting knowledge about the world around them?


    "...non-fiction texts are vital to children's reading diet, but they also provide quality stimulus for non-fiction writing"


    There are multiple benefits to reading non-fiction texts. Not only do they evoke a sense of awe and wonder and develop children’s understanding of the real world, but they also encourage critical thinking, support children in comprehending complex texts, and build vocabulary and language. The list could go on! Of course, non-fiction texts are vital to children’s reading diet, but they also provide quality stimulus for non-fiction writing. The new age of non-fiction is perfect for improving children’s visual literacy too - they’ll be exposed to a range of labels, captions, diagrams, graphs, tables and charts – an important skill needed in science, maths and across adult life! Plus, it’s important that we provide children with the opportunity to read about a topic of particular interest as this will, more than likely, encourage reading for pleasure - our ultimate goal.

    We have gathered together just a handful of our recent favourites.

    The Colours of History: How Colours Shaped the World

    By Clive Glifford, illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre. QED Publishing. ISBN: 1784939676


    The Colours of History: How Colours Shaped the World by Clive Glifford


    They say never judge a book by its cover but for this book, I’m ashamed to say, I truly did, and so did the children in my Year 6 class - not something I’d ordinarily like to admit. Yet, as we turned each brightly coloured page, we were quickly captivated by the way each hue was brought to life. The colours of nature, colour crazes, and colour tales took us on journey to different places and different times in history. Who would’ve thought that every shade of colour has a story to tell? We couldn’t believe that saffron, the world’s most expensive colour, caused an entire war over a single drop, or that Egyptian blue was a colour lost for 1,600 years, until it was discovered in the ruined city of Pompeii. Did you know ‘mummy brown’ was made from real mummies? Each colour sparked a mix of thought-provoking conversations, responses of curiosity, and ignited interesting debates. The more the children explored this book, the more they encountered rich vocabulary which began to blend into their writing. This book added yet another shade of meaning to my class’s descriptive pieces - a wonderful way to brighten up any teacher’s day. Not only is this book delightful to use in history and English but it also offers cross curricular links to art, science, and design. A world without colour would be pretty dull if you ask me, so how about you brighten up your KS2 book corner with this glorious text. 

    How to be Extraordinary

    By Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Annabel Tempest. Penguin Random House Children’s UK. ISBN: 0241385407


    How to be Extraordinary by Rashmi Sirdeshpande


    How to be Extraordinary features 15 brilliant biographies of remarkable humans. The superb stories are truly inspirational. It was such a joy to read all about the life of well-known icons such as Sir David Attenborough,  Michelle Obama, Frida Kahlo and Professor Stephen Hawking. Did you know Attenborough is ’one of the most travelled human beings in history’ or that Michelle Obama’s ’dream is to educate 62 million girls around the world‘? Wow!  

    This book is also made up of astonishing famous figures outside of your ‘usual’ household names. I was intrigued to learn about Aeham Ahmad, the pianist of Yarmouk; Krystyna Skabarek, Britain’s first female spy; and Dr Sau Lan Wu, a Chinese American particle physicist. Each double page spread is beautifully illustrated and perfectly portrays the new age of non-fiction: fun, easy on the eye, a well-designed layout and full of accessible information for all learners. A rich text, which I would certainly use in English, history, science, art and PSHE. Children can dive into discovering writers, scientists, environmentalists, politicians and many more. I love that it’s not only wonderfully diverse, but it also celebrates the incredible lives of unsung heroes.  A fantastic addition to any KS2 classroom, which is set to spark curiosity, engage readers, and inspire children through carefully chosen motivational quotes. So if you want to make a real difference in your classroom, add this one to your collection and stimulate the minds of the next generation of little Einsteins.

    There Are Fish Everywhere

    By Katie Haworth, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, Big Picture Press. ISBN: 1787417751


    There Are Fish Everywhere by Katie Haworth


    'There Are Fish Everywhere’ is a beautifully illustrated book which brings the wonderfully diverse world of fish to life for readers of all ages. Each page is swimming with extraordinary fish to discover, from the vicious Red Bellied Piranha of the fresh open waters to the stilt-swimming Tripod fish of the salty, deep-blue seas, to the beaked Pacific Long-Nosed Parrot fish of the ocean’s colourful coral reefs. Captions flow across the delightful double-page-spreads, packed full of rich information to surprise, shock and amuse, interspersed with illustrations of fabulous fish darting from page to page. This book comes recommended as it is bursting with opportunities to enhance and support the Primary Science Curriculum, as well as offering something to devour in any English lesson or as an enjoyable read to discover with your class. ‘It’s a fish - so what is that?’ is a bold headed page for Year 1 to discover labelled diagrams of fish inside and out, whilst a swirling full page diagram brings to life food chains of the water for Year 2 children. ‘Fish Have Been Around For Ages’ is perfect for children in Key Stage Two, to dive into,  and to discover the Devonian period where the most important fish evolution occurred (it’s not all about Galápagos). Children will be amazed to observe how fish have had to adapt, and therefore evolve to survive, as they study the layers of the ocean: from the deepest darkest underwater caves, inhabited by The Mexican blind cave fish, to the marine shallows where fish hide within the rocks.  In this book ‘There are (truly) Fish Everywhere.  

    Atlas of Biodiversity: Curious and Unusual Animals

    By Emanuela Durand, illustrated by Leonora Camusso. Sassi. ISBN: 9788830304079


    Atlas of Biodiversity: Curious and Unusual Animals by Emanuela Durand


    Be prepared to journey through the continents to discover curious and unusual animals which celebrate the biodiversity of our wonderful world. Ideal as a read to support the Science KS2 curriculum or as a book to nurture and engage children’s interest in the world around them. The unique creatures explored in this book support children to understand how animals are designed in a specific way to suit their habitat. Children will be enthralled by the Pink Amazon River Dolphin, who is pink in colour due to the influence of the cold environment it inhabits; the Naked Mole Rat of Africa, with tiny ears and eyes which are of no use in their underground habitat, and The Japanese Sea Slug of Asia known as ‘the leaf sheep’.  Emanuela Durand has written ‘Atlas of Biodiversity: Curious and Unusual Animals’ in the first person which facilitates a wonderful relationship between author and reader by making it appear as if the animals are speaking to you. A double-page-spread for each unique creature is organised beautifully.   Each of these offer scientific knowledge in manageable paragraphs, large colourful illustrations by Leonora Camusso including maps on each page to demonstrate where each animal is located.  Scaled drawings help to support children’s visualisation of the creatures alongside a near-full -page illustration of each unusual animal. A ‘Guess What’ page invites the reader to accept the challenge of learning which characteristics belong to which animals, using a range of scientific vocabulary such as ‘monotremes’ and ‘herterodontism’ - enough to challenge the most experienced scientists amongst your class.  A beautiful book which is organised to entice, engage, and enthral learners.

    Amazing Islands: 100+ Places That Will Boggle Your Mind

    By Sabrina Weiss, illustrated by Kerry Hyndman. What on Earth Publishing. ISBN:‎ 978-1912920150


    Amazing Islands: 100+ Places That Will Boggle Your Mind by Sabrina Weiss


    Encapsulating the wonderful diversity of our planet, this beautifully illustrated book is a celebration of our earth’s nature, people, and places. With enough facts and figures to please any information-enthusiast, the book is in equal measure informative and enjoyable. The inviting double-page-spreads provide pleasing variety for the reader: some focus on a particular island such as Cuba, exploring its culture and history, or Galápagos, explaining its scientific significance. Others explore a theme, such as how islands are made or the environmental threats which they face. Tucked amongst these pages is a world map which includes each of the islands mentioned in the book, perfect for plunging into to develop children’s locational knowledge.

      Each page has me brimming with ideas of how this text could be used across the curriculum. Yet, at no point does the amount of text on a page feel daunting. The bitesize paragraphs are packed with high level vocabulary perfect for plundering. There is a handy glossary at the back of the book to consolidate understanding of the geographical terminology, alongside which is a pronunciation guide which is useful for those less-familiar places. Used in a writing lesson as a model of excellence; enjoyed in a reading lesson with a fluency focus; dipped into in Geography lessons to develop locational knowledge, or during a unit built around comparing places; scoured in a science lesson about threats to our environment; whatever the usage, this text is sure to inspire and intrigue and invite readers to return time and again to find out more about the world around them.

    Cities of the World

    By Becky Davies, illustrated by Josie Portillo. Little Tiger Press. ISBN: 978-1788817189


    Cities of the World by Becky Davies


    A hit with younger year groups (and many LKS2 children that I can think of too), this peep-through book invites readers on a journey around a number of our world’s most famous cities. Leaf through the pages of this book to learn something new about each city and to delight in the beautiful illustrations and cut-outs that bring each location to life.

    Across the top of every page, readers are presented with key facts about the city: its population; its climate; what its flag looks like; and the all-important national tree and animal! Circles scattered across the page offer up interesting facts about the cities in single sentences, meaning the information is accessible for earlier readers. That’s not to say that the book is not rich in language, though, as it is full of wonderful vocabulary both geographical and otherwise. Sentences such as: ‘Snuggled between the mountains and the sea lies the sprawling city of Rio de Janeiro’ and ‘Feast your eyes on the beautiful buildings of Barcelona!’ provide wonderful models for persuasive writing, if you were to be inspired to write a brochure or advert for your city of choice. Further opportunities present themselves plainly: a comparison of London with other cities around the world; postcards from different locations; bringing the cities to life with your own skyline artwork. Josie Portillo offers up a world map at the end, with even more cities of the world plotted on, sparking up inspiration for further reading and research. Quite simply, this book is a delight!

    Amazon River

    By Sangma Francis, illustrated by Romolo D'Hipolito. Flying Eye Books. ISBN: 978-1912497331


    Amazon River by Sangma Francis


    'High up in the Andean mountains of South America, a drop of water wells up from the ground. It collects and glistens downwards, cutting along the side of mountains. It joins larger streams, weaves and washes through overgrown forests. Finally, after travelling for thousands of miles, it ends at the sea.’  This opening paragraph is enough to get you hooked. Factual but oh-so literary. And so this book continues, capturing the magic of the Amazon using lyrical and literary language, allowing children to experience a world outside of their own.

     Captivating illustrations add colour to the information held within these pages. Whether you want to discover the journey from source to sea, the people of the rainforest, or the wildlife of the riverbank, you’ll learn more than you’d bargained for. With just the right amount of text on each page, this beautiful book offers up accessible information for all about one of our world’s most phenomenal attributes, and why we must protect it. The closing page is a call to action, asking readers to reflect on our natural world and whether it is worth protecting, and reminding readers that though we are small, if a single drop of water can glide along a great river, then we may too be able to achieve remarkable things. This galvanising ending is something to inspire children who will no doubt want to replicate its messages in their own persuasive writing, and (perhaps most importantly of all) take action to protect our planet.

    Narrowing down our choices wasn’t easy, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list. When it came to selecting which books to share with you, we were spoilt for choice, and struck by the incredible range on offer: books rich in language, full of fascinating facts, stunning illustrations, and inviting layouts. Franky, they’re irresistible. Why not dive in and see what these wonderful books can do for your curriculum?


    Looking to enhance reading in your school?  Striving to develop keen, independent readers ready to devour the books we have shared here?  We have just the courses for you:

    Developing expertise in the teaching of reading KS2 Friday 14th October 2022

    Developing expertise in the teaching of reading KS1 Friday 9th November 2022

    Growing Greater Depth in Years 5 and 6 reading Weds 30th November 2022

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