Monday, September 25, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Lesley Burnap

This year I’ll be working to increase the academic independence of the  young dreamers, thinkers, problem-solvers, and explorers in my classroom. The nonfiction books and series listed below will help support these budding independent readers.

The World of Weird Animals series by Jess Keating (Knopf)
Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals (2016) and What Makes a Monster? Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures (2017) reel the reader in with big, bold photographs on the left-hand side of each double-page spread.  The right-hand side gives us some fascinating facts about the featured creature, including a sidebar with species name, habitat, diet, and more. Bold words in the text are defined in the glossary. Clever cartoons illustrate a particular fact from the page. Concise and engaging, readers can linger over their favorite creatures or continue on to the next. I look forward to the next book in this series!

Tortoises and Turtles by Sally Morgan (QEB Publishing, 2007)
This book is part of the Animal Lives series, which also includes such titles as Alligators and Crocodiles, Bears, Bees and Wasps, and Eagles. Photographs dominate the text here, connecting the pictures to the information shared with the reader. Bright bubbles pop with a “Tortoise and turtle fact” on almost every double-page spread. Headings, subheadings, captions, bold words, glossary, and index help readers navigate through the informational text. While most readers will want to read this book cover to cover, each heading can be used as a place to stop and pick up the book another day. I need to purchase more of these titles for the classroom library.

Zoom in on Insects series by Melissa Stewart (Enslow, 2014)
This new-to-me series, which I found in my local library, highlights several insects, including bees, dragonflies, ladybugs and lightning bugs. Limited text on each page allows a child to explore the close-up photos of a given feature (eyes, legs, etc.). Topic-specific vocabulary is explained in the book’s front matter, before the reader encounters it. A full-page photo of the insect is labeled to show each important body part. At the end of the text, the life cycle of the insect is represented through photographs and labels. Even readers who are just beginning to read more independently will feel successful navigating this text. I’ll be sure to bring these into the class for students who have an interest in insects!

Sea Turtles by Gail Gibbons (Holiday House, 1995)
This is just one of the many survey books by this author/illustrator that I’ve collected throughout my teaching career. Her titles cover a vast array of topics, including animals, holidays, modes of transportation, the solar system and much more. Within Gibbons’ books, the definitions of topic-specific vocabulary is embedded within the text or among the illustrations. Unlike many nonfiction titles, photographs give way to illustrations colored with pencil and/or watercolor paints. Developing readers will find pronunciation guides within the text for more difficult words. Additional information, often accompanied by drawings, can be found in the back.

Children are all about superlatives: fastest, fiercest, toughest, indeed! The reader does not need to read this text sequentially but can move around as the mood strikes. At 200-plus pages, this volume is unlike the others in my list (most of which are around 32 pages), but it’s not intimidating, perhaps due to the nature of the eye-catching paper collage art and fun infographics. The book’s design guides the reader through the content, which includes clear headings (family, predators, senses, defenses, etc.), a brief introductory paragraph, and specific animal information that highlights the trait or topic being discussed. Due to some of the topic-specific vocabulary, some readers may need more teacher assistance with this book than with other texts listed here. This is definitely a book that I’ll need to share with my young readers.

Lesley Burnap is a third grade teacher who loves nothing more than to hang out with her dog and read. A happy member of NCTE, MRA, and the Nerdy Book Club, she has worked in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts for 27 years. (Phew!) You can follow her on Twitter @LBurnap90.


  1. Thanks, Lesley! I've read & enjoyed all of these titles except the Sea Turtles one--will get on that!!

  2. Way to go, Lesley! You've done such a nice job of explaining the features of each book. I'm going to look for the Zoom In On Insects series for my readers.