Tuesday, February 19, 2013

10 of My Favorite Nonfiction Books for the Nonfiction Picture Book Event #nf10for10

Thank you Cathy Mere (Reflect & Refine), Julie Balen (Write at the Edge), and Mandy Robek (Enjoy and Embrace Learning) for hosting this Nonfiction Book 10 for 10 Event (#nf10for10)! Cathy and Mandy have hosted the Annual Picture Book 10 for 10 Event for the past three years and this is their first Nonfiction Event.   Please check out their blogs to read about everyone's favorite nonfiction books!

I love nonfiction books so coming up with only 10 of my favorites was a challenging task for me and I had to leave some favorites off the list.  Here are 10 nonfiction books that I read aloud each year in 5th grade to support our nonfiction unit of study and other units in both reading and writing workshop:

Elephants Can Paint Too! by Katya Arnold is always a favorite in our classroom.  I love how one side of the page tells a narrative story about elephants painting, while the other side of the page gives interesting facts about elephants.  It is a great example of a hybrid nonfiction text that includes narrative and expository structures.  The facts about elephants in this text are amazing and you are guaranteed to learn new information about elephants that you never knew!

Oh, Rats! by Albert Marrin and C.B. Mordan is a fascinating text about rats that is written in a multi-genre format. There are various passages in this text that range from narrative to expository formats and the points of view vary also.  It is a great text to use when teaching students different forms of note-taking and how to decide which form to use for different texts.  For example, some passages compare two different rats so it would be a great passage to use to model using a venn diagram or t-chart for note-taking. It is also a perfect mentor to use during writing workshop throughout the year for different purposes and students love to hear about rats!

Should There be Zoos? By Tony Stead is my all-time favorite nonfiction and persuasive text to read aloud to students during the nonfiction unit. The arguments for and against zoos are research based and alternate throughout the text.   The students love stating their opinion about zoos at the beginning and then revising after learning more about the research behind each argument.  We also have debates to share our opinions and beliefs while reading and discussing the text.  This is also a perfect text to use as a mentor during writing workshop for argumentative research-based writing!

Winter's Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff and Craig Hatkoff is a powerful and inspirational nonfiction text.  A couple years ago, one of my students chose to research Winter during our nonfiction unit and she shared her learning with the class.  We were all very interested in the topic so we read the book and also watch parts of the movie too - kids loved it!  It has been a class favorite ever since!
I love all of the Hatkoff's books such as Owen & Mzee and Knut - they are all must reads!

Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle by Brian Dennis and Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery is an inspiring true story that is a must read!  Last year, my class awarded this book as the Best Nonfiction Book of the Year for our class awards at the end of the year - they loved it!  This years class equally loved it and were all very inspired and touched by this story about Nubs, an Iraqi dog of war who never gave up on making his home with the Marine Major Brian Dennis.

Tarra and Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley is a powerful narrative nonfiction text!  Tarra, an elephant, becomes best friends with Bella, a stray dog.  Even though they are complete opposites in more ways than just size, they form a close friendship that is inseparable no matter what happens.

All of Seymour Simon's nonfiction books are amazing! One of my many favorites of his is Wild Babies.  Each double page spread focuses on a different animal from elephants to opossums to kangaroos and so on.  It is a perfect book to teach how to use boxes and bullets for note-taking, summarizing, and determining importance.  I use this text constantly throughout the year for mini lessons in both reading and writing workshop.

I love all of Melissa Stewart's nonfiction books! Shark or Dolphin? How Do You Know?  is one of the many titles in her "How Do You Know?" series that includes topics such as: Butterfly or Moth?; Frog or Toad?.  This series is perfect for teaching students how to read nonfiction texts written in a comparison structure and are also great to model note-taking strategies, such as a T-chart or venn diagram.  I also love her book, National Geographic Readers: Deadliest Animals.  It engages the reader right in the introduction with the surprising fact that the African Lion is not actually the deadliest animal and there are many surprising deadly animals.  

I love all of Bobbi Kalman's nonfiction books and one of my favorites is A Koala is not a Bear.  It is full of colorful photos, labeled diagrams, headings, boxed information, bold words, sections, maps, and more.  It is a great text to teach how to take notes using boxes and bullets and also comparison forms such as venn diagrams and t-charts.  
I recommend all of Nicola Davies' nonfiction books - they are all amazing!  Surprising Sharks and One Tiny Turtle are two of my favorites.  They are both great examples of hybrid nonfiction by including narrative and expository structures and features.  Surprising Sharks is full of colorful illustrations, labeled diagrams, and compelling facts that will captivate readers.  It is full of surprising facts that end up proving at the end that sharks should probably be more afraid of humans than we should be of them.  

I also love the Sports Illustrated Kids: Game Day series by Clay Latimer.  My favorite book in the series is VIP Pass to a Pro Baseball Game!   I am a baseball fan (Yankees, of course!) so I enjoyed reading about the "behind the scenes" action that we don't see watching the games - the pre-game and post-game action.  I learned many new facts about the umpires, coaches, and groundskeeper along with information about the bullpen, dugout, and the clubhouse.  This is a favorite series in our classroom this year!  I am always looking for mentor texts to use for informational writing and this is a perfect series to use to study craft in informational writing.

There are many, many more nonfiction books that are my favorites and wish I could have added them to this list (as it is, I may have snuck in an extra for good luck! ).  Seymour Simon, Nicola Davies, Melissa Stewart, Bobbi Kalman, and the Hatkoff's are some of my favorite go-to authors when I am seeking out nonfiction texts - I highly recommend all their books! 

Thank you again Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for hosting this nonfiction book event!  I look forward to learning about new titles from others and expect it to be an expensive day for buying more nonfiction titles to add to my already extensive collection! :)

Happy Reading! :)


  1. Hi Melanie. Great meeting you online. Ah the true story of.... is always a big hit with kids. Reality reading or the truth is stranger than fiction are ever popular. Great list. I know a few of your titles, but I absolutely have to have Oh, Rats. Multi-genre formats are fun to teach with.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I used to use Stead's book with my students. LOVED IT!

    Tarra and Bella sounds like the Owen and Mzee books. What fun!

  3. Elephants Can Paint Too has shown up on a couple of blogs. I love what you said about its structure, "hybrid nonfiction text that includes narrative and expository structures." I've never heard it described as "hybrid", but it seems a perfect way to describe it. Your summaries coupled with your thoughts of how the book might be useful are very helpful. Oh, the possibilities.


  4. There are so many titles on your list that I don't know! Thanks for the inspiration to check them out!

  5. Someone recommended Nubs to me recently, but I had forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. I am also a big fan of Bobbi Kalman. I am always so impressed by all of her titles. I haven't read A Koala is not a Bear yet. One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies is also one of my favourites - that would have been my number 11! I adore reading that title to children. So many great titles on your list! Thanks for sharing!

  7. You have some great books on your list. I LOVE Tarra and Bella. I have blogged about it multiple times. I like to follow up reading the book, with showing the CBS Sunday Morning clips about the pair. Heart wrenching... I also think kids really identify with the story of Nubs,
    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Elephants Can Paint Too is one of my absolute favorites! I love watching the kids decide how to read it...do you read the narrative first then the expository? Do you read it page by page in order? Hmmm...you learn a lot about your readers when you preview the structure of this book. Plus...the students all want to buy an elephant painting after reading the author's note! :) Thanks for sharing a great list!

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