The Best Informational Books To Give Kids You Don’t Know Very Well


Continuing our seventh annual best “books to give to kids you don’t know” round-up (see the first installment, here), we’re focusing on books that appeal to kids who are more interested in real things; real animals and real people, real places and real history. These are the kids who love to quiz their friends with questions like:

Did you know that basketball was invented by a guy from the YMCA?

…that Ben Franklin’s experiment with a kite and a key in a thunderstorm determined that lightning and electricity were one and the same?

…that turtles have a mouth with a hard beak but no teeth? Here are my favorites grouped by interest.


Hoop Genius

Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball, John Coy (Lerner/Carolrhoda, Ages 5 and up).

In this book, we discover how James Naismith took a group of energetic young men and created a safe, exciting indoor game. Did you know that the original basket in basket ball was one for peaches and that every timea basket was made, play had to stop while someone climbed a ladder to retrieve the ball?

Below, author John Coy at the Celebration of Minnesota Children’s Authors and Illustrators, held September 21 in Red Wing, Minnesota.

A REAL hoop

Nelson Mandela, Kadir Nelson

Nelson Mandela, Kadir Nelson, (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegan Books, Ages 6 and up).

Mandela’s recent death has brought more attention to this great man’s life. We are grateful to have the artwork of award winning artist, Kadir Nelson in this stirring biography. Shining a light on a person who inspires us to improve ourselves, our family and community, this book is a perfect Kwanzaa gift.


Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candle-Maker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty , Russell Freedman, (Holiday House, Ages 10 and up)

Russell Freedman is a national treasure. His meticulously researched and engagingly written narrative brings new life to one of the most written about American Revolutionary figures.

When Stravinsky

When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet, and One Extraordinary Riot, written and illus. by Lauren Stringer, (Harcourt, Ages 7 and up).

Stringer expressive volume explores the sometimes fraught but always exciting collaboration of two of the most innovated artists of the previous century. In 1913, the avant-garde composer Igor Stravinsky composed The Rite of Spring (in French, Le Sacre du printemps) to be choreographed by the internationally renowned dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The collaboration was so shocking at the time that the debut performance ended with the audience rioting.

Be sure to also check out Stringer’s fascinating description of her research and creative process on her website.


The Flight of the Honey Bee

The Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber, illus. by Brian Lovelock, (Candlewick, Ages 6 and up).

Huber’s fact filled sentences and lyrical style are a perfect match for Lovelock’s sweeping watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil illustrations of bees dancing, working and in flight.


Bugs: A Stunning Pop-up Look at Insects, Spiders, and Other Creepy-Crawlies, George McGavin, Jim Kay, (Candlewick, Ages 5 and up).

Gorgeous, magnificent, exquisite, superb, and, yes, stunning … there aren’t enough adjectives to describe this pop-up books about bugs. Formatted to appear as a historic exhibit with a naturalist’s handwritten notes and period illustrations, it offers all the facts a young scientist could want and this wonderfully creepy pop-up of a scorpion ready to attack:

Bugs -- interior spread

More Kid-Favorite Topics 


Locomotive, Brian Floca, (S&SAtheneum, all ages).

Floca’s words echo the rhythm of a train wheels on the track as we journey west on the steam engine and his generous use of onomatopoeia creates a text that sings. Readers will revel in the historical accuracy of the detailed paintings and find themselves swept back in time by the extensive spreads.


Toilet: How It Works, David Macaulay, Sheila Keenan, illus. by David Macaulay, (My Readers Series, Macmillan/Roaring Brook/David Macaulay Studio, Ages  5 and up)

Longtime fans of Macaulay have always appreciated his attention to detail. Booktalking librarians take great delight in pointing out the toilets that appear in his previous works. This time, the toilet stars in its own easy reader and it is with glee that I recommend it to you now.

Defies Category

Go Chip Kidd

Go: A Kidd’s guide to Graphic Design, Chip Kidd, (Workman, Ages 10 and up — all the grown ups that you know)

Okay, even as I write this, I know I sound crazy. There are two books I want to give to all my family and friends who are over ten years old. This is one. Chip Kidd who changed the face of book cover design in a humorous, easy-going personal narrative explains what design is and how we are all capable of making intelligent design choices. Although Kidd is writing for kids, this volumes accessibility to anyone with an interest of how the world looks and how it got that way won’t be able to put it down.

One Response to “The Best Informational Books To Give Kids You Don’t Know Very Well”

  1. Dianna Hutts Aston Says:

    Great choices! Love the basketball book, and Ben Franklin is one of my heroes. And love librarians, who instill the wonder of stories in kids and showcase our books.