The Eye-Opening World of Children’s and YA Nonfiction

One of the things I miss most about formal education is the exposure to subjects and ideas I’d never have come across on my own. With my school days behind me, I’m free to read whatever I like, but there are definite gaps in my knowledge. While I love literature, I’m no poetry expert, for example, and though anyone who works with me can attest to my love of baby animals, I’m not as up on the hard sciences.

But as SLJ’s editor of nonfiction book reviews, every day I get the chance to expand my expertise in small ways, and I’ve found myself learning things I never knew I never knew. I’m a stickler for grammar and a lover of words, but I didn’t know, for instance, that Noah Webster not only wrote the dictionary but also hung out with the Founding Fathers: he and Ben Franklin enjoyed many a long evening debating the rules of spelling. (Thank you, Catherine Reef and Noah Webster: Man of Many Words [HMH, 2015]!) And even though I adore chocolate, until I read Kay Frydenborg’s Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Most Favorite Treat (HMH, 2015), I had no clue that, in addition to producing the world’s best Easter candy, John and Benjamin Cadbury also strove for improved conditions for their workers.

Even informational picture books can be highly enlightening: entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre is one scientist who flew under my radar, before I encountered Matthew Clark Smith’s gorgeous Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects (Two Lions, 2015).

What are the upsides to younger nonfiction? Slimmer volumes and more accessible writing than you might find in hefty adult tomes. And for those looking for more in-depth information on a subject, these books often boast solid bibliographies.

I may not have time to read long, adult biographies of Webster or Fabre, but I still feel incredibly enlightened. In other words, juvenile nonfiction is turning me into a lifelong learner—it doesn’t get much better than that!

What about you? Have you found yourself learning something from your own nonfiction collection?