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How can information books be used in a reading for pleasure context?

Margaret Pemberton

By Margaret Pemberton, Chair of the Information Book Awards

The concept of reading for pleasure has been around for a few years now and found real credibility when it was mentioned in the National Curriculum in 2014.

The latest version of this has placed an even greater emphasis on the RfP agenda and OFSTED are now looking at how schools focus on this. Professor Therea Cremin in Reading for Pleasure is essential to children’s education said:

“Ofsted is, in fact, looking to see evidence of a rich and wide reading curriculum, encompassing lots of reading aloud to children, and with children to support reading by themselves. Developing a love of reading is officially recognised in the United Kingdom as being essential to children’s education.”

Reading for pleasure is often considered a fiction activity. Information books have seemed to be under the umbrella of curriculum support; mainly due to the range of books that have been published for young people. We are all familiar with the large education publishers and the myriad titles that they produce to satisfy the needs of the national curriculum.
We have seen the development in new publishers coming forward. Whilst forward thinking firms such as Usborne, Bloomsbury and DK have kept ahead of the game there are lots of others that have made an appearance lately. They include:

In part this can be seen as a reaction to the thought process at the beginning of this millennium, where the rise of the internet made many, especially in education, look into the crystal ball and foretell the end of ‘non-fiction’ as part of the school requirement; based on the assumption that we can get it all on the ‘web’, thankfully now disproved.

I think one of my great frustrations over the years has been the small number of children’s information books that are found in many bookshops; two or three bays of stock is small in comparison to the fiction shelves. This is even more obvious when you look at the adult sections and the vast scale of popular books about biography, sport, cookery, crafts, wellbeing, history and travel; and that is just the tip of the iceberg. The point is that adult readers of information books do not just appear fully formed; they develop from childhood and we should enable them to build up this love and knowledge of a subject that they find fascinating.

How we achieve the feat of making information books attractive is something that is beginning to come up as part of the RfP agenda, starting with the following points:

  • Provide a wide range of exciting, colourful and readable books, within the library environment.
  • Talk to young people about how you can read information books. Unlike fiction, they may well be a source for dipping in to, or just reading a chapter at a time.
  • Ask young people about what their hobbies and interests are.
  • Make children aware of what is available by creating booklists, displays, quizzes.
  • Encourage young people to write about the topics they are interested in and even get them to recommend books that they have read on these subjects, especially in Book Club meetings.

Perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that there will be a type of book that will appeal to every child. Some will love science, whilst others will be fanatical about football or aircraft, but we also have millions of children who love to dive into works such as the Guinness World Records book and share the facts they find.

Of course, this post is being somewhat generalized in talking about information books. The reality will be different for schools, depending on the age and abilities of the pupils involved. What is really positive about this type of book is that they can often be read at different levels. Photographs and illustrations are a major aspect of books aimed at those up to the age of 12+, but they are also a major element in teen books about subjects such as Art, Biology, Botany, World Countries, Sport. This means that the reader can choose to read a book that appears ‘older’ than their reading age, but they will gain much through the visual literacy of absorbing information from the pictures.

I think it is probably fair to make a comment about the many fantastic books now available for teen audiences that deal with the many issues they face; this can range from mental health, gender, understanding society, to make up, peer pressure and social media issues. Promoting these books can be difficult, but authors such as Juno Dawson and Nicola Morgan are highly recommended.

Hopefully some of your students will be fascinated by the books that have been shortlisted for the Information Book Award, but will also now know that this type of book is not just for school; it is very much about subjects they love and reading about this because it is FUN!

Recommended Information Books

A banner showing Margaret Pemberton's recommended books, Egyptology, Absolutely Everything!, Interview with a Shark

Egyptology by Dugald Steer, Ian Andrew (Illustrator), Helen Ward (Illustrator), Nick Harris (Illustrator)

Publisher: ‎ Templar Publishing (1 Oct. 2004)
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1840118520
I admit to having loved Egypt since I was a small child, so this is a wonderful book, full of amazing illustrations, lift-the-flaps and all kinds of other treasures that will keep a child (or adult) fascinated.

Absolutely Everything! by Christopher Lloyd

Publisher: ‎ What on Earth Publishing (4 Oct. 2018)
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1999802820
This is the kind of book that I would have loved as a child. It can be read cover to cover, but it is really one of those books that you keep close, so you can dip in whenever you want to.

Interview with a shark by Andy Seed

Publisher: ‎ Welbeck Publishing (17 Sept. 2020)
ISBN-13 ‏: ‎ 978-1783125661
This is the first in a short series by the author, in which he interviews a variety of wild animals, giving the audience a lot of factual information, whilst also making them laugh.