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The 20 Best Nonfiction Books for Kids They Won’t Want to Put Down

Foster children's love of learning with these engaging books about real-life people and topics.

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Childrens Books openerrd.com, Via amazon.com (13)

Cooler than fiction

Everyone loves a good story, and that includes kids! But the best stories aren’t always fiction—often, nonfiction can be just as compelling, even for young readers. The best nonfiction books for kids get them interested in the world around them through true stories about real people, amazing events, different cultures, and the beauty of nature. Reading, and reading nonfiction specifically, opens up the world for kids—not just by memorizing facts, but by learning how to analyze and think critically.

Kids may enjoy different types of nonfiction that attract and keep their interest, including narrative nonfiction, which tells about people and events in a captivating “story” format; active nonfiction, which describes how to do something fun or interesting; and expository literature, which presents information with artistic language and gorgeous illustration to draw readers in. We’ve included all of these on this list, so the children in your life can discover what type of nonfiction best captures their attention.

In curating this list, we sought recommendations from teachers, librarians, and parents. We also looked at books that won awards, made “best books” lists, or otherwise garnered attention for being outstanding. We also made sure to include various topics from science to history, as well as the best biographies and children’s books about diversity. Some of these selections may even be considered the best books of all time and will lead your child to later be interested in the best books for teens and so much more. We’ve organized them by age range, but you know your children or your students best: Depending on their emotional and academic level, individual kids may be ready for these books at different times. Happy reading!

1. Babies Around the World by Puck

For ages 0+

Children are never too young to start learning about the world. Each spread of this simple board book presents a child from a different city around the world—including New York City, Mexico City, Paris, Cape Town, Cairo, and Tokyo—saying hello in English and in the country’s language. Bright and engaging illustrations feature country flags and city landmarks that can spark conversation with older toddlers, as well. Published in 2017, it’s a great introduction to cultures and countries around the globe. Starting babies off with these kinds of gentle stories is one of the early reading habits that make young kids love books.

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2. Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison

For ages 0+

Author Vashti Harrison adapts her best-selling Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History for babies in this empowering 2018 board book. Featuring women who stood out—and stood up—it encourages even the youngest readers to do the same. Cute illustrations of real-life heroes and role models help Black children specifically see themselves visually represented in picture books. It’s also a great starter for a collection of mother-daughter books to read together.

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3. Counting with Frida by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein

For ages 0+

For babies, even a book on numbers is nonfiction! The youngest readers are just learning these basics, but this simple and sweet 2018 board book has the added bonus of featuring Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. It also includes numbers in Spanish and English, which is helpful for both bilingual children and English speakers, since it’s never too early to start learning more than one language. Featuring math, language, and art in one, it’s just what nonfiction books for kids should be at this age level. You can also find board books about other Hispanic female trailblazers from its authors.

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4. Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward

For ages 3+

This beautiful 2014 book introduces preschoolers to the types of nests made by different birds, from woodpeckers to penguins, using fun rhymes and gorgeous pictures. For older children, additional inset text on each bird gives more information on how they build their nests, which allows the book to grow with kids. Illustrator Steve Jenkins is an honoree of the Caldecott Medal, an award that recognizes the best children’s picture books; plus, because it’s written by a female author, the book encourages boys and girls to pursue interests in science and nature.

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5. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick

For ages 4+

This best-selling Caldecott Medal winner tells the amazing true story of Winnie, the real-life bear who inspired the character of Winnie-the-Pooh when real-life boy Christopher Robin visited her at the London Zoo with his father, author A.A. Milne. A wonderful example of narrative nonfiction books for kids that read like fictional tales, the book ends with old pictures and documents for children who want more behind-the-scenes information about Winnie and the veterinarian/soldier who rescued her, Harry Colebourn. Amazingly, this 2015 book, which will be a favorite of any young Pooh fan and could be considered one of the best children’s books ever written, was penned by Colebourn’s great-granddaughter.

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6. Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

For ages 5+

Complex concepts such as immigration can be introduced in age-appropriate ways, as in this gorgeous memoir about the author’s experiences coming to the United States from Mexico and discovering a love of books and libraries. A best seller that landed on many best children’s books lists, the 2018 book also won the Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, which is given to a work from a Latino/Latina author/illustrator about Latinx culture. Featuring beautiful, dreamlike illustrations, the story is positive and uplifting, and it’s one of the best books by Latinx authors you’ll want to read with your kids right now.

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7. Beware of the Crocodile by Martin Jenkins

For ages 5+

Kids love crocodiles, and what better way to stoke their interest in animals than with a nonfiction book for kids on these scary but fascinating creatures? Fun illustrations showing lots (and lots) of teeth keep children’s interest as they learn about crocs’ feeding habits. But beware: Any young lover of wildlife knows that some animals eat one another, and caregivers should be aware this informative text is honest about the circle of life in the animal kingdom. For the budding zoologist, the 2019 book also has an index and notes on species. Once kids are in kindergarten and start using the computer, you can search the best websites to find free online books for kids to read books such as this one.

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8. The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

For ages 5+

You’re never too old to learn new things. Just ask Mary Walker, a real-life woman who was born into slavery and learned to read at the age of 116. This inspiring biography encourages a lifelong love of learning for young readers, while also teaching about American history from the Civil War to the civil rights era. An ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) Notable Children’s Book, this 2018 entry definitely ranks among the best books by Black authors. It also features collage-like illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner Oge Mora, who made the Forbes 30 Under 30 2021 list in Art & Style.

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9. Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

For ages 5+

Kids are just as fascinated by “Did You Know?” facts as we are! This book presents fun facts about a symbol of America kids know and love: the Statue of Liberty. But most people, even New Yorkers, have never noticed that Lady Liberty is actually mid-stride, with her right heel lifted. Why? The author theorizes she’s walking out to sea to light the way for those coming to America. An honoree of the 2018 Orbis Pictus Award, which is presented for excellence in nonfiction books for kids, as well as a Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year and a School Library Journal Best Picture Book of the Year, Her Right Foot is a tribute to the patriotic American spirit. Actor and voice artist Dion Graham narrates the story in one of the best audiobooks for a family road trip, especially if you’re headed to NYC.

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10. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

For ages 5+

The picture book edition of the #1 New York Times best seller and Academy Award–nominated movie features the inspiring true story of four Black female mathematicians who helped the United States land on the moon. With pictures by Laura Freeman, this 2019 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book, which recognizes works for children by and about African Americans, brings the extraordinary tale of these groundbreakers to vibrant life for young readers. The audiobook was read by prolific narrator Bahni Turpin. Check out your local library online for free audiobooks for kids, including this one.

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11. Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming

For ages 6+

Kids either love or fear bees—or both—and this picture book capitalizes on that fascination to present a lovely, fact-filled tale about the life cycle of these environmentally important creatures. Winner of the 2021 Sibert Medal for the most distinguished informational book for children, as well as an Orbis Pictus Honor Book and an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, this is one of the best nonfiction books for kids on a science topic.

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12. The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander

For ages 6+

Another major award winner, this 2019 New York Times best seller is a Newbery Honor Book, one of the highest awards in children’s literature. It’s also one of the best poetry books for kids, highlighting people and events in Black history in the United States, from slavery to Martin Luther King, Jr. Cultural figures in sports, literature, art, and music are also celebrated, and the back of the book includes additional biographical and historical information for further reading. With photorealistic illustrations by Kadir Nelson, the book is also a Caldecott Medal winner and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner.

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13. The Lights & Types of Ships at Night by Dave Eggers

For ages 6+

This 2020 NPR Book Concierge pick proves that any nonfiction topic can be compelling when presented with beautiful pictures and language. Full of details on different types of ships, the book features stunning illustrations of the boats lit up at nighttime, reflecting on the water and sparkling in the sky. Kids can also have fun looking for the image of a seal named Fatima in every illustration of water in the book.

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14. Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

For ages 7+

A Caldecott Honor Book and Orbis Pictus Award winner, this 2017 book is jam-packed with everything a young nature lover would want to know about the Grand Canyon. With gorgeous illustrations, the informational text covers the history and formation of the canyon, its wildlife and ecology, and its geology. A fold-out panorama, rich back-of-book material, and a map of the canyon complete the immersive reading experience. This literary field trip could inspire your child to want to visit the real Grand Canyon someday! Display it with your coffee table books to keep kids engaged and in the conversation when you have visitors.

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15. Baking Class by Deanna F. Cook

For ages 8+

Kids love the independence that how-to instruction books afford them. This 2017 cookbook features 50 easy recipes for aspiring chefs, along with fun pictures and graphics to help them along the way. An NPR Best Book of the Year, one of the New York Times‘ Best Cookbooks for Kids, and an IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) Cookbook Award winner, this beloved baking cookbook will inspire caregivers and children to bond while creating healthy and yummy treats they can enjoy together.

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16. Never Caught, The Story of Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve

For ages 9+

Around fourth grade, kids are ready to start reading longer stories that tackle more serious subjects. The young readers’ version of this National Book Award finalist uses compelling narrative nonfiction to tell the gripping true story of the courageous Ona Judge, who was born into slavery on George and Martha Washington’s estate but later successfully ran away to New Hampshire. Written by a historian, the 2019 book was listed among School Library Journal‘s Best Nonfiction Books of the Year. A powerful introduction to an important part of American history told through the engrossing story of one amazing woman’s daring escape, it’s one of the essential books about race in America you’ll want to put on your family’s must-read list.

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17. Greta’s Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet by Valentina Camerini

For ages 9+

No need to wait until they’re grown up—kids can do amazing things at whatever age they are right now. This inspiring tale for young people tells the story of a 15-year-old Swedish student named Greta Thunberg, who went on strike for the environment, gained international attention for her work, and started a global movement to raise awareness of climate change. Through Greta’s example, this 2019 book encourages kids to take action now, stand up for a cause they believe in, impact their own future—and even save the planet.

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18. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

For ages 10+

Cowritten by the titular boy himself, now a grown man, this true story follows a young student in Malawi who taught himself how to build a windmill from spare parts in order to irrigate the land and save his family’s farm. Embedded in this inspiring “kids can do anything” 2015 book are lessons about how ingenuity fosters amazing inventions, what life is like in an impoverished country, how things we take for granted (water, electricity) can be hard to come by in other parts of the world, and how science and learning can lead to incredible solutions to problems. Young readers can then watch the Netflix movie adaptation directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.

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19. The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix

For ages 10+

Calling all graphic novel fans: This 2018 biography of real-life double agent and would-be Hitler assassin Dietrich Bonhoeffer is told through the stunning use of illustrated frames. Written like a spy thriller (because Bonhoeffer’s story really was one), it leads follows Hitler’s rise to power and one German pastor’s attempts to resist it. Visual learners will appreciate the use of color and design, as well as maps and diagrams, to bring history to life in this complex yet accessible nonfiction story for adolescents. The book was a YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Award for Excellence in Nonfiction finalist and named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR and School Library Journal.

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20. All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

For ages 10+

What would happen if your soccer team’s afternoon hike turned into a 17-day survival story that gripped the whole world? Young readers love tales of heart-pounding adventure, so this 2020 book about kids just like them is sure to hold their interest through the last page. Weaving in information about Thai culture and religion, as well as explaining the complex science and engineering that went into the rescue operation, the narrative nonfiction book includes firsthand accounts of the incident. The book was a 2021 Newbery Honor Book, Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book, and YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction finalist. Looking to read a riveting tale yourself? Check out our list of the best autobiographies of all time.

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Tina Donvito
Tina Donvito is a regular contributor to RD.com’s Culture and Travel sections. She also writes about health and wellness, parenting, and pregnancy. Previously editor-in-chief of Twist magazine, Donvito has also written for Parade Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Parents Magazine online, among others. Here work was selected by author Elizabeth Gilbert to be included in the anthology Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. She earned a BA in English and History from Rutgers University.

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