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Why non-fiction?

It’s National Non-Fiction Day today! Milo and I celebrated the very first non-fiction day last year by replacing all our usual fiction reading throughout the day with non-fiction. It paid off. We had a long wait in asthma clinic, an overtired, sleepy boy and some fun baking to do from Top That’s Baking With Kids.

This year has got me thinking as to why. Why do we like non-fiction so much in this house? What does it give us that fiction doesn’t / can’t? Why is it a necessary part of our everyday reading?

“Why?” is also Milo’s most favourite question at the moment. So last night, I did a little experiment. Our journey home from nursery on a Wednesday is a 20 minute walk with Milo in the buggy. We’ve always chatted on the way home, mostly about cars, vans, motorbikes that we see on our journey, about tow bars, indicator lights, spare tyres on the backs of 4x4s, the moon, aeroplanes, the sudden darkness on our journey that’s come with the clocks going back. Sometimes we talk about his day at nursery, but more often than not it’s a conversation about what we see around us on our journey. And the question “why?” which is coming up a lot right now. My experiment… how many “why’s” did Milo ask on our 20 minute journey home.

I took a scrap of paper and a pen to ensure I was completely accurate.

Thirteen “whys” on the journey home. Thirteen questions that I needed to answer, thirteen curious thoughts directly from the brain of my almost three year old. Here are a few of them:

Milo: “Mummy, why’s that motorbike got a tyre on there?”
Me: “That’s the sidecar, the spare tyre is incase the tyres on the sidecar burst or break, then he has an extra one to use instead.”
Milo: “Why?”
Me: “erm…”

Me: “We can’t see the moon tonight can we?”
Milo: “No, he’s hiding. Why’s he hiding?”
Me: “It’s cloudy. The moon is hiding behind the clouds.”
Milo: “Why?”
Me: “Because when it’s cloudy, the clouds cover over the moon and we can’t see it. It’s still there, it’s just behind the clouds.”
Milo: “Why?”
Me: “Why what?”
Milo: “Why are there clouds?”
Me: “Do you mean what are the clouds?”
Milo: “Yes.”

Well, I knew the answer to that because I did geography at school. But I wouldn’t have remembered my geography had it not been for Milo and I sharing this book of his, just the other day. Why is the Sky Blue? (Ladybird Books), a fabulous non-fiction book derived from real questions asked by children. In it is this particular question… What are clouds made of?

Why is the Sky Blue? (My World)

And so it goes on… Recently I’ve had questions about diggers and other construction vehicles (we have a building site at the end of our road where we spend a good half an hour every Thursday or Friday looking at everything that’s going on). It’s non-fiction books like this series of Mighty Machines books from QED that not only keep Milo engaged with real-life pictures of the construction vehicles he loves to watch but help me to answer his questions accurately (we have the Diggers one, but I can’t find it. It’s much loved so he’s probably hidden it somewhere where it can’t be tidied!).

One of the other questions I got on our journey home was about our neighbour’s cat.

Milo: “Tosca lives there.”
Me: “She does indeed.”
Milo: “Is she a girl?”
Me: “Yes, she’s a girl cat.”
Milo: “Yes, she is. Does she have boobies?”
Me: “Sort of. She has nipples.”
Milo (much laughter, the word nipple is hilarious to him. I don’t know why): “Why she have nipples?”
Me: “Because girl cats, like mummy’s, like to feed their baby kittens milk and they do this through their nipples.”
Milo: “why?”

We were in the house by this point so I was able to distract with juice and a snack. I guess my point is that whether the question is about a cat’s boobies or what the bucket on the front of a digger is called (a bucket) we have a very curious mind who has thirst for learning about the world and for whom every area of enquiry is equally as interesting. Non-fiction books can deliver some of those answers in ways that fiction can’t. And the non-fiction books on the market now are pretty amazing, inventive, unusual and fascinating so go check them out.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is a fab, fab post Tasha.
    You describe little ones’ thirst for knowledge pefectly (even though the constant “why” questions used to drive me potty, especially when there is no easy answer to their question!). I guess for a while we are their walking non-fiction book really. Once they can read, they gobble up facts at a scary speed! My son often surprises with me with the facts he knows, especially historical, and when I ask him how he knows that, the reply always is “I read it in a book”!

    November 3, 2011
  2. natashaworswick #

    It’s relentless today and I’m feeling pretty tired so my answers are not terribly good or satisfying! I love how curious he is but I do at times just want to sit in a heap and say “I don’t know!!” We’ve sat down and shared a few lovely, long non-fiction books though already. They help so much on the “why” days as the answers are often there and I find that you can have a conversation without worrying about losing the focus of the plot (happening a lot at the moment!). Hope you’re having a good non-fiction day 🙂

    November 3, 2011
  3. Zoe #

    Gorgeous post Natasha!

    November 3, 2011

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