by Children’s Librarian Helen Morgus
The Children’s Library houses a great collection of nonfiction for the curious of any age. And I really do mean ANY. If you are a person who likes to begin learning about a subject with an overview before going granular, children’s nonfiction is just the thing for you. Plus, bonus: illustrations! One of my favorite series within our spectacular collection is Who/What/Where/ Were?
The Who Was books are biographies, published by the children’s division of Penguin Books and authored by various writers. We have nearly 30 of them, from King Tut to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They are a hit with young readers, especially those who don’t usually go for “real” books (children are taught that fiction is “fake” and nonfiction is “real”).
As a librarian, I love that they are all the same size, which makes them very easy to spot on the shelves, and that they’re appended with excellent timelines and bibliographies. Each book sports a colorful caricature of its subject on the cover, and contains a profusion of black and white illustrations and diagrams. For example, Who Was King Tut? has maps, pictures of objects found in Tut’s tomb, an illustration of his mummy and its three nesting cases, and much more, all annotated.
As all good writers of nonfiction do, the authors of the Who Was series both lay out the essentials and make room for the bizarre. So in King Tut’s case, there are gory details of how mummies were made, theories about how Tut died, and a chapter on Mummy Mania.
More recently added to our collection are the What Were and Where Were (or Is/Are) volumes, covering a range of topics from ancient to modern times, and in the same format as the biographies. The Where Is titles include natural and man-made geographical wonders, from the Great Barrier Reef to Stonehenge to The Kremlin. What Is topics cover historical events and sites: Pearl Harbor, The Titanic, The Twin Towers, and many more. Recent additions are graphic-format volumes about Cesar Chavez, Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks, and the Battle of Gettysburg.
Satisfy your curiosity about historical figures and places with these fun, information-packed small bites. All the volumes in these series make great read-alouds for adults to share with younger children (and the adult gets to learn some interesting facts along the way), and are about the right reading level for 4th grade and up.
You’ll be surprised by what you thought you knew, but didn’t!