I love pairing fiction with non-fiction books when I read to my kids. I usually start by reading the fiction book. For example, “Frog and Toad Are Friends” is a classic tale of two silly friends who converse and have small day-to-day type adventures. They act like people, dress like people, and think like people, though in the story they are a frog and a toad.
After reading that, read a nonfiction book about frogs or toads. Chances are your local library has several to choose from, but children’s books can usually be purchased really cheaply from Amazon too. (These are all Amazon affiliate links, so they’ll take you to Amazon if you want to check them out there.) Scholastic has a good one called “From Tadpole to Frog.”
Now you can compare the two books. Is anything in the story true about frogs? What truths did you learn from the nonfiction book? Why do you think the author used that particular animal? How would Frog and Toad Are Friends be different with an eagle and a falcon? An elephant and a lion? A mouse and a rat?
Here’s a interesting trio. The first is the classic tale of The Lion and The Mouse, in which the mouse saves the lion from the net he’s trapped in. It’s a gorgeous book and a timeless story. Then read the National Geographic Kids book about Lions. In true National Geographic style, the pictures alone will thrill you, but you’ll also learn a lot about lions. Follow that up with Survival: Could you be a mouse? You get to make choices in the book to see if you would survive as a mouse. Especially interesting, given that the mouse in The Lion and the Mouse survives in a curious way.
It can also be fun to explore some of the facts and fallacies about things in the world (especially animals). Are lions kings of the jungle? Are elephants afraid of mice? Are pigs really dirty? Go to the library and be a detective…find out!
This pairing will help you answer the question – Are owls really wise? (Extra hint: the wisdom of owls goes all of the way back to the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, having an owl as her symbol. They also seem wise because of their big eyes and their ability to hunt things we can’t even see at night. Is that really wisdom though?)
This can be done for readers of all ages. The key is usually to find the fiction book first. Find a great one, then go search the computer catalog at your library for a companion book about the subject.
If you haven’t read these two with your kids, you must! Tuesdays at the Castle is the first in a really lovely series. We read it aloud as a family and every kid begged me to “read another chapter Mom!” And David Macauley’s Castle is an astonishing look at real castles and how they functioned. It’s one you’ll want on your shelf.
Pairing fiction and non-ficion makes the non-fiction book much more interesting because you’ve got a great story attached to it in your mind already. Likewise, the fictional book is enhanced because you are becoming an expert on the topic.
Agatha, Girl of Mystery, is solving The Eiffel Tower Incident while you are learning the true story of the Eiffel Tower and how it came to be in Where Is The Eiffel Tower?, a book about its history and the man who designed it.
In Fish is Fish a tadpole and a fish are best friends, until the tadpole transforms and is soon hopping right out of the pond, adventuring beyond. Pair that wit Over and Under, which teaches about life over and under the surface of a pond. It has extra information about a lot of pond animals too.
This is another amazing pairing – the entire Percy Jackson series is not only an awesome story, but you’ll learn a ton about Greek mythology in a really memorable way. Pair that with D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths and you’ll be a true expert. You can even stop in the middle of Percy Jackson as you are introduced to a new character, and go check out his or her story from D’Aulaire.
You can’t help but be more intrigued by books when your mind is really engaged. So much of learning is making connections, and pairing non-fiction and fiction makes connections that just make sense.
You can also use pairings to teach fun literary devices. Amelia Bedelia takes idioms seriously! Have you ever seen her dress a chicken? Then you can follow it up by learning more about idioms and what they really mean.
Alliteration is an especially fun one for kids. You will love the singsong rhythm and alliteration of Tikki Tikki Tembo. I first heard it when a children’s librarian read it to me as a little girl. I have loved it my whole life. Then read Chips and Cheese and Nana’s Knees: What Is Alliteration? It’s part of a great series that teaches various literary devices. I bought the whole set and we’ve read them over and over.
The Skeleton in the Closet is a silly tale of a skeleton who feels bare and wants to get dressed in the little boy’s clothes, so he raids the closet. And the Eyewitness Book called Skeleton will teach you everything you want to know and more about human and animal skeletons. It has lots of little sections and captioned illustrations. It’s fascinating.
The Little Engine That Could is great on its own, but even better if you also read Locomotive.
Another fun concept is to take a favorite story, like Bayou Magic, and learn more about its setting.
Hatchet is the story of a boy who has to survive in the Canadian wilderness after his plane goes down.
And sometimes a story can bring learning about history to life. An Elephant in the Garden is the story of a German family trying to rescue an elephant from a bomb-threatened zoo. You could pair it with a non-fiction book about elephants, but even more meaningful would be pairing it with a book about World War II. This one tells about World War II from the point of view of children who survived it.
Besides deepening knowledge of a topic, it’s really valuable for kids to master the more difficult language of the world of non-fiction. They learn a great deal when motivated by a great story. And it’s amazing how facts and truths will be made more memorable when you approach both the story and the wealth of information a good non-fiction book can bring. Pairing fiction and non-fiction can also be just plain fun. Try it!
More From Layers of Learning
You’re probably here because you like learning with your kids as much as we do. Check out our fun, hands-on learning units that will have your family learning everything under the sun. Each unit even comes with its own library lists to help you find great books about whatever you’re learning. And our Curriculum Guide will tell you everything you need to know about them.
You might also like our Bookworms Page. You’ll find all kinds of ideas for reading with your kids. Karen’s Big List of Book Projects is a favorite spot. And there’s a free printable reading record there too, for you to keep track of all the fun ficiton and non-fiction books you’re reading.