When reading for pleasure and relaxation with a child, many of us instinctively choose a story book.  Schools have ‘story time’, parents read a ‘bedtime story’, children’s fiction books in the library take up three quarters of the shelves and if you ask an adult, ‘Do you read?’, unless they read novels, they usually say no.  As a nation we seem to be conditioned to consider fiction as ‘real’ or ‘proper’ reading and non-fiction as the less-valued relation. 

Some languages don’t even have words for fiction or non-fiction – books are not defined by their relation to truth or imagination; they’re just books.

But in English we define a collection of factual books by what it isn’t, we don’t even afford it its own title; we call it non-fiction. We don’t call a cat a ‘non-dog’ – neither species is given more prominence than the other.  But we do with books.

And when you have a child who hasn’t yet found a love of reading, this subliminal messaging can be particularly damaging.  Not all children are comfortable in the world of make-believe but most children are naturally curious about the world.  Factual books can satisfy that curiosity and give a child instant gratification – they learn something there and then, they can become an expert yet they don’t have to read an entire book to feel accomplished.  How a child feels about themselves as a reader is a huge indicator of whether they will fail or succeed; the more positive experiences a child has with books and reading the greater the chance of success.

The last few years have seen impressive changes in the types of factual books published for young readers.  And when we look beyond the confines of fiction to factual stories, poetry, graphic novels, biographies and more, we increase the chances of a child finding something they truly enjoy.

Try incorporating some really empowering non-fiction like You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed or Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli into your shared reading.  Explore biographies such as The Story of Helen Keller by Christine Platt which combines timelines, quizzes, diagrams and illustrations. Try a graphic novel such as Science Comics Fire and Life for a combination of fact and fiction comic style. 

Keep your messaging positive and follow their interest; read about gardening, the sinking of the Titanic, the history of the World Cup.  Give permission to read whatever, whenever, wherever – a powerful signal that they are in control and can read because they want to and not because they’re told to.   It’s important for all children to know that if they choose to read then they are reading for pleasure, regardless of what they’re choosing to read.  After all, you can’t force anyone to read for pleasure!