13 books your child should read between 3 and 11

Essential list of reference books to help your child learn at primary school

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This is a different sort of children’s book list. There’s no Roald Dahl, no JK Rowling. These are non-fiction and reference books, and they’re just as valuable as story books to help your child learn.

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Children love reading about real things and real events. It helps them to make sense of the world. 

As encyclopaedias and thesauruses have gone online, you may think the appeal of non-fiction books has dwindled. Not so: the nonfiction market is a growing one.

Age-appropriate reference books are written in a way that makes sense for young readers, often presented in a highly visual way, cuts out information that is superfluous, and the information is accurate. Not many online encyclopaedias can boast the same. 

Studies also show that reluctant readers – especially boys – are more interested in reference books than fiction. And many parents, especially Dads, love sharing knowledge and facts through reading reference books together.

We’ve compiled a list of nonfiction books that can be dipped into and out of that will help and excite primary-aged children.

Ages 3 to 5

Wildlife and minibeasts: Animals and insects fascinate children. A reference book for bugs or wildlife is a great way for kids to learn more about the environment around them. Next time you’re in the garden and they point at a bug and say “what’s that?”, suggest you look it up.

First Bible/other religious book: Use these books to read religious stories to your children – to help them understand and enjoy festivals such as Christmas and Hanukah. 

Action rhymes or singing: With bright pictures, these are a lovely introduction to music and songs – something they will do lots of at school. Some will also feature muscial notes – helping your child see the language of music.

Ages 5 to 7

Dictionary and thesaurus: The English language is full of words that aren’t spelled phonetically. “Phonetically” being one of them! Dictionaries are great for kids to look up the meanings of words, and the spellings, too.

Cook books: As well as showing children the magic of cooking, revealing just what’s inside their favourite meals and encouraging them to get hands-on with food, cooking with kids can help them practise early maths – all that weighing and measuring puts it in a real-life context.

The human body: Choose the right book and it will be useful until the end of primary school, possibly beyond. It’s a great reference book for questions they might ask about their bodies – and for helping them in science at school.

Ages 7 to 9

Atlas: Children’s atlases are usually full of bite-size facts about countries and oceans. Any time they hear a country mentioned, they can look it up in their atlas.

Language books: These can be as simple as child-friendly holiday dictionaries. If you’re planning a trip abroad, get one for your child and then try and work out together how to order a meal.

Ages 9 to 11

History books: The truth is stranger than fiction! Take your child to a book shop or library, show them some age-appropriate history books and let them guide you on what they want to read – the contents don’t have to match what they’re learning at school. Whatever they choose will help them get a grasp on the subject much better. The success of Horrible Histories has inspired a new generation of grisly, funny nonfiction books that are perfect for young readers.

Science books: Books that give instructions on (safe) experiments to do at home are fun for kids. Look for age-appropriate ones that have been written for home-use and read them with your child to help them do experiments with everyday items.

The solar system: Choose books that explain the big bang theory and what the constellations are. Next time you’re out at night with your child, you can look up at the stars and talk about what they’ve read. 

World record books: The facts, figures and photos in these really appeal to reluctant readers, especially boys.

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Biographies: Biographies, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories, can help children better understand some of the most important figures in our history.

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