Friday, October 11, 2013

The Case for a Non-Fiction Home Library

Me, to the kids: Hey guys! I think I figured out what that bird is that we saw along the shore today!  It took me some digging around online since it wasn't in any of the field guides we brought, but I finally found it.

Gianna: So was it a Turnstone?  I was thinking it was a Turnstone.

Vincent: Yeah, me too.  So what was it?

Me: Um, yeah, it was a Turnstone.  <confused>  Wait, where have you heard about a Turnstone?

Vincent: Oh, it was in one of our books.  Well, the Ruddy Turnstone, not the black one.

Gianna: I have been wanting to see a Turnstone ever since I read about that Ruddy Turnstone, and then there one was on the beach today!

can you see a tiny one at the center there, on the sand?
the rocky outcropping to the left seemed to be their nesting spot.

I don't know about you, but non-fiction books used to be the first kind of books I would pass over at a booksale, thinking, "Oh, I can just Google it," or "We can get books on that topic from the library when they're interested."  But once my kids really started reading independently, I had a change of heart.

So I know homeschooling moms don't exactly need more reasons to buy more books!  But I'm going to share here some of my reasons for beefing up our non-fiction collection:

:: Because even though I can Google it, they can't.  I don't allow my kids on the computer yet, and I want them to have access to information that they can page through in their free time, rather than my needing to be the guard between them Wikipedia.  (And you'd better believe I'll not be handing over free access to e-searches anytime soon!)  

:: Because I want to capitalize on potentially-passing interests.  They want to know something, I tell them we'll check the library, and by the time I get over there and bring home books, the interest has faded.  Now, they want to know something, I tell them to look it up!  And they can.  Checking out books from the library on an as-needed basis works for holidays and learning that will supplement particular topics we'll be covering in our school reading--things I can plan ahead for.  But for the out-of-the-blue stuff, it's not the most effective.

:: Because I want them to learn about what they want to learn about.  I choose all of our school books for the most part, but my kids have varied interests, and I support those interests by giving them plenty of time for free reading and a good variety of books to choose from.  I don't want to micromanage it all.  When they have a nice shelf of options to choose from, including reference materials on a large variety of topics, they can take the initiative of pulling something from the shelves that sounds appealing on their own.

:: Because I want them to learn about what they didn't know they wanted to learn about.  Homeschool moms are excellent at strewing, are we not?  And with some children, strewing isn't even necessary; they'll happily go to the shelf and pick up something they haven't read before just because it's new and different.

:: Because I don't let them into our local library.  I have happy memories of taking my bookbag to our local library every week with my mom to check out stacks of books of my choosing.  But I'm not doing that with my kids, and I don't plan to.  Our neighborhood library is a gorgeous new building with a vast children's collection...of mostly twaddle and DVDs.  There are TV screens in the check-out area and children's storytime involves a couple songs and then watching a 15-minute video.  (No joke, unfortunately.)  And let's be honest--most of my elementary years were spent reading The Babysitter's Club and RL Stein books.  So yea, we use the library, but no, my kids don't get to go and scour the shelves for books to bring home.  I make requests through the online system weekly; I pick up and return weekly.  And those pre-selected books join our pre-selected but varied book collection at home.  And then my children can happily browse our own "library shelves" and choose for themselves what they'd like to read.

So for those reasons and more,  a decent library of non-fiction titles is a must in our home.  We have books on lots of subjects: saints' lives, musical instruments, historical figures, the four seasons, church missals.  But I find this to be especially important for nature-related learning, in which I think non-living books like field guides, dictionaries, and other reference materials have an important part to play.  We have, for example, a small animal encyclopedia set, lots of local and national field guides, and non-fiction picture books on many nature-related topics.  I can't overstate the effect these have had on my children's self-education now that they are readers.

Most I find at library book sales--libraries always seem to be getting rid of the non-flashy children's titles, which is exactly what I'm looking for. ;)  But this is also a great opportunity to look in the adult section of your local used bookstore; I would say that most of our non-fiction nature books were not written for kids.

And now perhaps the children should be preparing reading lists for me rather than the other way around?


  1. Now the only question is- What book was it? :)

    1. Ha--it was our vintage copy of The Random House Book of Birds, which both my kids have read cover to cover since we got it for my son's birthday in June. A treasure!

  2. Thanks, I'll look it up. I agree - my son, 9 has been a ravenous reader for almost 4 years, is always surprising us with knowledge about animals or famous people/events/ inventions, etc that weren't part of his assigned reading and we didn't know! I sometimes still go back to check, and he's usually right! A good home library is so valuable, especially when libraries often throw out treasures!

  3. Great post! I just went to our city's main library's book sale yesterday and got great used books for great prices. I was able to get 4 or 5 field guides for birds, shells, moths, etc. I found other beautiful vintage books on trees, birds, insects, etc. now they are waiting to be read in our nature corner where we collect bugs, leaves, or anything that catches our interest :)

    Karla (aka in AO forums as clay1416)

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Karla! Sounds like you found some gems yesterday! Although the modern field guides with sharp photos are often more useful, I just love the charming drawings that the vintage nature books often have. Your nature corner sounds lovely.