Excitement for Cathryn Sill and John Sill’s nonfiction board book series Discovering Nature is growing with the March release of Curious About Insects! While any Sills book is cause for celebration at Peachtree, we are equally delighted about the increasing enthusiasm for nonfiction targeted to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Early childhood education experts Joy and Stan Steiner share our excitement, and we invited them to speak on our blog today about this topic. 

Stan_Joy SteinerStan Steiner, PhD was called the Bookman by his students due to his vast knowledge of children’s literature. He was a K-5 elementary teacher for 15 years prior to his professorship at Boise State University, where he teaches courses on children’s and young adult literature. Stan has written and co-authored many articles about children’s literature and education and a book, P is for Potato: An Idaho Alphabet, with his wife Joy. 

Joy Steiner, MA Early Childhood Education, is a former preschool teacher and school librarian. She has traveled extensively as a professional storyteller and enjoys writing original nature tales.

Oh, the wonder!  Oh, the joy!  Oh, the thrill of discovery!

Few things are as powerful as sharing books and adventures with young children. Curiosity is awakened in the outdoor world, prompting questions and rich language exchanges with young learners.  Nonfiction books are an essential part of the experience, expanding and increasing the learning.

Fabulous FishesWe strapped our baby daughter into her piggyback backpack, fastened her wide brim hat, and took to the high mountain air.  We talked and sang along the way, while she bounced happily, and upon our destination, snuggled close to the edge of a crystal clear alpine lake.  Small brook trout flashed in the water.  “Look!  Fish,” we exclaimed.  “See the fish?”  After returning home, we bundled our little one for bed and read a board book with large fish pictures and just a few words (try Stockdale’s, Fabulous Fishes or Sill’s About Fish).  The next evening, our baby pronounced her very first word.  We were sharing tiny bites of fish and vegetables in her bowl; behind her, colorful carved fish hung from our apartment ceiling.  She turned around in her high chair, pointed to the hanging fish, and said, “Ish?”  She was barely nine months old.

TheLadyBugNonfiction books inspire scientific explorations close to home, as well.  Our growing preschooler and her new brother witnessed a miracle in our backyard rose bush.  After reading The Ladybug by Gallimard Jeunesse (also read Curious About Insects, Sill and A Place For Butterflies, Stewart), we discovered the striking appearance of ladybug larvae and searched for them in our yard.  There they were, devouring aphids in the rose bush.  To our amazement, a larva stopped, glued itself to a leaf, and squeezed sticky bug juice from its backside.  The goo hardened into a pupa and our young scientists patiently observed the changes.  Ten days later, we held magnifying glasses and watched a tiny set of mandibles chew through the pupa, struggle to push out, and emerge as a glistening yellow beetle.  The sun dried the new ladybug, yellow darkened to orange, and spots appeared.  We were in awe.

Later, Joy taught preschool children with developmental delays.  One three year old came to school with no language.  He enjoyed playing with friends, but communicated with facial expressions, physical action, roars, engine sounds, and laughter.  By chance, Joy’s co-teacher discovered the boy loved horses.  They transformed the classroom into a ranch with horse pictures and toys, cowboy hats, boots, a saddle, and piles of horse books (try Touch and Feel Ponies and The Everything Book of Horses and Ponies, published by Dorling Kindersley).  They read one on one with the boy, making sure he focused on the clear pictures and repeating the words.  The highlight of the horse study was a trip to a working ranch to watch cowboys skillfully guide their horses as they cut and culled the cattle.  In the weeks that followed, Joy overheard the boy and his friends as they mounted the imaginary horse in the dramatic play area.  He was telling them to, “Hold on!  Sit saddle!  Go!

Real life experiences teamed with realistic pictures and clear text in nonfiction board books encourage literacy in young children.  Embark on outdoor discovery adventures with little ones.  Prepare to be surprised by wonder.