Seven Fun Ways to Explore Non-Fiction

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Fun Fiction Challenges that would be perfect for the long school holiday (or any time of the year, really). Now I’m thinking about non-fiction challenges.

Non-fiction is a HUGE area to deal with, but can be an awful lot of fun for children and adults alike. Beware, though, there’s a really big chance you might learn something when you delve into non-fiction.

The best place to try these challenges would be a library with a decent kids non-fiction area. If you’re in South-East Queensland, both Moreton Bay Libraries (north of Brisbane – try Albany Creek, Strathpine or Redcliffe) and Logan Libraries (south of Brisbane – Logan Central and Logan North) seem to excel in these areas. If you’re a school teacher or teacher librarian, you might want to try some of these activities as an introductory activity, as a way to introduce a new topic to the classroom or as a way to explore the non-fiction section of the school library.

If you don’t have kids, you could always try some of the challenges for yourself. Of course, you get to use the big kids part of the library!

I realise the non-fiction section might feel a little like school for some kids (and some adults). It’s fine to stick to the parts of the non-fiction section which interest them, or to avoid it altogether. It’s also fine to let children know it’s there and what’s in it, and let them explore it at their own pace. But some kids are really into facts, and for those kids, the non-fiction section is the biggest treat ever.

Adventures of a Subversive Reader: Seven Fun Ways to Explore Non-Fiction


1. Map the Dewey Decimal System

Don’t worry about researching this one first. Explain to your children that non fiction books are (usually) stored differently to fiction – they all have numbers to help organise them. Head to the non-fiction section and pick out a small range of books (2-3 each child, maybe). Using post it notes or note paper, write down the ‘number’ of the book and what the book is about. Return the book (make sure it goes in the right place – schools often use ‘book paddles’ or long strips of laminated cardboard to mark where a book has come from) and chose a different one from a different spot. Once you have a range, you can rearrange the post-it notes or notepaper in order, and write or draw a map of where you’ll find certain books.

Children might want to brainstorm other topics then and guess where they might be. Using the library catalogue, they check and see if their guess is right – while adding to their library map.

After this, you might want to do some more research on the Dewey system, or just know that you know a little more about finding books!

2. Explore an Encyclopaedia

Do you remember a time before Wikipedia? I remember when we used to get a school assignment and we’d all rush to the World Book Encyclopaedia to get the best ones for our assignment. I was a whiz at picking the slightly off beat topic for this to make sure I got a book.

Some libraries still have the old Encyclopaedia sets, while others will have a reference section. It’s really easy to get lot in the reference section, discovering all sorts of strange facts about things you never cared about before. You can use this new knowledge to make ABC books (A is for Antarctica, B is for Bhutan), quizzes, board games or just for the pure fun of learning.

3. Scavenger Hunt

The non fiction section is brilliant for a knowledge scavenger hunt. You can focus it on particular topics (like Ancient Rome or science) or broaden the search to include all non fiction. Another good way to learn about the library catalogue.

4. Meet a historical figure

Non-fiction also includes biographies. You could focus on a particular type of person (read biographies about scientists or Australian Prime Ministers), focus on a particular era (biographies about people living during World War 2, biographies about Ancient people) or if a person is really famous, you could read multiple biographies about them to compare and contrast. Kids might enjoy making their own books using what they’ve learned, or make profile pages, pretend to interview the person, dress up as the person or make a poster about the person.

5. Create a non-fiction web

This is particularly good if you have a child who’s really into a particular subject, if you’re learning about a topicc at school or if you only have one or two non-fiction books to work with. As you go through the books, write down words, places and names that seem important. Put them on a big piece of blank paper (butchers paper or storage/moving paper is great, you can also find mind map software for computers and tablets) See if you can make links between them (lines on the page between the two words with a small note explaining the link). Keep building the web as you go through the book. It’s a great way of working out what is important and what isn’t, and seeing how one thing might connect to another. The more colourful it is, the more fun, too.

With smaller children you can draw pictures and use photo copies to play with this idea. For example, if you’re looking at the sea, you might have pictures of sand, water, fish, coral, seaweed, whales and crabs and you can use lines to link them to each other (fish link to the sea and coral, because that’s where they live; the water links to the sand because it is on top of it)

6. Become an expert

Kids tend to get really, really, really into particular topics. They can use non-fiction books to learn more about a topic and mix this with their real life knowledge to become an expert on the topic. They can share their expertise by making a website, drawing pictures, writing a book or a scrapbook, or recording their knowledge as a video or a voice recording to share. They could make craft based on what they know or use their knowledge to write a fictional story. Or they could just be happy to win trivia competitions for the rest of their lives 🙂

7. Find a great non-fiction series

There are great non-fiction series for kids. You’ve got Horrible Histories and Fair Dinkum Histories. There’s the Who Was . . . biography series (which has as audio books!) and the truly awesome Scientists in the Field series. See if you can find a series which suits you and try to read them all – you never know what you might learn!



  1. Some great ideas! We love the non-fiction section of the library – particularly for researching creepie crawlies and frogs with my 4 year old. His favourite so far? Extreme Insects! Some fantastic non-fic books around! (And I can’t wait till they’re old enough for horrible histories!)

  2. I always loved the non-fiction section. I was a massive fiction reader but I was also a massive nerd and loved to read about different topics and then pull out wonderful, random facts to impress people. Come to think of it, I still like to do that!

    #teamIBOT was here!

  3. I’m a total non-fiction nut myself, I very rarely read fiction now, it annoys me too much. There is so much to learn out there about other people and the world so that’s what I want from a book. I haven’t thought of getting kids into yet, but they’re a bit young, oldest one is 4.5 years! Emily

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