How to Introduce Non-Fiction to Children (Age 6-7)
Co-authored with Ritvvij Parrikh.
By this point, Sabi had become comfortable reading fairly advanced fiction books. She could spend hours engrossed in reading by herself.
Moreover, her vocabulary and reading comprehension had improved to the extent that she could grasp more nuanced subjects. We believed she was ready to venture into non-fiction.
Reading non-fiction would not only deepen her understanding of India and Indic religions but also help her develop soft skills such as problem-solving. Additionally, it would offer her inspiration through the life stories of others.
But first, we had to ensure a consistent supply of good books without burning a hole in your pocket. Here’s what we did:
Library. We were running out of books, so we purchased a library subscription from Bukmuk for her. Every week, we get to choose 10 books, six of which are delivered to our home—all for just Rs. 2500 quarterly.
Newspaper. We subscribed to the Kids Age newspaper and magazine. Once a month, an issue arrives at our home. What’s great about Kids Age is that most of the material is filled with trivia, fun games, and non-fiction content.
Bookstore Trips. We took her to Kunzum bookstore, where she explored new books and read for hours.
The School Library. In Sabi’s school, children are generally restricted to reading books designated for their age group. This posed a challenge for Sabi, who had already surpassed the reading level of her age-appropriate books, leaving her feeling quite bored during library time. Aware of the situation, she took the initiative to discuss this with the school librarian. To assess Sabi’s reading capabilities, the librarian asked her to read four to five pages from a senior book. Convinced that she can read, Sabi got permission to explore books beyond her grade level.
- Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2: Both the books cover contributions of women from diverse fields all the way from technology, medicine to sports, art and politics. Sabi was specifically interested reading about Indian women though both the books didn’t cover enough Indian women and hence skipped reading about others.
- Women in Science: book on 50 female role models in STEM fields explained in simple and visually illustrated. Beyond common profession like engineer, doctor, scientist and mathematician, Sabi became aware of variety of other fields and professions like physicist, primatologist, biologists, chemist, astro-physicist, paleontologist, geologist etc.
- Marie Curie: She read Marie’s story but learned about perseverance in scientific discovery.
- Stephen Hawkings: Sabi learnt that he made the theory around black holes.
“Fact Trackers” Series
Sabi found interesting facts and information on following topics: Dolphins and Sharks, Ghosts, Space, Sea Monsters, and Dinosaurs.
The 7 Habits of Happy Kids books are children’s version of the highly influential self-help book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Sabi found four out of the seven principles incredibly actionable, teaching her important life skills and habits.
- Begin with the End in Mind (Have a Plan): This habit encouraged Sabi to plan ahead and avoid impulsive actions. For example, she learned not to cut paper impulsively for a craft project without having a clear idea of what she wanted to create.
- Put First Things First (Work First, Then Play): This habit taught Sabi the importance of prioritizing tasks. She now ensures that she finishes her homework before going to play in the park in the evening.
- Sharpen the Saw (Balance Feels Best): The character Sophie in the book, much like Sabi, loved reading so much that she neglected other aspects of life, such as playing with friends, resting, and exercising. This habit taught Sabi about the importance of living a balanced life that includes physical activity, rest, and renewal.
- Think Win-Win (Everyone Can Win): Sabi had been wanting to grow micro-greens on our balcony, but we had always turned down the idea, citing the amount of work involved. Taking inspiration from this habit, Sabi began seeking mutually beneficial solutions. She wrote a win-win letter to convince us to let her grow micro-greens.
Zerodha’s Books for Kids
Zerodha, the Indian stock investing platform, runs a varsity where they teach people about investing. They also had 5 books for children that could be freely downloaded as PDFs. We printed a few copies and distributed them across to children among friends and family. She read them but couldn’t grasp the concepts.
People She’ll Relate To
Sabi recently read two biographies of people she relates to:
- The first was Who was Dr Suess. Sabi was shocked that this was the man who wrote all the books she read in her toddler phase.
- The second was Who was Steve Jobs. She was aware about Apple. Her uncle (cousin’s father) worked at Apple and Sabi actively used the iPad. With this book, Sabi learned about the man behind Apple.
Below is a note she wrote after reading the book.
Female Role Models
- Helen Keller: Helen was a small girl who fell sick, lost her eye sight, and then had to learn a special language for blind people. Sabi felt extremely emotional after reading this book.
- Amelia Earhart: Amelia was a brave woman who flew alone across the ocean.
- Anne Frank: From this story, Sabi learned about Hitler and the genocide of Jews.
- Serena Williams: Serena is a big tennis sports woman who worked very hard.
India, that is Bharat
As a citizen of India, it was important that Sabi build awareness and appreciation of the nation and civilization that is giving her a safe and nurturing environment to grow. Hence, we invested in the following books:
The Discover India Series covers every single state of India covering cuisine, clothing, art, dance, architecture, famous places, history, culture, religion, language etc.
Amar Chitra Katha are wonderful tools for imparting cultural education, bringing historical and mythical characters from India to life. She learned about brave warriors who fought for India — Vivekananda, Mangal Pande, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, and Velu Thampi.
- Neerja Bhanot: Sabi loved the story of Neerja who saved people from terrorists and got shot in the face.
- Who Was Gandhi?: Until now, Sabi was not very sure what he actually did to become Father of the Nation as she thought after the Amar Chitra Katha stories that there were many more brave warriors who fought battles before him to fight for India’s freedom.
Until now, we had consciously chosen not to introduce Sabi to religious concepts. However, during each festival, she would naturally ask questions about why we celebrate it and what its significance is. Faced with the challenge of simplifying complex religious and cultural narratives, we turned to buying books.
This series offers child-friendly explanations of various festivals, such as Diwali, Holi, Raksha Bandhan, Durga Puja, and Janmashtami, along with well-known stories from Indian mythology. For instance, the books cover tales like how Krishna defeated Kansa, how Krishna fought demons, the avatars of Vishnu, and how Hanuman crossed over to Lanka. Here are the books:
- Amma Take me to Shirdi
- Amma Takes Me Places
- Amma Tell Me About Hanuman!
- Amma Tell Me About Ramayana!
- Amma Tell Me About Raksha Bandhan!
In July 2022, Sabi received a thoughtful gift from Sruti—a book titled 365 Stories from Vedas Upanishads and Puranas. Below are few key learnings she took from the book:
- Body is just not a Physical Entity: After the book, she realized we are made out of Monkeys and the soul or Atman.
- Family and Community: The stories often center on family unity, respect for elders, and the importance of community, thus reinforcing social values. Through the stories, Sabi learned about the distinct roles of fathers and mothers and the importance of respecting both.
- Role of Gurus: Stories from the Upanishads often depict a student seeking wisdom from a guru, highlighting the value of education—something Sabi could relate to as she often asks questions to her Kyoshi and school teachers.
- Indic Ideas: The book introduces key spiritual ideas like dharma (righteousness), karma (action and consequence), and samsara (the cycle of birth and death).
- Smart Problem Solving: Characters like Lord Krishna in the Mahabharata or Ganesha in the Puranas serve as models of wisdom, often using intelligence rather than brute force to outsmart their opponents.
Confident that she is now understanding and has the reasoning to ask questions, we finally took her on a 15-day trip across India visiting various many temples across Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh.