Let’s do something to celebrate children’s non-fiction!

I volunteer with a national UK charity, The Federation of Children’s Book Groups, which promotes reading for pleasure for children and young people. My area of special responsibility is looking after their activities to encourage the sharing and enjoyment of non-fiction books and for the past few years I’ve been the co-ordinator of National Non-Fiction November. This year is no different, except for that fact that I’m hoping the annual celebration will be even bigger and better than before 🙂

Today sees the official launch of several resources I’ve created to facilitate classes, bookgroups and community groups who might want to run events (in November, or any time of the year) to explore and celebrate the huge range of fabulous, exciting non-fiction books available for children and young people. These resources are free and available to anyone to download.

I’ve produced a “Match the selfie to the shelfie” game, featuring a range a glorious non-fiction authors and their bookshelves.


I’ve drawn up a “Guess Who” style game featuring non-fiction book covers, instead of people’s faces. This pack can also be used to play “Pairs” or simply to create amazing non-fiction book displays.


I’ve written an activity pack with 57 ideas to encourage groups to create their own non-fiction books.


All these resources can be downloaded from: http://www.fcbg.org.uk/national-non-fiction-november-2016/

In addition to these free resources, author Catherine Barr, Patron of Reading for Longtown Community Primary School in Herefordshire, has created an excellent guide to running non-fiction book creation competitions in schools and book groups. Her pack includes lots of resources and draws on her experience of running these competitions in schools across the UK.


Deeply indebted to Catherine for creating this pack, I asked her share a little about why she started using this competition/game framework in her school visits and what sort of experiences she’s had with it.

An illustration created by Francesca Chessa, one of Catherine's collaborators
An illustration created by Francesca Chessa, one of Catherine’s collaborators
“My experience of becoming an author has been interesting, all-consuming and joyfully collaborative. I am not an author in an attic. Writing weaves its way in, out and around my logistically challenged rural family life – and is inspired by it. It brings together my years at Greenpeace and the Natural History Museum; my travels and wider interests.

I particularly enjoy collaborating with a talented, inspired and professional team of people to bring ideas to life. And from talking to scientists running conferences on crocodiles to burying my head in a book of bears (this week…), I enjoy the networks and issues new and old that writing non-fiction children’s books allows me to explore.

So it is all of this that I wanted to share with primary school children, when first asked to talk about making a book. I hoped to help create a framework whereby children could focus on what they loved (from football to farms), do what they liked best (from writing and drawing to being in charge) and spark interest in how to explore something new (from talking to their granny to reading and swiping an App online).

Turning the workshop into a competition created the buzz to bring it all together. From learning that it’s ok to scribble messily as ideas develop (endless editing…) to finding out that if you don’t like writing but love drawing, spelling or organising, you have an equally valid role, children have risen to the challenge.

Most of all I have been blown away by their originality and creativity. They have told gripping stories and dovetailed bitesized facts with inventive illustrations and unexpected humour. I have been inspired by their pride in describing their roles, amused by explanations of how differences were resolved; and overwhelmed by a tidal wave of enthusiasm.

I am a writer not a teacher. But working closely with teachers to develop ideas is a fulfilling, exciting and unexpected part of being an author. Aside from squatting on very small chairs, I welcome every aspect of visiting schools. My experience is that an ordinary non-fiction idea can evolve in an extraordinary way – and so lovely to wrap that all up in a book.”

Catherine’s dĂ©but book, The Story of Life, written in conjunction with Steve Williams and illustrated by Amy Husband is an funny and easy-to-follow evolution primer for young children – both those who love picture books, and those who are beginning to read themselves. Complex ideas are explained in an accessible way, with child-like illustrations adding lots of humour to the rich content of the text. Elliot’s Arctic Surprise (illustrated by Francesca Chessa) also draws on Catherine’s background in ecology and commitment to environmental concerns, telling an inspiring tale about a young boy who confronts people drilling for oil in the North Pole. Informative, optimistic, and funny (with a seasonal twist that makes it good to include in any Christmas round-up of books), this book has great potential to help inspire children to help protect the planet we all live on.

I’m very grateful to Catherine (who can be contacted about school visits via Twitter @catherine_barr), and to all the other non-fiction authors, illustrators and publishers who have helped me to create the resources you can now start using with – I hope – delight!

Once again, all these resources can be downloaded here: http://www.fcbg.org.uk/national-non-fiction-november-2016/

2 Responses

  1. Rebecca Stonehill

    Ooooh, what a fabulous download. Think I will get involved with this in Nov with my after school writing club! ❤️ (Even if we are in Kenya and it’s a ‘national’ event…but don’t think it will matter.) Great introduction to Catherine Barr, thank you.
    Rebecca Stonehill recently posted..Lena, Me and The Artist

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