Amazing non-fiction for last-minute presents

Non-fiction books sometimes get forgotten amongst the massive publicity around novels and picture books but there are so many wonderful titles out there that will delight and inform in equal measure. I know lots of children who love working their way through ‘fact books’, so this post is dedicated to them. Perhaps if you know of such a child, this could act as inspiration for a last-minute Christmas gift.

A Pandemonium of Parrots, illustrated by Hui Skipp

Published by Big Picture Press

Perfect for: Wonderful Wordsmiths!,204,203,200_.jpg

This is a bold and beautiful book that showcases a wonderful array of animals from around the world under the umbrella of their collective names. For example, a group of bears is called a ‘sloth’, and a group of lemurs sounds like something out of a thriller (they’re called a ‘conspiracy’). The ‘lounge’ of lizards makes the reptiles sound positively lazy, while a ‘pandemonium’ of parrots seems apt.


I was excited the moment I received this book – it’s colourful, appealing and lively. Hui Skipp’s illustrations bring the animals to life on the paper, making it a piece of art. The ‘bouquet’ of hummingbirds is an explosion of subtle colour and movement, and the ‘army’ of monkeys perfectly captures the expressive nature of their faces. Additionally, there are fascinating facts on each animal, fish, bird or reptile featured and little challenges on each of the spreads: for example, can you tell which angelfish (in the ‘company’) is swimming the wrong way, or which flamingo (in the ‘flamboyance’) is standing on one leg?


One of my top non-fiction choices for 2016 – this should be on the wishlist of any natural history lover.


Knowledge Encyclopaedia ANIMAL!

Published by Doring Kindersley

Perfect for: Nature Detectives,h_1024,w_1024/v1/DK/626d938a64ee45c483d938c51c69533c/8ed4495ee9544769bcb8b29ee308ecc0.jpg

Non-fiction books are increasingly using an array of technical know-how to make learning fun and fascinating. Knowledge Encyclopaedia ANIMAL, published by Dorling Kindersley, uses the latest CGI technology to bring the animals to life (I nearly said ‘literally’ but of course, I don’t have fighting lions leaping around my living room!).


This book covers a HUGE range of creatures, from tiny water fleas to massive blue whales, from snakelock’s anemones to warthogs. Reading through this introduced me to a whole new world of animals etc that I’d not heard of before, and it told me interesting facts and figures about ones I did know about. For example, I wasn’t aware that a common toad’s tongue is sticky on the end to trap its prey, though it makes sense of course. There are also sections on movement, reproduction, life cycles and living together, which distinguishes between how different beings do things.


There are many children in my library at school who would adore this book. They are those who are fascinated by the natural world and like to find out as much detail as possible about its inhabitants. This would make the perfect gift for children who are nature detectives!


My Encyclopaedia of Very Important Things

Published by Doring Kindersley

Perfect for: Inquisitive little minds

The strapline for this book is: ‘For little learners who wants to know everything’ – and it’s an apt description. This book has huge amounts of amazing facts for younger minds and I know I would have welcomed this when I was little. Instead I had ‘The Big Book of Amazing Facts – and I would carry it around with me, spouting general knowledge to anyone who would listen.

Anyway… leafing through this I found out things like:

  • how the Babylonians created the first known number system
  • Gertrude Bell was a famous explorer, who learned eight languages so she could communicate with as many people as possible on her journeys
  • the world’s smallest country is called Nauru

The sections are divided into themes such as numbers, countries, explorers, and the night sky, and are accompanied by lovely illustrations and photos. Highly recommended for children who have an insatiable thirst for knowledge!

Highest Mountain, Deepest Ocean – a Pictorial Compendium of Natural Wonders, illustrated by Page Tsou

Published by Big Picture Press

Perfect for: Great geographers!,204,203,200_QL40_.jpg

I fell in love with this book the moment I saw it. Not only does it contain fascinating facts, it is presented in such a beautiful way that you lose yourself in the intricate drawings. This makes learning enjoyable and is a huge step away from boring, word-heavy non-fiction books of the past.

For example, I learned that many of the ‘superlative’ trees of the world can be found in the USA:

  • the oldest known clonal tree is the Pando (or Trembling Giant) grove of quaking aspens in Utah
  • the oldest non-clonal tree is the Great Basin Bristlecombe Pine
  • the tallest tree is of course the Redwood which can be found in California

The stoutest tree, however, hails from Mexico: the Montesuma Cypress, while the largest tree seed is the rather suggestive Coco de Mer from the Seychelles (I saw these in person back in 2001 – they really are HUGE).

This book of course doesn’t just talk about trees (I just love them, that’s all!). There is information on the longest migrations (including the humpback whale, whose longest recorded journey was from Costa Rica to Antarctica) and the Monarch Butterfly, which travels from Canada to Mexico. Equally there is interesting information on what people in the past thought about migrations – Aristotle believed that birds changed from one breed to another at different times of the year, while later people thought that birds spent the winter hiding in the mood at the bottom of lakes and ponds.

I could go on and on citing interesting facts… testament to the information in this book. The fact that it looks stunning as well is an added bonus. This book would be perfect for geographers of any age.

The Ultimate Peter Rabbit – A Visual Guide to the World of Beatrix Potter

Published by Doring Kindersley

Perfect for: Bunny fanatics!

This popular book about the world of Beatrix Potter was re-released this year to coincide with the celebrations of 150 years of the author and her works and is lovely for all her fans – young and old. The volume contains information about Potter’s life and the inspirations behind her much-loved tales. I was intrigued to discover that she grew up in London and was homeschooled with her brother Bertram until he was sent away, at the very young age of 6, to boarding school. In those days, girls weren’t given the same level of education as boys but Potter continued to learn at home while developing her artistic talents and storytelling skills. In fact, she wrote a secret journal in code in which she wrote down everything that caught her eye, many of which ended up in her stories.

Potter’s family often went away on holiday to different locations such as Scotland, the South coast and the Lake District and these places were portrayed in the tales themselves. The family spent these holidays walking and sketching, which helped encourage Potter in her artistic endeavours. Eventually, in October 1902, Potter published her first tale – that of Peter Rabbit – on a print run of 8,000. The book was so popular that the publishers printed 20,000 more copies for Christmas that year, all of which sold. Beatrix Potter was so amazed that she told her publisher, Norman Warne, that “The public must be fond of rabbits! What an appalling quantity of Peter!”

All these details serve to enrich Potter’s stories even further and will be a wonderful accompaniment to anyone who has any or all of her stories.

What books will you be gifting this Christmas?




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