What do the kids think? by Melissa Stewart

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this open letter to John Schu, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, and Travis Jonker on my website. And Donalyn kindly invited me to post here, too.
My letter was inspired by my general frustration with the kidlit community’s current focus on narrative nonfiction. Now I openly admit that I, too, like many of these titles. But here’s the thing. I’m not a kid. And what I see is that kids aren’t as excited with these titles as the adult gatekeepers. There’s a disconnect, and I think that needs to be addressed.
So I asked: How do you—dedicated educators who know what gets your students excited—go about finding the right nonfiction book for the kids you serve? Most of the people who responded to my post said something like: “by knowing the kids and their interests.”  In other words, it seems that content is king. Do you, readers of Nerdy Book Club, agree?
In the early grades, we know that kids enthusiastically read the Guinness Book of World Records and similar “browsable” nonfiction books. But what would you recommend as a next step for these students? What kinds of nonfiction picture books would also fascinate them? What upper elementary or middle grade nonfiction is most likely to grab their attention?
Is there a gap in what we offer kids? Do we need a bridge, a stepping stone between the browsable fact books and rich, complex long-form nonfiction? If so, what might that bridge book look like?
What are the best nonfiction books from a young reader’s point of view and how can we give them more of that?

Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 150 nonfiction books for children. Her lifelong fascination with the natural world led her to earn a B.S. in biology and M.A. in science journalism. When Melissa isn’t writing or speaking to children or educators, she’s usually exploring natural places near her home or around the world. You can find her online at http://celebratescience.blogspot.com and http://www.melissa-stewart.com and on Twitter as  @mstewartscience.