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Amy Williams

Professional Education Expert

Elementary Books

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Reference books keep students actively engaged, build information access skills, and boost content area vocabulary and skills. Teachers can integrate them into the curriculum through independent reading, guided reading, treasure hunts, vocabulary games, research, just pure fun, and more. Well-established students thrive on the depth of knowledge they can plunge into, while struggling or uninterested readers can feel successful as readers and researchers more than with a lengthy novel. Reference books are typically of high interest for all students and quickly become dog-eared as they’re read over and over for pure interest sake. The Internet is a fabulous resource, but nothing can completely replace being able to put your hands on the actual pages of content and pictures. Every classroom library needs these books and most need several copies of each.

Our best student reference book recommendations will help build your kids' vocabulary and keep them engaged. These best elementary school books are perfect for independent reading at home or in the classroom.

Best Reference Books for Elementary School Students by Amy Williams

The Best You Can Get

  • The New First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

    Amy says: Don’t leave your child or student in the dark on essential facts for being culturally literate. Hirsch’s book is based on input from several hundred teachers and parents across the nation as to what American children should know by the sixth grade. This innovative collection will help bridge the gap of learning and help create a common core of knowledge with our youngsters (and adults alike). The 3,000 entries are divided into 21 thematic sections from fine arts, math, mythology, to the Bible, English, geography, and idioms. Newer cultural changes are included as well, like Harry Potter and global warming. Facts are supplemented with black and white photos, maps, and diagrams. The wealth of knowledge packed into this dictionary of cultural literacy is valuable for all; use it as a test of knowledge or a teaching tool.

    • by E. D. Hirsch
    • Houghton Mifflin Co., third edition
    • August 2004
    • Ages 8-12
    • 320 pages
  • Children’s Illustrated Encyclopedia

    Amy says: Find the answers you’re looking for, discover the unknown, engage and amaze your mind with DK’s classic A to Z encyclopedia. Discover hundreds of detailed feature entries and thousands of subentries covering everything from music and space to plants and machines with over 4,500 eye-catching photographs, maps, and illustrations. You’ll find a thorough, easy-to-follow system of cross-referencing and a quick reference fact finder segment to boot. It’s all here ready for your students’ fingertips to peruse time and time again.

    • by Jenny Finch and Aekta Jerath (editors)
    • DK Publishing, Inc.
    • June 2006
    • 800 pages
    • Sixth edition
  • National Geographic World Atlas

    Amy says: National Geographic has been the authority in cartographic excellence for over 100 years, and this latest edition is no exception. It’s chock full of new photographs, the latest physical, political, and thematic maps, cool graphics, facts from animals to culture, and even a section on flags and record facts. Sidebars of information show literacy rates, populations, major languages, etc. The organization and the stunning full-color maps make it easy and fun to read. Colorful icons throughout provide addresses to the National Geographic website for furthering learning and bringing the facts to life, a real plus for the tech savvy and interactive learner. Readers love the unparalleled space age technology and digital mapping. What a great way to study the world and all it’s made of.

    • September 2007
    • Ages 8-12
    • 191 pages
    • Third edition
  • Webster’s New World Children’s Dictionary

    Amy says: Everyone needs a good dictionary and Webster’s is a trustworthy name in this department. Designed with the input of leading educators, it has high appeal to kids, has over 33,000 clear and understandable definitions, and is full-color. Users will find tips for spelling tricky words, parts of speech, plural and verb forms, sample sentences, and a pronunciation guide. This revised edition includes important literary and historical figures and current terms such as DVD, Euro, and more. Plus, it has up-to-date information on presidents, weights and measures, countries, states, populations, etc. Every classroom needs one, or one for every group of students, or one for everyone in the class.

    • Wiley, John & Sons, Inc.
    • May 2006
    • Ages 8-12
    • 994 pages
    • Second edition, revised
  • American Heritage Children’s Thesaurus

    Amy says: Want your students to go beyond the overused choices of nice and happy? Elementary students will do just that with over 4,000 entries and over 36,000 synonyms in this uncomplicated thesaurus. Students love learning new words and will get hooked on making better word choices in their writing. The organization is clear and the colored print pops out to readers. An explanatory guide on how to use the thesaurus and an index will come in handy as well. It’s important for students to understand the part of speech in order to find the best word choice, so that tidbit is included along with suggested synonyms in bold print, with the best choices listed first. The targeted word is used in a sentence for a clear picture of meaning and usage. It’s ideal for any elementary classroom.

    For older or more advanced students try the “American Heritage Student Thesaurus” with over 70,000 synonyms.

    • by Paul Hellweg (editor)
    • Houghton Mifflin
    • May 2006, updated edition
    • Ages 8-12
    • 288 pages

You will be happy with any of these

  • Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty

    Amy says: Students who don’t love reading, who just can’t find that research or science fair topic, or any “normal” kid will love this book! The disgusting, gross, guts, gore, and more of this lively, educational, fun-filled read will suck in youngsters, and surprisingly, adults too. Readers will have a blast learning, reading, and sharing all the yucky finds about the human body (you can only imagine), and other topics from the slithery and slimy to why maggots love rotting meat. The captivating ewww factor is high, but don’t be alarmed, so is the learning factor. The more than fifty scientific topics are organized alphabetically covering topics from ants to zits. The author includes a handy pronunciation guide, definitions, historical perspectives, cartoons and photographs, and even advice on how to deal with the topic, not to mention cool, icky recipes and experiments. Readers have to be peeled away from this one and maybe, just maybe that age old question of did you wash your hands won’t have to be asked quite so often.

    • by Joy Masoff
    • Workman Publishing Co., Inc.
    • January 2000
    • Ages 8-12
    • 224 pages
  • National Geographic Encyclopedia of Animals

    Amy says: I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love reading about animals. Students will devour National Geographic’s compilation of animal facts, photo essays, and vibrant illustrations. The encyclopedia covers the animal kingdom with over 1,000 animals from mammals to invertebrates. Travel to the icy poles or the dense jungles for fascinating facts, illustrations, maps, and more. Readers can learn about cool physical or behavioral traits, habitats, life cycles, and survival statistics. You can count on National Geographic for thorough coverage of the what, where, how, and why of the great, glorious, animal kingdom.

    • by Karen McGhee and George McKay, Ph.D.
    • National Geographic Society
    • October 2006
    • Ages 8 and up
    • 192 pages
  • Human Body

    Amy says: See, explore, and discover; this is the go-to book for questions about the human body. Facts are expertly written and are accompanied by color and black and white photos along with charts, graphs, and even a punch out 3-D skeletal model and growth chart. Every aspect of human body interest is covered from body organs, to systems and functions. The table of contents is detailed while the index and glossary provide extra support to learning. The “Did You Know?” section always captures students’ attention. Get your hands on and involved with DK’s turnkey guide to the inner workings of the artfully-designed human body.

    • by Steve Parker
    • DK Publishing, Inc.
    • August 2004, revised edition
    • 72 pages; ages 9-12
    • Eyewitness Book Series
  • Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary

    Amy says: Help your class or your child light up their language center of the brain with rhyming fun and practice. Since reading begins in the ears and since brains are not automatically set up for reading, children need auditory language processing early on. Rhyming is the perfect way to get the brain wired for language and reading. Even students who have developed language can benefit from working with rhyming words by building fluency and gaining better control of word patterns and how they work together, not to mention having a load of fun. Reading, working, and playing with the Rhyming Dictionary will encourage an understanding of rhyme while emphasizing sounds, stressed syllables, and different spellings of the same sounds. The dictionary is well organized by vowel sounds and final syllables so students can easily look up alphabetized endings to words in order to find rhymes with common words to those of modern slang. Scholastic’s collection of over 15,000 rhyming words will motivate even the least motivated readers and writers. Teachers will want more than one, that’s for sure.

    • by Sue Young & Paul B. Janeczko
    • Scholastic
    • July 2006
    • Ages 8 and up
    • 245 pages
  • How to Spell Like a Champ

    Amy says: The authors have spelling and spelling bee backgrounds and write with authority on how to be a better speller and how to make it through the toils of a spelling bee. If you or someone you know has a love for words, wants to be a competitive speller, or just wants to build basic study habits, this is your book. Pick up on tricks and tips for spelling and learn how words with different language origins follow different rules. Additionally the seven chapters cover origins and rules of spelling bees along with stories of previous national bee winners. A bonus CD lets you live vicariously through a student’s experience from their class spelling bee all the way to the final round of the National Spelling Bee. It’s an informative, easy read, and full of advice and study techniques for those who have a love for words and for those who want to foster spelling skills. This is a must have for your shelf whether at home or school. Students love the added pages of skill-building puzzles and games.

    • by Barrie Trinkle, Paige Kimble, and Carolyn Andrews
    • Workman Publishing Co., Inc.
    • November 2006
    • Ages 8-12
    • 192 pages

Related Articles

The best student reference books help build their knowledge of content areas. These elementary school books also are perfect for independent reading, treasure hunts, vocabulary games, research and fun facts. Always the best price, these elementary reference books are sure to keep your kids engaged and curious about how the world works.