“Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How” – by Mandela Harmon

Greetings Fellow Bibliophiles,

I recently found myself trying to remember what age I was when I started reading for content instead of just for pleasure. You remember it, right? The 5 W’s…and the H of course! Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.


Anyone who has ever had the luxury of spending time with a young child knows that the “Why” is the first question they seem to discover naturally and attach to everything in the universe!

It’s all too easy as a tired, busy, generally overwhelmed parent to answer, “Because! That’s why!”


My mom never had the luxury of a college education, but she was an avid reader and always “self-taught” herself anything she needed to know; and back in my day that meant with books.  She always expected my sisters and I to be willing to find the answers to our questions, and I can still hear her in my head to this day saying, “let’s look it up!” I still don’t know to this day, as she is no longer here to tell me, whether she knew the answer already, or if by looking it up she didn’t have to admit she didn’t know. Either answer works for me as I still always double check what I believe to be true before I share the info with my daughter.ymca-kids-and-me

As adults, we don’t need to have PhD in everything, we just need to take a moment to help our children learn to find the facts; whether we know the actual answer ourselves is irrelevant. It gives us a chance to grow each day along with them.

In the digital age it is easier to just have our children “go look it up”, but there is so much misinformation out there it’s hard to discern fact from fiction.


So, in this blog I’d like to share with you my favorite series of children’s reference books to help you answer the five W’s and the big H, even if you’ve forgotten the answers and don’t want to admit it.

My Favorite Reference Books for the Very Young (Ages 4-7):

I’ve been a fan of the “I Wonder Why?” series by Kingfisher Publishing from the first time my daughter grabbed one off the shelf in a bookstore!  These books cover just about any topic young minds can posit; everything from “I Wonder Why the Sea Is Salty: and Other Questions About the Oceans” to “I Wonder Why the Sun Rises: and Other Questions About Time and Seasons”. I’m not going to lie about this, friends; many of the questions I bumped into in this series I really didn’t know all the answers to, so I’m glad we “looked it up!”



My Favorite History Series for Grades 3 and Up:

I like the “Who was, What is, and Where is…” series by Grosset & Dunlap Publishers. The books explain not only the facts about the topic, but have fascinating single page inserts that address historical facts that help young readers better understand the challenges faced by the subject during the time they lived in. I like that they also include biographies of living figures so that children understand that their present is part of history; ex. “Who Is Sonia Sotomayor?”


I also still adore Mike Venezia’s biography series “Getting to Know…”, with colorful images and playful illustrations, he covers a diverse range of fascinating people; artists, scientists, composers, and more.  They are appealing and less intimidating to reluctant readers, because the layout of the pages is like a picture book, but still has the same value content as the “Who is…” series.

What also make them unique is that they cover a wide variety of individuals not available in the “Who was…” Series: ex. Igor Stravinsky (Russian composer), Diego Rivera (Mexican 20th Century artist), Daniel Hale Williams (1st African American heart surgeon), etc.


Historical Reference for Middle Grade Readers (Grades 4-7):

I love DK reference books, but I have another favorite I swing towards for Ancient History. The “Navigators” series by Kingfisher Publishing is as jam-packed with facts as the “Eyewitness” series by D.K., but the pages are more vibrant and inviting. The books also have active internet links to safe accurate websites; so if the copyright date is old the site will still have new info.


Lastly friends, I ask you, is “The Guinness Book of World Records”, or the “National Geographic Kids Almanac” (insert year) worthy of being called a real reference book? Totally! Both books are great for grades 3-7 and easy to read aloud piecemeal to younger audiences. They are a healthy break from the heavy reading of school. A book of facts that can just be picked up, randomly opened, and enjoyed when you find yourself stranded on a long car ride, or anywhere else you just want to chill unplugged.


Check them out of your local library, or give them to that classmate you don’t know who invited your kid to their birthday party. Your gift may not seem the “Belle of the Ball”, but I promise once toys and crafts end up piled in a corner, that book will find its way into their hands and keep them captivated more often than you think.

Keep learning, keep reading, and most importantly keep making the time to “look it up!” together with the children you love.

Sincerely Yours, Mandela



About Mandela:

Born in Maryland and raised a little bit of everywhere, Mandela Harmon is a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and giver of bear hugs who currently lives in Monrovia, Md. Mandela attended Hood College to work on a degree in philosophy. She is a lifelong bookworm, and has worked in sales as a children’s book specialist on and off for 15 years. She likes blustery snowbound days reading by a fireplace drinking Earl Grey, hot.

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