9 Great Nonfiction Books for Tweens
by Tom Burns
We live in a weird, wild, and fascinating world. The challenge, however, is getting our kids to read about it.
It’s a strange dilemma. While I completely understand why a young person might prefer to read about a rogue tween wizard as opposed to James K. Polk, the 11th U.S. President, there are just so many nonfiction stories out there that will make their developing jaws drop in awe.
As the adults in their lives, it’s up to us to share with them the best works of nonfiction we can find and show them how a real story will blow their minds. If your tween is only fond of fiction, here are nine truly captivating books that will make them fall in love with its counterpart.
Tooth and Claw
Kids love dinosaurs, but what happens when your kid starts to get bored with dino fiction? You tell them about the crazy true story of what happened when people first started digging them up. This amazing account introduces readers to Othniel Charles and Edward Drinker Cope, two rival 19th century scientists who started a whole lot of international drama in their quest to dig up as many dinosaurs as they could and lay the foundation for the totally new science of paleontology.
Amazing Ancients!: Egypt
Ask any fan of Rick Riordan or the Ologies series
- ancient Egypt is super cool. The culture and architecture was so rich and ahead of its time that it has intrigued students for centuries. In this engaging activity book, kids not only learn a lot about the Egypt of the past, but they'll also get their hands dirty while creating their own papyrus and decode hieroglyphs.
Disaster Strikes!: The Most Dangerous Space Missions of All Time
There are so many books that teach kids about the expansive majesty of outer space, but there aren't nearly as many that make it clear that space can also be dangerous. This is a terrific look at some of the most harrowing stories of the American and Russian space programs' early days. Kluger expertly educates his readers about the science behind the missions, while making them feel like a fly on the wall as everything goes wrong.
My Corner of the Ring: The Middle Grade Memoir of a Girl Boxer and Future Olympian
Jesselyn Silva has one of those remarkable life stories that will make kids say, "Wait, she's my age?!" In her inspiring memoir, this 12 year old recounts her struggle to break into the world of boxing while battling centuries of gender stereotypes about "hitting a girl." Throughout it all, Silva stays upbeat and focused-making it clear that if she can strive to become an Olympian, anyone in middle school can face their own problems, too. Any kid, regardless of gender, will love this ode to girl power.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Before they watch the movie adaptation on Netflix, you might want to have your kids read this young reader's edition of Kamkwamba's true story; it is so unbelievable that they might think it was all just a Hollywood invention. Adapted from the New York Times bestseller, this middle school memoir introduces us to William Kamkwamba, who embarked on an improbable quest to bring electricity to his rural village in Malawi by building a homemade, fully functioning windmill. The book is equal parts haunting and uplifting, and will convince your kids that they can accomplish anything.
Who Is Oprah Winfrey?
Do kids today know who Oprah Winfrey is? Though Oprah has become a ubiquitous part of modern popular culture, they might not know her full story. In this volume from the popular Who Was? series, readers learn how Oprah exploded glass ceilings, challenged racial prejudices, and emerged as one of the wealthiest and most respected people in the world. It's a tremendous modern-day success story for middle grade readers.
Roses and Radicals: The Epic Story of How American Women Won the Right to Vote
We're living in an astonishing era of kid-driven social advocacy - exemplified by youth activists like Greta Thunberg and Emma González - but it's equally astonishing to consider that U.S. women have only had the right to vote for less than 100 years. If your socially conscious kid can't imagine being told they're ineligible to vote, they should definitely read this account of the long and painful path women had to travel before the 19th Amendment was ratified.
The Thrifty Guide to Medieval Times: A Handbook for Time Travelers
How can a kid not love a book with the subtitle "A Handbook for Time Travelers"? This ingenious history book parodies the structure of modern travel guides, giving kids clever insights into medieval life in the form of travel advice. How do you avoid the plague? Why are people so into jousting? Part of The Thrifty Guides series, this book brings the past to life by presenting it in a hilariously contemporary fashion. It's a fantastic reminder that knights and serfs were people just like us.
It's Trevor Noah: Born a Crime
This funny, unforgettable memoir from the host of the Daily Show does an incredible job of explaining to young readers what it feels like to grow up torn between two cultures. Noah was born and raised in South Africa. He was a mixed-race child living in a country where it was literally illegal for mixed-race children to exist. Noah's memoir is insightful, honest, and (against all odds) hysterical.