Ask a Book Question: #71 (Non-Fiction for Kids)

February 23, 2009 | 14 books mentioned 4 2 min read

Betsy recently wrote in with this question:

I’m looking for some good non-fiction titles about “People and Places That Interest Us” for a 7th grade reading unit at my school. I plan to introduce Three Cups of Tea and Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. Do you have any other recommendations for page turners that 13 year olds would enjoy? My students are, by and large, strong readers. I usually book talk about 6 or 7 titles each month.

Garth writes: Most of us at The Millions are passionate amateurs, rather than experts. However, we boast an asset many experts don’t: the collective wisdom of you, our audience. We weren’t sure we were qualified to answer this Book Question on our own, so we turned to Cynthia Oakes, a middle school librarian at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, a Millions reader, and (not incidentally) my mother-in-law. You may remember her from our 2007 Harry Potter interview. Here are the titles she suggested, “off the top of her head”:

If you have any suggestions, let us know in the comments. Thanks for the question Betsy and thanks for the help Cynthia!

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  1. Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham – by a young Vietnamese American about his travel through Vietnam by bicycle, trying to revisit his origins and better understand his identity. A friend used this with her junior high class with good results.

  2. I just finished Little Heathens, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish, about her life growing up in Iowa during the Depression. She and her sister and brothers spent half the year on a farm in the country and half a year in town with their grandparents. It was terrific – a real sense of time and place.

  3. `A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became Histories Greatest Traveller` – kids love this one, 19th C gentleman with disability overcomes and becomes the best in the world.

    `Catfish and Mandala` might too adult for 7th grade, contains some dark material. His second book `The Eaves of Heaven` would be good, and a better book IMO, but also has some dark material.

    Second recommendation of `Little Heathens` and add `A Life of Her Own`, sort of the same but France instead of Iowa.

    Replace Caroline Alexander's `The Endurance` with Alfred Lansing `Endurance`, the original and still best classic account, and much easier to read for kids. One of the best books I've ever read, and not just for the story – narrative force is unmatched, unputdownable.

    `Seven Years in Tibet` is a classic, better than the movie of course.

    `The Silent World` by Jacque Cousteau is a great adventure, still, and with pictures and not too long.

    `Sailing Alone Around the World` by Joshua Slocum, classic account of first solo round the world trip.

    `Two Years Before the Mast`, Dana, American classic.

    `The Oregon Trail`, Francis Parkman, American classic.

    Wow so many more..

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