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Engaging NON-fiction Reading for Middle Schoolers


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This is a follow-up to my ask for recommendations the other day for fiction - after talking with the mom again, she'd like them to branch out into NON-fiction (she had not specified that before!).  The boy already says he likes it okay, the girl is quite resistant and thinks non-fiction is "Boring".

She says she likes plants and animals.  He didn't seem to have any preferences, but says he's not that keen on science except 'maybe gravity'.  I thought some really engaging biographies could be good too - they said they used to like the Who Is...? series, but obviously looking for something above that level.

Any really stand-out nonfiction for this ages, especially any really good narrative non-fiction or fascinating biographies of historical figures or scientists?  I had my kids read lots of it, but it was usually tied to the history or science we were studying, and I'm having trouble recalling things that would excite somewhat resistant kids on their own...  (and I likely missed stuff that didn't tie in to our studies...)

There are some middle-grade titles of books I've read (or heard about) the adult version, but I have no idea how engaging those editions are to read - thinking of 1491, Stamped, I think Just Mercy has one?, the Zinn (is that actually engaging, or just good info?) any others?

Any really good stuff on plants?

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Here are some ideas off the top of my head...

Jim Murphy has a series of history books that are very engaging. These might be a little on the "easy" side - they are late elementary - middle school. level. 

Sugar Changed the World

The Cod's Tale (Kurlansky) - picture book, but very well done.

The Story of Salt (Kurlansky)- picture book, but very well done.

Scientists in the Field (series)

Omnivore's Dilemma (Young Reader's edition)

Endurance (Alfred Lansing)

 

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1 minute ago, JHLWTM said:

Here are some ideas off the top of my head...

Jim Murphy has a series of history books that are very engaging. These might be a little on the "easy" side - they are late elementary - middle school. level. 

Sugar Changed the World

The Cod's Tale (Kurlansky) - picture book, but very well done.

The Story of Salt (Kurlansky)- picture book, but very well done.

Scientists in the Field (series)

Omnivore's Dilemma (Young Reader's edition)

Endurance (Alfred Lansing)

 

LOL, the Kurlansky ones - I've read the adult versions of both of those.  In fact, I mentioned to them today that I'd read a whole book about Salt and it was Really Cool!  They were skeptical!  Not sure if the mom will appreciate picture-book suggestions, though...   maybe I'll try to sell it somehow as a good springboard for 'not hating non-fiction'...

Is the Endurance one a young readers or the regular one?  I read the adult one, soooo good!  That sure has lots of Adventure!  I love Shakleton!

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The Code Book by Simon Singh (there is a young reader's version, too). We read the regular version and paired it with a couple of Navajo code talker books.

One year DS read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, which is a narrative biography, Sugar Changed the World, and Longitude by Dava Sobel.

DD just read the young reader's version of Hidden Figures and liked it well enough.

The Two Princes of Calibar is worth reading, too.

Close Encounters With Humankind is a book of short essays on early humans -- very accessible for middle school.

I think the Young People's version of Zinn is almost too boiled down and simplified (and lacking citations) to be meaningful, but it is easy and quick to read. I won't be handing my middle schoolers the full version any time soon, though. They can wait a few years.

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Thanks, keep 'em coming, these are great suggestions!

I also just thought of the David Macauley books (ones with pictures reminded me of those!) and Horrible Histories might be good to suggest?  Not sure they care that much about British history, though... what are the Nature versions of those called?  Nasty Nature or something?

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If Christian is okay, our family really enjoyed Tiner's History of Medicine, and several others of his books -- but I know those are hit and miss for families -- it really depends on the kid. 😉 These are a series of 4-5 page "articles", each on a key scientist/discovery, so that might spark interest in further reading about a particular person...

What about Kids Discover magazines? You can purchase back issues of the print magazines on the topics that might be of interest to the individual student. More in the style of "snippets of info" with lots of illustrations, but that might spark interest in a topic by being visually engaging and encourage going deeper with another book...

Two past threads with ideas:
"Engaging nonfiction, middle school level"
"Recommendations for narrative, nonfiction true books for grades 4-7"


While these biographies are at a gr. 4-7 level, they are quite interesting:
- Eagle Huntress (Nurgaiv & Welch) -- Mongolian girl who was the first to compete--and win--the hunting eagle competition
- Rebel Spy (Reit) -- true story of the Civil War teen girl who disguised herself as a boy and worked as a Northern spy in Southern territory
- Naya Nuki: The Shoshone Girl Who Ran (Thomasma) -- true story of Sacajawea's friend captured at the same; Naya Nuki escaped and travel over 1000 miles all alone to return home
- Heart of a Samurai (Preus) -- or -- Shipwrecked! (Blumberg) -- both are about the same 1850s Japanese teen who was shipwrecked for several years before being rescued
- Hazardous Tales: Major Impossible (Hale) -- John Wesley Powell, Civil War soldier, and Colorado River explorer

And Steve Sheinkin books are great:
- Bomb! The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon
- Two Miserable Presidents
- Lincoln's Grave Robbers

Edited by Lori D.
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I don't think the Shackleton book has a Young Reader's version -- I meant the original. It might not be super accessible for a child who isn't fond of reading, but they could try the audiobook.

And yes, the David Macaulay books are awesome!

My kids also enjoyed Diane Stanley's biographies.

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32 minutes ago, JHLWTM said:

I don't think the Shackleton book has a Young Reader's version...

Maybe:
- Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey (Bertozzi) -- gr. 7-12 -- graphic novel
- Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World (Armstrong) -- gr. 4-7
- Ernest Shackleton: Survival in the Antarctic (Loh-Hagan) -- gr. 4-6

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Horrible Science and Horrible Geography are the science options from the Horrible History line. 

George's Secret Key by Stephen and Lucy Hawking are fiction with loads of real science mixed in. 

Itch and it's two sequels by Simon Mayo are fiction loaded with chemistry

The Radioactive Boy Scout is non-fiction

The Periodic Kingdom by Atkins or the Mystery of the Periodic Table 

Backyard Ballistics (physics)

Physics of Superheros 

The "_____________ for Kids" line is lighter but decent for middle school. Galileo for Kids, The Wright Brothers for Kids, Isaac Newton for Kids, etc 

From Macaulay, The Way Things Work Now (physics) or The Way WE Work (human body)

Those were all visible from where I'm typing, but I can't think of any winners for plants. Drunken Botanist is probably too mature. 

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Sugar Changed the World in the lines of Salt 

Bomb by Sheinkin, though more history than science maybe

maybe Sam Kean books? I'm handing Disappearing Spoon to my 7th grader this year. (She's a book dragon and half raised by teenage siblings. Ymmv.)

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The Sand Reckoner reads like historical fiction but is basically a bio of Archimedes. My previously mentioned book dragon recently "accidentally" read this one ahead of her schedule. She says it starts slow, but the rest of the book is worth the wait. 

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How about magazine articles?  For science and nature, try National Geographic.  (The regular adult version NOT Nat Geo Kids.)  

For current events (with a liberal worldview) try the Atlantic Monthly.  

If they are too challenging you can try them as read alouds.  

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Here's an odd suggestion but The Word Snoop by Ursula Dubosarsky. 

It's about words and grammar and language evolution. I thought it was interesting, lol, and it's a good fit for middle grades. 

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My son has enjoyed Galen and the Gateway to Medicine by Jeanne Bendick. He said that's his favourite book, and my son is picky and doesn't enjoy reading in general. 

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On 10/7/2020 at 9:01 AM, alisoncooks said:

Here's an odd suggestion but The Word Snoop by Ursula Dubosarsky. 

It's about words and grammar and language evolution. I thought it was interesting, lol, and it's a good fit for middle grades. 

This looks like a book I'd enjoy, too, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. I'll be suggesting it to my library.

Regards,

Kareni

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