Literary Nonfiction for Common Core

There has been a lot of conversation, discussion, debate, and yes, even some arguments over the Common Core’s stress on nonfiction.  Though I appreciate literature and love fiction, I personally am glad of this new focus on nonfiction.  I’ve always loved popular history and science books—those that are not too scholarly.

My son Alex’s history of reading is another reason why I’m glad that nonfiction has more regard today.  Alex loved books as a baby, toddler, and preschooler.  On our weekly trips to the library, we would choose about twenty books from the picture book section—until Alex was almost four.  He loved dinosaurs, and the children’s librarian showed us the 567 section.  As we were perusing the books, Alex discovered all the animal books.  We seldom went to the picture book section again.

Alex loved chapter books as well, but by the time he started fifth grade, he was reading so well that the only books in his A.R. level were nonfiction—and he again began to prefer them over fiction.

The problem came with middle school book reports.  No nonfiction allowed.  No exceptions.  My voracious reader became a non-reader.  The issue wasn’t that he didn’t want to read, but that he wanted some choice.  I almost lost him!  (OK, that’s over-reacting a bit, but I really was worried.)

For now, the Common Core standards require teaching nonfiction, so I’ve searched out excellent narrative titles for those who aren’t so familiar with children’s and YA nonfiction.  The books included below are some of my favorites, and since nonfiction titles are usually straightforward, I didn’t write annotations for them.  Some of the titles are brand new; others might be in your collections already.  Clicking on the school level will take you to a list of more great literary nonfiction.

One other note:  The selected titles are all stand-alone works.  For the most part, series books are not included in my lists, with the notable exception of the excellent Scientists in the Field series.

If your favorites aren’t below or in the lists, let me know in the comments.

(And, to let you know, my Alex, now 25, is again an avid reader of both fiction and nonfiction.)

Elementary (3-5)

Bad News for OutlawsBefore the World Was ReadySnakes

Bad News for Outlaws : The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (R. Gregory Christie, ill.). 9780822567646. 2009. Gr 3-6.

Before the World Was Ready : Stories of Daring Genius in Science by Claire Eamer (Sa Boothroyd, ill.). 9781554515356. 2013. Gr 4-7.

Snakes by Nic Bishop. 9780545206389. 2012. Gr 1-4.

Middle School

Bomb Guinea Pig Scientists Invincible Microbe

Bomb : The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. 9781596434875. 2012. Gr 7-10.

Guinea Pig Scientists : Bold Self-Experimenters in Science and Medicine by Leslie Dendy & Mel Boring. 9780805073164. 2005. Gr 6-9.

Invincible Microbe : Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy & Alison Blank. 9780618535743. 2012. Gr 5-8.

High School

Fourth Down and Inches Shipwreck Apollo 13 Stiff

Fourth Down and Inches : Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment by Carla Killough McClafferty. 9781467710671. 2013. Gr 7-12.

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong. 9780375810497. 1998. Gr 7-12.

Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger. 9780618056651. 1995. Gr 10-Adult.

Stiff : The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.  9780393050936. 2003. Gr 10-Adult.

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