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5 High-Interest Nonfiction Books for Your Summer Reading List

Meghan Mathis

Non-Fiction Doesn’t Have to Mean Not Interesting:  5 High-Interest Non-Fiction Books to Add to Your Summer Reading ListSummer is swiftly approaching and, like me, I’m sure most of you are looking forward to having some time to do all of the things you want to do, rather than the myriad of things we have to do during the school year.  Sleeping in, working in the garden, staying up past 10PM on a school night because I know I don’t have to wake up at 6AM the next day, and reading all the books that I’ve wanted to read during the school year but haven’t had the time to get to are all on my list of fun summer activities. 

That being said, I am, at heart, a teacher, and even though I might say I’m not going to do anything school-related for much of my summer vacation, thinking of new ways to reach my students is never far from my mind.  With the Common Core State Standards stressing the need for a drastic increase in the amount of nonfiction texts our students interact with throughout their school career, I’ve decided to “mix business with pleasure” and find nonfiction texts that will excite and engage even the most reluctant reader I’m bound to encounter next school year. Just in case you are on the look-out for autobiographies, memoirs, and other factual texts to share with your classes, here are five phenomenal works of nonfiction that you should add to your summer reading lists!

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore

When the author of this memoir realizes that another man with the same name grew up several blocks away from him in Baltimore he is intrigued.  When he realizes that, even though their backgrounds were shockingly similar, one ended up a Rhodes Scholar, veteran, and a successful business man while the other was serving a life sentence for murder, he realized their stories were worth exploring.  The personal narratives of these two young men make for a thought-provoking and highly readable exploration of how our choices shape who we are.  I am considering using sections of this text to introduce a mini-unit on writing a memoir.

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I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui

This compelling autobiography of a very young girl who was married to a man in his 30s has received worldwide attention.  Nujood’s story of how she survived the brutal abuse she endured during her “marriage” and how she bravely escaped is an inspiration and an unforgettable look at the injustice faced by far too many young girls in the world today. 

Freakonomics:  A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Perfect for getting your students interested and excited about non-fiction reading, this fascinating look at our world from a different perspective answers intriguing questions like, “Do we really need parents?,” “How are teachers like sumo wrestlers?,” and “Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool?”  My co-teacher and I are considering using this text for a small-group reading unit where we give each group a different “question,” have them read the chapter and discuss it as a group, and then present it to the other groups for larger discussion.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloots

This text is a perfect nonfiction option for science classes, history classes, sociology classes, or as part of any class discussion on social justice, racism, or bioethics.  Skloots investigated the strange case of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose cells, harvested without her consent or knowledge, have been used in thousands of medical experiments and breakthroughs since the 1950’s.  Mrs. Lack’s cells were essential to the discovery of the polio vaccine, to gene mapping, and were even sent into space, but she and her family never received any money or recognition for this contribution. 

Letters to a Young Brother: Manifest Your Destiny, by Hill Harper

This is another non-fiction choice that could easily be broken into small samples of text, perfect for group study.  Harper writes in letter form to the young men he sees around him about the challenges they face and the decisions they are making.  Students will find his tone nonjudgmental but full of high expectations for the men he would like to see the readers become.  This text would be particularly suited for high-risk, urban, and/or unmotivated readers.  Harper has also published Letters to a Young Sister, which discusses many of the same issues from a female perspective. 

As we struggle to adopt Common Core State Standards in our classrooms, we all have our hands full.  This summer, take a look at these high-interest texts to see how they can take some of the pressure of incorporating more non-fiction into your lessons off your shoulders.  Whether used in complete form as part of an interactive read aloud or a managed choice unit, or in snippets here and there, these books will invigorate classroom discussions in all subject areas and will make students want to read more.  Perhaps most importantly, as we approach summer vacation and begin to look forward to reading things that we want to read rather than things we have to read – they are also incredibly interesting, engaging books for us to read as well!  Happy reading and happy summer vacation!

Now tell us: what non-fiction books are YOU planning to read this summer? Answer in the comment section below.