Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

The Caterpickles Middle Grade Gift Book Guide: Part 3 – Ten Great Nonfiction Books for Middle Schoolers

“Do you have any book recommendations for middle schoolers?”

My favorite thing about December is that people start contacting me out of the blue asking for book recommendations. This year, I’ve gotten a larger than usual number of requests specifically aimed at buying books to give to middle schoolers, so I thought I’d post some recommendations here on Caterpickles. 

Two weeks ago, I posted a list of ten graphic novels popular with the kids at the middle school library where I volunteer. Last week, I told you about some of their favorite fiction writers. This week, it’s time to explore some nonfiction options.

The Caterpickles Middle Grade Gift Book Guide Criteria

First, a quick reminder of the list criteria. Books make this list because:

  • Somebody at Caterpickles Central read it and recommends it
  • The kids read it at the library, so I have to keep reshelving it
  • I keep having to repair the library’s copy because the kids are reading it so enthusiastically
  • The librarians recommend it to a student who then checked it out

I’ll let you know for each book which criteria snagged them a place on the list.

The Caterpickles Middle Grade Gift Book Guide:
Part 3 – 10 Great Nonfiction Books for Middle Schoolers

(Books are listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.)

#1 Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu (Biography, Graphic Novel)

From the book description on Goodreads…

Book Cover: Brazen

“Throughout history and across the globe, one characteristic connects the daring women of Brazen: their indomitable spirit. Against overwhelming adversity, these remarkable women raised their voices and changed history.

“With her one-of-a-kind wit and dazzling drawings, celebrated graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu profiles the lives of these feisty female role models, some world-famous, some little known. From Nellie Bly to Mae Jemison or Josephine Baker to Naziq al-Abid, the stories in this comic biography are sure to inspire the next generation of rebel ladies.”

Why Brazen is on the list: The librarian recommended it, and The Twelve-Year-Old liked it.

#2 Weird California by Greg Bishop, Joe Oesterle, and Mike Marinacci (Travel Guide)

From the book description on Goodreads…

Book cover: Weird California

Part of the Weird US series, this title talks about the strange things to see in California, from the Pitch Monster of La Brea to the ghost of Elvis (yes, he really is dead), and from the biggest pineapple in the world to the smallest museum in America.”

Why Weird California made the list: We like to acquire the Weird Travel Guide for whatever state we’re living in and/or travel to frequently. So far, we’ve acquired Weird California, Weird Illinois, Weird Massachusetts, and Weird Florida. The Twelve-Year-Old has enjoyed reading all of them, but recommends skipping the spooky parts. Weird California apparently has a higher than average percentage of spooky entries.

#3 The Notorious RBG Young Reader’s Edition: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (Biography)

From the book description on Goodreads…

Book Cover: Notorious RBG

“The New York Times bestselling biography Notorious RBG—whose concept originated with a Tumblr page of the same name—is now available in a vibrant, full-color young readers’ edition.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become an icon to millions. Her tireless fight for equality and women’s rights has inspired not only great strides in the workforce but has impacted the law of the land. And now, perfect for a younger generation, comes an accessible biography of this fierce woman, detailing her searing dissents and powerful jurisprudence.

“This entertaining and insightful young readers’ edition mixes pop culture, humor, and expert analysis for a remarkable account of the indomitable Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Heroine. Trailblazer. Pioneer.”

Why The Notorious RBG made the list: The librarian recommends it.

#4 Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (Graphic Novel)

From the book description on Goodreads…

Book Cover: Illegal

This is a powerful and timely story about one boy’s epic journey across Africa to Europe, a graphic novel for all children with glorious colour artwork throughout. From Eoin Colfer, previously Irish Children’s Laureate, and the team behind his bestselling Artemis Fowl graphic novels.

Ebo: alone.

His sister left months ago. Now his brother has disappeared too, and Ebo knows it can only be to make the hazardous journey to Europe.

“Ebo’s epic journey takes him across the Sahara Desert to the dangerous streets of Tripoli, and finally out to the merciless sea. But with every step he holds on to his hope for a new life, and a reunion with his sister.”

Why Illegal made the list: The librarian recommends it.

#5 Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield by Falynn Koch (Science, Comics)

From the book description on Goodreads…

Book Cover: Plagues

“In PLAGUES, we get to know the critters behind history’s worst diseases. We delve into the biology and mechanisms of infections, diseases, and immunity, and also the incredible effect that technology and medical science have had on humanity’s ability to contain and treat disease.

Every volume of Science Comics offers a complete introduction to a particular topic–dinosaurs, coral reefs, the solar system, volcanoes, bats, flying machines, and more. These gorgeously illustrated graphic novels offer wildly entertaining views of their subjects. Whether you’re a fourth grader doing a natural science unit at school or a thirty-year-old with a secret passion for airplanes, these books are for you! 

Why Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield made this list: Kids actually check it out.

#6 It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers) by Trevor Noah (Memoir)

From the book description on Goodreads…

Book cover: Born a Crime

The host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah, tells the story of growing up half black, half white in South Africa under and after apartheid in this young readers’ adaptation of his bestselling adult memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.

Trevor Noah shares his story of growing up in South Africa, with a black South African mother and a white European father at a time when it was against the law for a mixed-race child like him to exist. But he did exist–and from the beginning, the often-misbehaved Trevor used his smarts and humor to navigate a harsh life under a racist government.”

Why It’s Trevor Noah is on the list: The librarian recommends it.

#7 Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper by Manuela Santoni, Translated by Matteo Benassi (Graphic Novel, Biography)

From the book description on Goodreads…

Book Cover: Jane Austen

“In a time of formal dances, courtyard courtships, and strict ideas about a woman’s role in the world, Jane Austen looked at the England around her and created unforgettable art. Before she was the beloved author of Pride and Prejudice and other classic novels, Jane Austen was a young woman wrestling with society’s expectations and challenges of the heart. Her own story involves choices that changed literary history—and perhaps even the choice to walk away from love. This graphic imagining of Jane Austen’s youth includes her creative awakening and her much-speculated-upon encounters with Tom Lefroy, a brash law student. Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper is a vision of the thrills and pains of young romance, the bonds of sisterhood, and the decisions that make a person who she is.

Why Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper is on this list: It’s about Jane Austen.

#8 Mr. Shaha’s Recipes For Wonder by Alom Shaha (Science)

From the book description on Goodreads…

Why does the …? What is …? How does …?

Book Cover: Recipes for Wonder

Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers, you soon will!

Every child can be a scientist with the help of Mr Shaha and his recipes for wonder!

Turn a rainy day at home or a walk in the park into a chance to experiment. All you need are a few simple items from your kitchen cupboards — and the power of curiosity!

Learn about sound by making wine glasses sing, investigate chemical reactions with vitamin-powered rockets, and explore Newton’s Third Law by making balloon-driven cars.

Written by a science teacher and dad, Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder gives clear, step-by-step instructions for over 15 experiments. Whether you’re a science star or just starting out, it will help you inspire young people to learn.

Get the whole family joining in around the table, as you transform your kitchen into a laboratory!

Why Mr. Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder is on this list: The Twelve-Year-Old and I enjoy it.

#9 Dear America: Young Readers’ Edition: The Story of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas

From the book description on Goodreads…

Book Cover: Dear America

In this young readers’ adaptation of his adult memoir Dear America, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas tells his story, in light of the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

Jose Antonio Vargas was only twelve years old when he was brought to the United States from the Philippines to live with his grandparents. He didn’t know it, but he was sent to the U.S. illegally.

When he applied for a learner’s permit, he learned the truth, and he spent the next almost twenty years keeping his immigration status a secret. Hiding in plain sight, he was writing for some of the most prestigious news organizations in the country. Only after publicly admitting his undocumented status—risking his career and personal safety—was Vargas able to live his truth.

This book asks questions including, How do you define who is an American? How do we decide who gets to be a citizen? What happens to those who enter the U.S. without documentation?

“By telling his personal story and presenting facts without easy answers, Jose Antonio Vargas sheds light on an issue that couldn’t be more relevant.”

Why Dear America is on the list: The librarian recommends it.

#10 Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Memoir)

From the book description on Goodreads…

“Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

“Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.”

Why Brown Girl Dreaming is on the list: I am constantly having to reshelve Brown Girl Dreaming and other books by Jacqueline Woodson.

Bonus: Nonfiction books previously featured on the Caterpickles Middle Grade Gift Book Guides

You may have noticed a few nonfiction books made their way onto the graphic novels list I posted two weeks ago. But in case you missed it, you might also want to check out El Deafo by Cece Bell (Graphic Novel/Memoir), Real Friends by Shannon Hale (Graphic Novel/Memoir), and The March Trilogy by John Lewis (Graphic Novel/History).

A final note

Obviously, not every book on this list will appeal to every reader. This list is only intended to help you start your search.

Also, I am certain I’ve missed some great writers and even better books. The Twelve-Year-Old and I would love it if you’d leave a comment and tell us about the books you’d put on your gift list.

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