The best non-fiction books for teens should mainly do three things; they should be relevant, interesting and relevant. Nonfiction can sometimes feel like a daunting task, too textbook-like to be truly enjoyable, and so the best examples of the genre should do all three things mentioned above. With that in mind, the list of the best non-fiction books for teens could be long, but these ten examples really show what these books can do.
The best non-fiction books for teens
1. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind – William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind is the inspiring story of a boy who was determined to educate himself no matter what – and the things he achieved by stubbornly pursuing learning even in the darkest of times.
William Kamkwamba was 14 years old and living in Malawi during the severe famine of the early 2000s. His family could no longer afford school fees, so William borrowed books from the local library and one day he learned energy . He decided to build a windmill, made from nothing more than scraps, and changed his own life and those of his family and then people in his community. William’s story is touching yet honest, and a great read for teenagers.
2. The Diary of Anne Frank – Anne Frank
It seems obvious that The Diary of Anne Frank should be on a list of the best non-fiction for teens. It is, after all, one of those books that absolutely everyone has heard of and definitely one that everyone should read. Many children read it at school, but those who don’t should be encouraged to take it too.
The book hardly needs an introduction. Anne Frank was a young Jewish teenager forced into hiding with her family in Amsterdam during World War II. There, hidden for two years in a cramped attic, Anne kept a diary, confiding her deepest thoughts, feelings and anxieties, before the family was discovered and taken to concentration camps. Anne died aged 15 in the camp – but her diary brings her to life and reminds of a time every generation should experience.
3. Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis – KR Gaddy
Flowers In The Gutter is one of the newer titles on this list, but it tells such an interesting and little-known story that it had to earn a spot on the list of best nonfiction books for teens. As the title suggests, the book is about a group of teenagers who fought the Nazis during World War II, and their story is inspiring in its heroism and optimism.
The Edelweiss Pirates were a movement of teenagers who had grown up in Nazi-controlled Germany – teenagers who fundamentally disagreed with the position taken by the government, opposing the hold it had on the country. The teenagers were responsible for anti-Nazi graffiti and anti-war leaflets, and over time they engaged in sabotage and armed resistance. Still hunted by the Gestapo, the desperate bravery of these teenagers is truly something to behold.
4. I am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban – Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
Like Anne Frank, many teenagers have heard of Malala Yousafzai, and rightly so. As far as modern young role models go, Malala is right up there, perhaps only eclipsed by Greta Thunberg in recent years. Malala’s story of how she nearly died at the hands of the Taliban at the age of 15 after campaigning for women’s education is well known.
This book, however, touches on details that the big picture misses, starting with his history before the Taliban and his life in Pakistan. Raised by socially conscious parents, Malala became an outspoken campaigner for education when the Taliban came to power and began closing schools. Malala wants to be known for her fight for education rather than the girl who was shot by the Taliban, and this book is one of them; the story is fascinating and well worth the time a teenager takes to read it.
5. Mind Your Head – Juno Dawson (and Dr. Olivia Hewitt) (Illustrated by Gemma Correll)
Mind Your Head, a mental health book, was written in 2016, long before the pandemic arrived and disrupted us all even more than we already were. But as a teen mental health book, discussing the stigma surrounding it, it stands the test of time.
Dawson is a sure pair of hands when it comes to writing for teens; she is funny and honest, without chatter and without condescension. In Mind Your Head, there’s a conversation about all kinds of mental health topics, from anxiety and depression to self-harm, personality disorders, eating disorders and addiction. Never is the book anything but support and honesty about how hard it is to deal with such issues, but there is always the underlying message that there are ways to deal with it and people who can help. . For many teenagers, such reassurance isn’t something they get every day.
6. Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You – Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is a strong voice in the fight against racism and exposing the racist fabric of the United States of America, and his book Stamped From The Beginning traced the lives of five American intellectuals and how ideas racists were challenged. or withdrawn.
In Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You, Kendi teams up with award-winning author Jason Reynolds, a pair of sure hands when it comes to writing for teens, and adapts his book for younger readers. Released in 2020, and becoming more relevant that year than writers perhaps ever imagined, the book takes Kendi’s original text and remixes it into an accessible, fast-paced book full of ways young people can combat racism in their daily lives.
7. The Stonewall Riots: Taking to the Streets – Gayle E. Pitman
No modern list of the best nonfiction books for teens can be complete without a book like The Stonewall Riots. What better place to start teaching young people about queer history than with the most famous event of all, the riots that gave birth to the Pride movement in 1960s New York City.
Pitman’s book is an illustrated guide to the history of the LGBT community in America, beginning in the 1800s and tracing history to Stonewall and beyond. Pitman uses historical objects, such as posters, banners, and articles, to anchor the story and give teens a real sense of the progression of time and the movement that takes place within it.
8. There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Watershed Years – Mike Berners Lee
Just like with The Stonewall Riots, there has to be a place on the list of the best non-fiction books for teens for a volume on the climate crisis, the most pressing issue of our time and surely what will be the most urgent for teenagers. go forward. The original There Is No Planet B was released in 2019, but there’s an updated version from 2021 showing how fast the subject is progressing and how much remains to be known.
Berners-Lee tackles many environmental issues – should we be vegetarians? Should we still fly airplanes? Should we go nuclear? – and gives readers an overview of the whole crisis and what we can do about it, as individuals. It doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but it does have sound advice and a healthy dose of hope and optimism – just the kind of stuff young readers might need when faced with this terrifying problem.
9. We should all be feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We Should All Be Feminists is the little essay that was crafted by bestselling author Adiche, a little essay that took the world by storm when she presented it as a Tedx talk. This conference is available on Youtube, and a great way to access its wisdom. But the book, small and mighty, is also something that should be on every shelf.
Adiche’s feminism is about awareness and inclusion, giving everyone a place in the conversation about feminism and what it means in the 21st century. She is outspoken and honest and shares her own experiences without qualms, which makes her wisdom more accessible and rooted in the truth of everyday difficulties.
10. What if? : Serious Scientific Answers to Nonsensical Hypothetical Questions – Randall Munroe
There’s always room for a fun, slightly absurd book on a list like this, and Randall Munroe – creator of the frankly excellent xkcd webcomic – provides such a book with What If?. The book is a selection of questions sent to Munroe by readers of his comic, and the answers he posted on his blog, as well as some recorded especially for the book.
Munroe really has a great sense of humor, and it shines through when he answers questions like “what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball thrown at 90% the speed of light?” and ‘how fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?’. Teenagers will love Munroe’s absolute commitment to the problem, no matter how absurd, and how effortlessly funny his answers are – and the comics that come with the answers are great, too.
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