It was maybe the history textbooks in middle school that turned me off to non-fiction reading. The totality of my history class in seventh grade involved reading chapters from a textbook and answering questions at the end, which taught me non-fiction literature was pedantic.
It was not until college that an adoration for non-fiction was revived in me. Since then, my search for intriguing non-fiction texts has been relentless, a search that now helps me propose engaging non-fiction reads for my students. A major shift in the CCSS is the urge to read more non-fiction; therefore, I balance my department’s fiction-dominate bookroom with a project in which students select a non-fiction text from a list of options and are then placed in groups based on common selections. I call it book club. Students set a reading schedule in their groups in order to finish by a specified date and meet weekly in class to discuss their books, guided by prepared discussion items.
Rachel Wiley’s recent post, “Let’s Get YA Lit(erature)!” proposed some great fiction titles. Likewise, I would like to offer some recommendations I have found highly engaging to young adult readers. And like Rachel, my hope is that giving students choice in this project will procure a thirst for engaging non-fiction that persists well after they leave my class. In contrast to the dry textbook reading I got in school, these are books that reveal how non-fiction can be filled with adventure, mystery, and wonder. Additionally, they meet the criterion of the Common Core reading standards that students read texts with particularly effective rhetoric. Each of these recommendations offer a rich opportunity to study the rhetorical situation. I also select their options each quarter based on common themes, which allows them to make connections to texts we read as a whole class and leads to fruitful discussions. Even though the three texts below represent a diversity of topics, they all speak to the nature of culture and how it affects an individual, the overarching topic for our first unit.
The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller
The rhyme goes, “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one,” but author Sarah Miller claims none of that is true. When the prominent Andrew and Abby Borden are murdered on August 4, 1892, their daughter, Lizzie, becomes the prime suspect. Despite the convincing evidence against her, she is acquitted. Was a murderer set free or was the real murderer still lurking in Fall River, Massachusetts the whole time?
The Borden Murders will appeal to readers who like true crime or history.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
In 1914, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, along with his 27-man crew, including one stowaway, set sail to attempt the first ever transcontinental trek across Antarctica; however, before even reaching Antarctica, their ship, the Endurance, is trapped and crushed in pack ice, turning their expedition into a two-year struggle for survival in one of the world’s most inhospitable regions. With dwindling supplies and no help on the way, their only hope is a 850-mile journey across treacherous south Atlantic waters to the nearest Whaling outpost.
Endurance will appeal to those who like books about adventure, nature, or history.
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
What would you do if you found a guide to popularity from the ‘50s in your grandparents’ basement? Probably laugh, right. If you were Maya, you would follow it and write about your experience. In this witty social experiment memoir, Wagenen explores the intricacies of teenage life with an openly critical point of view. Along the way, she forges unlikely friendships and learns the teenage social ladder is not what it seems.
Popular will appeal to readers who like social commentary, humor, or memoirs.
What texts do you bring into the classroom to answer the challenge to balance fiction and non-fiction reading? Don’t know where to start? Try browsing the Young Adult Library Service Associations list for best non-fiction for young adults.
When outside of the classroom, I enjoy mtn. biking, skiing, running, and grilling good food, but don’t enjoy karaoke or green beans, mainly because I can’t sing and was afraid of the Jolly Green Giant as a kid.