In school, 11-year-old readers (in 6th grade) are reading more nonfiction books than ever. Which means they need practice in excellent books. Here’s a list of nonfiction books that are so good, your kids will learn a lot AND still enjoy the reading experience.
Nonfiction Books for 11-Year-Olds (6th Grade)
Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert
Excellent! The book shows both Annie and Helen’s strengths and weaknesses as well as really significant character arcs. If you don’t know the story, or even if you do, read this book. You’ll be entranced with how laborious it was to teach Helen and how Annie’s persistence paid off in the end.
It’s Up to You, Abe Lincoln: How I Made the Biggest Decisions of My Life by Tom & Leila Hirschfeld
Written in the second tense “you,” this book puts you squarely in the driver’s seat as Abe Lincoln. It describes your life starting from childhood with photos, fun facts, and quizzes of “What Would You Do?” For example, when you’re considering marrying Mary What Do You Do? You’ll be given a list of four choices, each with elaboration. The choices, in this case, are: A. Break up with Mary. B. Date other women. C. Marry fast, before your feet get even colder. D. Consult a pastor. Then, you’ll read the reveal — what choice you made. (A. Break up with Mary.) The writing flows smoothly, the layout is eye-catching, and the information is interesting and historically important.
Awesome Achievers in Technology by Alan Katz, illustrated by Chris Judge
Kids will zip through this excellent middle-grade biography because the author makes the information relevant and relatable. The writing is conversational, the author is totally hilarious (especially when he talks about his own ridiculous inventions or the questions he asks Siri) and there are illustrations, quizzes, fast facts, and activities plus a wealth of fascinating information about each inventor’s life. You’ll read about the inventors of video games, the television remote control, the cell phone, windshield wipers, the first web browser, and the microwave oven. I appreciate that the book includes both men and women inventors! Also of note is that Katz takes us through the process of how each inventor got their idea as well as the final product.
Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children by Kath Shackleton, illustrated by Zane Whittingham
Holocaust survivor stories like these MUST be told. Because these six children started just like any of the kids reading their stories, they were ordinary kids who experienced the hardest things a child could face…being torn from their homes, separated from family, captured as a prisoner, and/or forced to hide. Graphic storytelling with unique artwork supports the clear, compelling narratives that will stay with you. It’s pretty sad to witness the tragedies in these children’s lives. Powerful, emotional, deeply disturbing that leaves us with a sense of loss, even with these children’s survival. We need more books like this. We must never forget. Buy this book for your classrooms and libraries!
Beavers: The Superpower Field Guides by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith
Meet Elmer who, like other beavers, has superpowers such as #1 Chainsaw Teeth or #2 Unstoppable Fur or #3 Ever-Toiling Tail. Each of the 10 superpower sections is fact-filled, funny, and illustrated. After you zip through this engaging nonfiction book, Elmer will be your new favorite kind of animal — and you’ll be a beaver expert, too. Here’s an example of the kid-friendly writing: “Once the lodge is finished, Elmer and Irma begin chewing on an opening underwater. They keep chewing upward until they are above the water level. Then they chew out one or two large rooms inside the lodge. One to sleep in and one for birthday parties and other special events. (That’s not true, but I like the idea of beavers wearing party hats.)” Excellent, engaging writing — I am looking forward to more books in this new 2018 nonfiction early chapter book series.
Two Truths and a Lie by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Lisa K. Weber
This book is GENIUS! It’s an impressive dare really for kids to read and figure out what is true and what is a lie. Know that readers will not just be reading and thinking deeply, but they’ll also doing research while they’re immersed in the book… (Because 11 year old readers must know if a prehistoric dinosaur named “Bambi” exists, if the slyrking will take over your picnic, or if doctors really can implant a stimoceiver in the brain to control your behavior.)
Buy The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome by Jonathan W. Stokes
The Thrifty Guides Handbooks for Time Travelers are irresistible, wildly imaginative romps through history. These books are filled with tongue and cheek hilarity while also being boldly informative about their historical topics. If Ancient Rome is your preferred destination, you’ll need your handy handbook close by to make sure you survive — which seems to be unlikely since, since as the book says, “Rome is an absolute deathtrap.” Throughout these thrifty travel guides, you’ll read letters from your “Corporate Overlord at Time Corp“. These, as you may expect, are hilarious!
The guides are published by Time Corp in the year 2164 to help vacationing tourists with the most practical information for their time travel trips. Information such as:
- Where to find a decent hotel room
- How to dress (Ancient fashions are tricky — read the guide because you don’t wear a candy corn hat when you’re supposed to wear a tricorne hat! And if you’re in Rome, here’s a helpful tip: “While any chump can wear a tunic, only free Roman citizens are allowed to wear togas… If you think you can pass as a citizen and you’re planning to wear a toga, just know that it’s been bleached white using stale urine.“)
- What’s going on when you arrive
- Who is important
- Helpful hints (“What to Do If You Are Enslaved in Rome“)
- Who to take out to lunch
- Pranks to pull (“Install a metal detector at the Roman Senate in 44 BC and you can completely prevent Caesar’s assassination by knife-wielding Senators. Caesar will feel grateful, and it doesn’t hurt to have the most powerful man in the world as your new best friend.“)
- Charts (“Cleopatra’s Perfectly Normal Family Tree“)
(“All the Land Caesar Conquers in Europe, 58 – 51 BC”)
Squidtoons: Explore the Ocean with Comics by Garfield Kwan and Dana Song
I’m trying to find a good way to describe this unique book. It’s nonfiction content but with a very different format. (See examples here.) Here goes: The pages are all illustrated so it’s a graphic novel with comic-style illustrations containing dialogue, different colored and sized typeface text, and seemingly random topics from the weedy seadragon to the California mantis shrimp. My daughter devoured this book, finding both the information and presentation engaging. I struggled to find an organization to the book while reading about the different sea creatures — and the particular typeface used wasn’t appealing to my grown-up eyes. However, I see that this book is densely packed with great information. If kids like it, hooray! If they learn from it, even better.
How to Be a Scientist (DK) by Steve Mould
Can You Crack the Code? A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography by Ella Schwartz, illustrated by Lily Williams
CODES – STEM
This book is perfect for children who love to solve puzzles and think deeply. Even better, it’s very well written, flowing with information that makes sense so you’ll want to keep reading. This book intersperses activities, puzzles, insets of information, bolded words, biographies and more throughout the text — I’m very impressed! I can see homeschoolers using this book as a teaching tool or families reading it together just for fun.
Never Caught, The Story of Ona Judge: Young Readers Edition by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve
This is a VERY well-written narrative nonfiction book but to be honest, I felt sick reading about the world into which Ona was born and raised…and that George Washington owned human beings. The authors set the scene and context of the world into which Ona is born. At age 10, Ona becomes Martha Washington’s personal slave. After 13 years of this thankless work with no pay, no days off, no freedom to have a feeling,…many of those years in Philadelphia, Ona learns that Martha plans to send Ona as a “gift” to Martha’s unkind granddaughter. Ona escapes north with the help of other freed slaves living in the city. Washington is so mad he wants to break his own law —the fugitive slave act— by capturing her without a trial and returning her to his wife. But that doesn’t happen and even though Ona lives in poverty with many losses, she lives free.
Why Is Art Full of Naked People? by Susie Hodge
My 11-year-old, artistically-inclined daughter thinks this is the BEST book! In fact, she says it’s been much better than this year’s not-so-great art teacher at her school. You’ll find out so many useful facts to questions you probably didn’t even know you had such as: Why is everything blurry? Do artists copy each other? Why is art so expensive? This book takes common kid questions and helps children understand and appreciate art in a deeper way. Very interesting!! I’m glad we own it.
O Captain, My Captain: Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Sterling Hundley
Fascinating and important! I learned so much history that I didn’t know about both Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman. Whitman observed Lincoln as a candidate and later as the President. The Civil War affected Whitman deeply, he hated the suffering and visited wounded soldiers regularly. It’s not a typical picture book because it is dense with information but would be great for the upper grades.
The Dictionary of Difficult Words by Jane Solomon, illustrated by Louise Lockhart
Want a mesmerizing book that is even better than a word-a-day calendar? This oversized dictionary contains the coolest selection of 400 words that kids will love to learn beginning with abecedarian (someone who is learning the alphabet) continuing to Zeppelin. Each letter gives readers about 15 new words to learn. This includes the word, pronunciation, part of speech, and definition. You’ll find haberdashery, ichthyologist, luddite and mugwump, mulligrubs, mumpsimus, and mishpocha. Read one of these words (or more) every day. Then try to use it at least a few times in a sentence. It won’t be too onerous and you won’t be ramfeezled; in fact, learning new words might just be a salubrious experience because you’ll soon become a sesquipedalian.
So You Want to Be a Roman Soldier? by Philip Matyszak, illustrated by Takayo Akiyama
This is a kid-friendly somewhat irreverent guide to being a Roman starting with an example entrance exam and application form. Learn how to train, collect weapons, prepare for war, and even storm a city.
Girls Think of Everything Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
I really loved this expanded and revised edition because Melissa Sweet’s design and illustrations make the book so special. The author writes the biographies like a fictional narrative story with action and suspense but it’s all true. These biographies are about women who solved problems by inventing the solution. What great models for entrepreneurs, inventors, and having a growth mindset.
Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Whitney Gardner
Introduce young readers to the fascinating life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with this clearly-written graphic novel that shows about her life from childhood to adulthood including her family life. You’ll see how women were treated differently than men and the challenges that a trailblazer like Ginsburg faced. She experienced discrimination first hand. For example, discrimination affected where she went to law school (some schools didn’t allow women) and even though she was top of her class, she found that she wasn’t getting any job offers. Based on her experiences and quest for fairness, Ginsburg became passionate about civil liberties, specifically gender discrimination. Not only was she a lawyer and judge but she also became a Supreme Court Justice. Readers will see how Ginsburg was true to her self and her goals and persisted despite difficulties and used her career to fight for equal rights. Well-crafted and highly recommended.
Science Comics Coral Reefs Cities of the Ocean by Maris Wicks
An adorable yellow fish narrates this informative book about his habitat, coral reefs. It’s all facts though so it’s not the kind of book that most kids (or adults) will want to sit down and read in one sitting. Read it in chunks and you’ll soon be an expert on coral reefs.
The Book of Ingeniously Daring Chemistry 24 Experiments for Young Scientists by Sean Connolly
FASCINATING! I love the writing in this book because it makes chemistry really understandable and interesting. You’ll read about an element on the periodic table then do a related experiment. For example, you might learn how iron oxidizes by submerging steel wool in vinegar. Or learn about magnesium with an Epsom salts crystalizing experiment.
Insect Superpowers 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour! by Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell
Stylized to look like a comic book of superhero action with oversized pictures and the occasional large comic-style typeface of smack! pow! and chomp! impress upon the reader just how super these superbugs are. Bugs like the Green tiger beetle, the fastest of all insects. Messner shares the must-know basics (name, size, hideout, superpower) then launches into fascinating details about each including what they eat (favorite foods) and who eats them (archenemies). Action-filled cartoon panels show a bug stalking and then devouring its food. Interesting insets of information narrate more facts about each insect. What kid could resist reading this enthralling tome!?
Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan, illustrated by John Rocco
My kids can’t stop reading and rereading this enormous volume of Greek myths, retold Riordan style — I’m talking laugh-out-loud style. Remember all the hilarious chapter titles in Riordan’s Percy Jackson books? And the witty, sarcastic voice of Percy? Yup. All here. 11-year-olds will GET this humor.
James Rhodes’ Playlist: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound illustrated by Martin O’Neill
Totally Amazing Facts About Military Vehicles by Cari Meister
Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl
Once I started reading these biographies (which I flipped and read in random order), I got very hooked. Hopefully this book will inspire kids as much as it did me. Plus, it’s really interesting to read about other people, ordinary people who did amazing things.
National Geographic Why’d They Wear That: Fashion as the Mirror of History by Sarah Albee
Engrossing from front to back. Albee writes fantastic chapter titles and headings: (Notice a theme? Nonfiction is getting GOOD, people!) “Caulk like an Egyptian,” “Putting the “Protest” in Protestant,” and “Hazardous Hemlines.” The book is formatted so that you can pick and choose interesting sections such as Corsets, Dressed to Compress because the corset photo is so intriguing or the inset of information has such a tantalizing title, “Why Did Napoleon Always Have His Hand in His Coat?”
The Book of Heroines by Stephanie Warren Drimmer
Little Dreamers Visionary Women Around the World by Vashti Harrison
Harrison’s artwork is stunning– framable I think. This book features the biographies 35 women; women like Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, and Grace Hooper. Each biography is one page paired with an illustration. The information shares more about the woman’s contributions to the world like the physicist who experimented with subatomic particle decay.
Totally Wacky Facts About History by Cari Meister
This reminds me of the Strange But True books only about history and from a different publisher. And, I LOVE IT! This little book makes history interesting to kids — it’s filled with colorful photos and illustrations and yes, wacky facts. Here are a few to get you started:
Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins
Three girls lives, Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell, are showcased in this beautiful verse. Each girl’s interest is explained and elaborated. We see how these interests grew into something more, into the passions and discoveries that become their life’s work. I love the flow of the poems and the celebration of these ground-breaking women.
She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World by Kathy MacMillan and Manuela Bernardi, illustrated by Kathrin Honesta
The best part of this picture book is that you can hear the actual voices of these 14 women. Press the button on the side and listen. I particularly love Maya Angelou’s deep, rich voice. Each two-page spread features a short biographical paragraph as well as a quote from that person, whether Dolores Huerta or Dr. Temple Grandin or Hillary Rodham Clinton. The pages also include an illustration, quick facts, and a call to action. For example, Leymah Gbowee is a peace activist from Liberia. On her page, the “Your Turn to Speak Up” section asks you how YOU can use anger for good, just like she did.
The Doodle Book of Feel Good: A Doodle/Coloring Book for All Ages by Charise Mericle Harper
Pure fun and inspiration great you on every page in this coloring book. Each design has a saying like these: happy is the best flavor, you can say no thank you, and hooray day. Love these!
Issac The Alchemist Secrets of Issac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure
This well-written biographical chapter book grabs your attention and holds it. I’m impressed! Newton had a difficult childhood but his curiosity and genius were always present throughout his life. After living at an apothecary, for several years he had a chance to go to the university and eventually Newton became one of the world’s most well-known scientists, the father of physics. I highly recommend this for a narrative nonfiction reading choice for 6th graders.
Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron by Mary Losure
Based on a true story, this is a historical recounting of a wild boy the early 1800s found in France. I found the life fascinating as the author takes us on the journey of his life. He’s studied as a beast, less than person. In fact, scientists of the time believed he was not a human but something other. This book will make you think.
What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, illustrated by Ben Boos & A.G. Ford
Twins, Herbie and Ella, move into a new house where they meet Mr. Mital, a handyman who surprises the kids with fascinating information about African-American scientists. Throughout the narrative are non-fiction lift-the-flap sidebars and two-page spread biographies of people like James E. West who invented a compact microphone used in race cars or Frederick McKinley Jones, Dr. Percy Lavon Julian, George Crum, Dr. Valerie L. Thomas, and many others. The large size of the book, the fold-out parts, and bright illustrations make it an appealing design for kids.
365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts by R. J. Palacio
If you’re like us and love quotes, this is the book for you. Even if you haven’t read the book Wonder, you will still find the quotes ch chosen n here (precepts) meaningful and thought-provoking from Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., Confucius, Goethe, Sappho—and over 100 readers of Wonder who sent R. J. Palacio their own precepts.
Whoppers: History’s Most Outrageous Lies and Liars by Christine Seifert
I read this nonfiction book aloud to my kids — it was SO fun because it prompted great discussion and interaction. They couldn’t believe that people would make up such outrageous lies. Learn these incredible wild whoppers — from people you’ve heard of like Charles Ponzi to people you’ve never heard of like George Psalmanazar who convinced people he was a native from his made-up island of Formosa.
Mercy The Incredible Story of Henry Bergh: Founder of the ASPCA and Friend to Animals by Nancy Furstinger
This little nonfiction chapter book packs a big punch — it’s the absolutely fascinating life of a rich (and formerly lazy) man named Henry Bergh who devoted his life and his money to saving maltreated animals in the late 1800s. (He also is persuaded to start campaigning for children as well — they were often treated just as badly or worse!) This is one of my favorite narrative nonfiction books ever. One of the reasons I like this book so much is that the writing is excellent and the author paints a complete picture of a man who is flawed. The print is big (yeah!) and the illustrations throughout add to the narrative. FANTASTIC and I highly recommend this narrative nonfiction chapter book for schools and libraries!
Biggest and Smallest! Guinness World Records Over 300 Fun Facts by Christy Webster
Photos accompany fun facts about the biggest and smallest of so many things — food, instruments, and more. Fun for 11 year olds (6th grade) who love facts.
Wacky and Wild! Guinness World Records by Calliope Glass
The smallest living horse, a girl with the biggest collection of Hello Kitty items (one 4,000!), and the fastest snowman to run a marathon — all of these wacky facts are fun to read!
The Real Princess Diaries by Grace Norwich
My daughters and I love this fascinating book. It gives us a glimpse into the lives of a variety of international princesses. From historical princesses like Theodora of the Byzantine Empire to current princesses like Sikhanyiso of Swaziland or Victoria of Sweden, each has her own section including basic facts, cool facts, and big achievements. Special sections on royal pets, royal duties, hairdos, princes, and fashion add extra juicy tidbits for kids to enjoy.
Human Body Theater: A Nonfiction Revue by Maris Wicks
This nonfiction graphic novel ROCKS! It should be required reading for students studying the human body because the information presented this way is so memorable and understandable. I love Skeleton’s narration and the awesomely cute illustrations of every body system from the smallest cell parts to the biggest organs.
The Double Dangerous Book for Boys by Hal Iggulden
Remember the wildly popular book, The Dangerous Book for Boys? This is the long-awaited sequel! Styled to look like a book from my own childhood, this is a dense volume of SO MUCH CONTENT to read and absorb! You’ll find
- information (12 Ceasars)
- directions (finding the height of a tree)
- experiments (The Fire Snake)
- stories, tips (solving a Rubic’s cube)
- activities (the endless card)
- games (The Moon is Round)
- how-tos (how to write a thank you letter)
- quotes (quotes from Shakespeare)
- puzzles (math puzzles)
- book recommendations
- and more
I can’t even begin to cover the scope of this book — I, myself, have barely cracked the surface of all the content inside. Ditch the phones and pick up this book. It will entertain and educate children for more hours than I can predict.
Women Athletes Who Rule! Sports Illustrated Kids
This book is set up so kids can flip through to find photographs and topics that interest them. Each page asks a question which it then answers. For example: Who has won the most beach volleyball tournaments of all time? or Who is the only American woman to win six medals in one Olympics? or Who was the first woman to play pro baseball? Find a question you like, then read the answer. I predict you’ll love learning about these amazing athletes. The variety of sports is impressive, too from hockey to diving to NASCAR and plenty more. Get inspired as you read about record-breakers, trailblazers, superstars, and champions!
The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin
If only all nonfiction books for children were this engaging and well-written! This reads like a story, a narrative. Thank you, Mr. Sheinkin!
Bomb: The Race to Build –and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
Another knock-out nonfiction book from the talented Steve Sheinkin! I’m so impressed how Sheinkin makes this story come ALIVE like it’s an adventure / mystery / thriller and not real life. Well, they do say truth is stranger than fiction. But usually it’s written like it’s duller than dirt. This book is a great exception — totally engaging and kept my interest.
Untamed The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey, forward by Jane Goodall
This is not your average biography for kids with small font and ugly black and white photos. No, it’s so much better! Untamed is an excellent depiction of Jane Goodall’s life with kid-friendly language using kid-appealing layouts of colorful photos. Interesting insets throughout describe tips for kids and information such as sign language. I love the Gombe Family Scrapbook at the end with some of the significant chimps in Jane’s life. I also found it really interesting to learn how this English girl read about Africa as a child and fell in love with it.
The Disney Book: A Celebration of the World of Disney (DK)
My oldest daughter loves anything Disney and proclaimed that this is the best book ever written. 🙂 While I’m not sure about that, it is a dense fact-filled tome from the early years to the present day.
Genius! The Most Astonishing Inventions of All Time by Deborah Kespert
A visually appealing graphic layout makes it easy to access the invention information — in fact, it’s down-right enticing! Who knows I’d care about the Archimedes Screw and want to read all about it. Or the Elephant Clock — yes, that was a real thing which was super cool. You’ll learn about these early inventions and more modern inventions such as the space rocket. This is an well-done, readable nonfiction book.
Treasury of Norse Mythology: Stories of Intrigue, Trickery, Love, and Revenge by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrations by Christina Balit
This is a large, kid-friendly collection of Nordic myths with colorful illustrations and informative insets explaining more about subjects such as the Berserkers and the Norse diet. Excellent for 11- year old 6th graders doing research or who just love mythology.
Fashion Rebels: Style Icons Who Changed the World of Fashion by Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia
If you have an interest in fashion, you’ll love this fascinating book of biographies and style tips. Learn how Coco Chanel loved to visit graveyards and how to make your own Frida Kahlo style outfit. This was a hit for me because it was so engaging and well-written with fun, colorful illustrations.
The Way Things Work Now From Levers to Lasers, Windmills to Wi-Fi, a Visual Guide to the World of Machines Revised and Updated by David Macaulay with Neil Ardley
You won’t believe how much there is in this illustrated 400 page informational guide to the inner workings of machines and devices! It starts with simple machines and move on to more complex machines and technology such as helicopters, digital videos, electric circuitry, automatic transmission, even the Internet. I’m thinking it would take months, if not years, to read everything in this enormous, updated book. A must own for schools and libraries.
Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome by Brad Montague & Robby Novak
Robby, the Kid President, and his brother-in-law, Brad Montague, started Kid President videos to put something positive into the world. Robby embodies this. He went through countless surgeries and broken bones due to his brittle bone disease and kept a positive attitude. So when Robby says, “You were made to be awesome. Keep going,” He knows. He’s been there and kept going. The book is filled with ways to be awesome and spread awesomeness in the world. It’s numbered advice. It’s interviews and stories. It’s inspiration. It’s a LOT (240 pages) — you could spend hours and hours reading this book and be the better for it.
The Book of Kings: Magnificent Monarchs, Notorious Nobles, and Distinguished Dudes Who Ruled the World by Caleb Magyar and Stephanie Warren Drimmer
Starting with Hammurabi, the famous Babylon king whose code influenced all of history up to the present day, this encyclopediac book of monarchs and leaders from cultures and civilizations around the world gives readers valuable historical perspective and understanding. But it doesn’t stop there. Surprisingly, this book also contains mythical kings (Aragon) as well as kings of creativity, action, change, and knowledge, including people like Babe Ruth, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Carl Sagan.