Get nonfiction book ideas for your 12-year-old with this book list of recommendations. Many teachers are requiring (and I agree) that kids read from a variety of genres, including nonfiction. Hopefully, this list will help.
Nonfiction Books for 12-Year-Olds (7th Grade)
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.
The Making of America: Susan B. Anthony by Teri Kanefield
I LOVE this book — because it really made me appreciate the rights that I take for granted. Not to mention, it made me admire the perseverance and dedication of Susan B. Anthony who worked tirelessly to advocate for women’s rights and the rights of African Americans. Anthony was raised as a Quaker and highly educated which was rare for girls at the time. She even went to seminary for a short time until her family’s financial situation changed her direction. She taught children for awhile then focused her work on opening people’s eyes to two groups of people who needed equal rights: black people and women. Because imagine being a person with no rights who could be exploited and could do nothing about it!? It was also really interesting to read how these two groups worked together advocating for their rights until they disagreed about who should get rights first. Anthony was right in her prediction when she said, “We shall someday [have our amendment] — everybody will think it was always so, just exactly as many young people think that all the privileges, all the freedom, all the enjoyments which woman now possesses always were here. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women of the past.” We do take her work for granted. Women can own property, vote, divorce abusers, have custody of their children, and are citizens because of the efforts of Susan B. Anthony and others. I hope this book becomes required reading for middle schoolers — both boys and girls. It’s also beneficial for kids to know how much one person can do to make a difference in the world.
Girl CEO Priceless Advice from Trailblazing Women by Ronnie Cohen and Katherine Ellison
The 40 fascinating female biographies in this book will inspire your girls and boys to see their dreams as possibilities. Because many of the CEO (chief executive officer) girls and women in this book are also entrepreneurs that came up with their own original ideas for a company. It’s SO interesting to read how each woman saw a need, often from their own life experience, and created a product or service to meet that need. (Example: Josephine Cochrane invented an automatic dishwasher after one too many chipped dishes.)
Each featured story contains illustrations, an important quote, and 3-4 pages about the woman which reflect the authors’ depth of research and personal interviews with the women. The book also contains informational insets throughout explaining concepts what a CEO is or women in STEM. Biographies include:
- Haile Thomas who started the nonprofit HAPPY (as a 12-year-old!)
- Katrina Lake, founder of Stich Fix
- Ayanna Howard, creator of Zyrobotics
- Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andme
- Heidi Ganahl, founder of Camp Bow Wow
How can you use this book? Use it to inspire an enterprising young person. Use it to study leadership. Use it to study women-owned or women-run businesses. Use it to launch an entrepreneur study. There are so many possibilities! Well-written and well-designed, this is a worthy addition to any middle school library and classroom.
Escape from Alcatraz: The Mystery of the Three Men Who Escaped From the Rock by Eric Braun (ages 8 – 12)
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.
The Tapir Scientists Saving South America’s Largest Mammal by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop (ages 10 – 16)
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.
An Invisible Thread: A Young Readers Edition by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski
I want to hug this book because people are amazing. Its message of kindness, trust, and friendship renews my faith in humanity in a BIG way. It’s a must-read, must-own, must-discuss true story. Laura first meets Maurice when he’s 11-years-old and begging on the street corner. First, she walks away. Then, she returns and says she’d like to buy him a meal at McDonald’s but has one condition– that she gets to eat with him. He is always hungry so he finds Laura again and she takes him to dinner again. We learn that there is never any food at his apartment, a lot of people living there including uncles and sisters, and a mother whose alcoholism means she’s not a reliable caretaker. Laura makes a commitment to Maurice and they eat dinner together every Monday. For YEARS. Laura also packs him lunches for school and buys him outfits because he only had owned one dirty pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt. (Which was yet another reason not to go to school.) What I like so much is how Laura treats Marice with respect and friendship — never, ever pity. She makes their time together educational, too — cooking from a recipe, sharing a Christmas experience for the first time, and things like that. Marice is an adult now with his own family and is still close friends with Laura. WOW!
The Book of Heroines by Stephanie Warren Drimmer
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu
Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander
Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Emma Carlson Berne (ages 8 – 12)
Cat Tales True Stories of Kindness and Compassion with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman (ages 10+)
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:
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 with 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.
Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand
Louis Zamperini’s life is almost unbelievable. In his early year he was a hoodlum, then he became an Olympic runner, and most memorably an airman who was shot down. His story shows that he is a man who has great strength of character (growth mindset) to persevere despite all of life’s challenges.
Boys in the Boat (Young Readers Adaptation): The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics by Daniel James Brown
It’s hard to imagine overcoming as many obstacles as Joe Rantz (homelessness included) but he is determined to get a college education. He and his crew teammates are also determined to be the best rowers but they never expected to beat the Germans. This is an exemplary story of grit that will stay with you.
Two Truths and a Lieby 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.)
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. 12 year olds will GET this humor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 7th graders.
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.
Dominion of Giants Coloring Book Behemoths of the Fantasy World by Eric Messinger (ages 12+)
You might think coloring books are only for girls but that is not true. This particular book is a sure-fire hit with fantasy-loving boys and girls — Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons fans, in particular. Cool quotes from favorite authors plus color palette suggestions pair with amazing illustrations of mages, giants, dwarfs, and more. The artistry is absolutely incredible in this book. These images invite creative coloring — probably displaying afterwards. You’ll like that the sturdy, perforated pages, too. I’m so excited to get coloring in this book myself.
One Minute Mysteries 65 Short Mysteries You Solve with Science! by Eric Yoder and Natalie Yoder
These mysteries will catch your brain’s attention — and help you to learn (or practice) scientific principles about life, earth and space, physical and chemical sciences. Great for in the car or at snack time!
Heroes for My Daughter by Brad Meltzer
The featured 60 individuals are a few familiar faces (Anne Frank, Benjamin Franklin, Sally Ride) but many new, unique people that deserve to be recognized and highlighted. I’m thinking of Joan Ganz Cooney who helped create Sesame Street, Carol Burnett who made it big and gives back big, and Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister. The writing is easy to read, includes dialogue, quotes, and short stories. The author’s intention is to show kids that if you take a chance and work hard “you can do anything in this world.”
Heroes for My Son by Brad Meltzer
In the same format as Heroes for My Daughter, this book focuses on people and their stories that show boys that if they are determined, the “impossible becomes possible.” The book features: Mr. Rogers, Nelson Mandela, Harry Houdini, Mother Teresa, Eli Segal, Muhammad Ali, and others.
How to Be a Scientist (DK) by Steve Mould (ages 9+)
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 your 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.
Download my "Can't Put 'Em Down" book lists for your kids ages 3 - 13.
Also, I'll send you a bonus "23 Reasons to Read" printable poster!