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.
Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation adapted by Ari Folman, illustrated by David Polonsky
SOOOO good! Initially, I felt skeptical that an adaptation could work but it really does. The diary bits and dialogue are well-balanced into a cohesive story that feels seamless, well-written, and insightful. Anne’s personality really shines through as she sets the historical context and describes her daily life in hiding which isn’t always very exciting but does result in a romance with the boy her age who lives there, too. Also on: Best Picture Book Biographies for Women’s History Month and WWII
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. Because of her, 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.
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!
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.
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.
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
This book’s 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. 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.
The Big Book of Monsters: The Creepiest Creatures from Classic Literature by Hal Johnson, illustrated by Tim Sievert (ages 10+)
This book presents the scariest monsters from literature! We all know Frankenstein’s Monster but maybe not The Horla or Beatrice Rappaccini, just two of the scary monsters from literature illuminated fully in this book. Packed full of information, The Big Book of Monsters features 25 monsters from many cultures, some as ancient as you can imagine starting with Apep who comes from The Book of the Dead, 16th Century BC. Like all the monsters in this book, you’ll read who he is (Yikes!) then supporting information in a “Beyond the Book” section which in this case is about translating the hieroglyphics and Egyptian short stories. Goulish illustrations and plenty of fear-inducing creatures fill the pages. Maybe don’t read this right before bed! Added to: Popular Monster Books That Kids Love
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
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:
James Rhodes’ Playlist: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound illustrated by Martin O’Neill
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.
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 perfect for 12-year-olds! 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 keeps readers’ attention.
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.
Girl Activist: Winning Strategies from Women Who’ve Made a Difference by Louisa Kamps, Susanna Daniel & Michelle Wildgen, illustrated by Georgia Rucker
MIDDLE GRADE (ages 8 – 12)
Harry Potter fans know Emma Watson as Hermione but do they know that she’s a leader for women’s rights? This book by the same publishers as the inspiring Girl CEO book, shares short biographies about women who have taken a stand for an injustice of some kind; injustices like the conditions of migrant farmworkers (Dolores Huerta) or forced marriages of young girls (Sonita Alizadeh) or polluted, toxic tap water (LeeAnne Walters).
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. 12-year-olds will learn about some 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 book in verse. Each girl’s scientific interest is explained and elaborated. We see how their 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
12 year olds will love this expanded and revised nonfiction book with Melissa Sweet’s gorgeous designs and illustrations. The author writes the biographies like a fictional narrative story with action and suspense which makes them fun to read. What great models for entrepreneurs, inventors, and having a growth mindset.
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.
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 true story of grit that will inspire your 12-year-olds.
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 12-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.
The Book of Heroines by Stephanie Warren Drimmer
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.