Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Classic non-fiction for preteens and young teens

Just as I collected a list of classic fiction books for my daughter to read, I'm starting another list of classic non-fiction books to both entertain and educate youngsters from ages 10 and up. The books I'm looking for should be great reading for older teens and adults as well, while being appropriate for kids around fifth grade who are able to "read up."

I don't know why, but it's a little harder to find classic non-fiction books to suit this age bracket. There are many fine non-fiction books for kids, but I am talking about the essential, classic ones we all remember as being not only good reads, but an essentially common experience as well as great, memorable literature that contributed to and changed our lives. My question in compiling this list is, what are the classics of non-fiction we all should be reading, starting around age 10 or so?

For this list I generally try to stick to books written prior to 1960, to avoid inadvertently including any puffball, johnny-come-lately flash-in-the-pans, or books with modern offensive or age-inappropriate content given the seal of approval for "young adults" (lumping 12-year-olds in with all teens) by today's librarians (see my previous rant here).

The Accelerated Reading level of each book, where known, is included in parentheses (these A.R. levels roughly correspond to grades in school, but you need to take them with a skeptical grain of salt). My plan is to make the list and/or the books available to my daughter, and assume she will help herself to to the ones that will appeal to her (or that she finds accessible) in the coming years.

Please add your suggestions in the "comments" section below. Can you think of any classic non-fiction books for preteens and teens that I have forgotten?

My links here to Amazon.com editions are for further informational purposes only; purchase these linked editions of these classics at your own risk....


The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (6.5)

The Miracle Worker by William Gibson (5.2) (this is a play based on the life of Helen Keller)

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey (6.0)

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (6.7) (and others in the series if desired)

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (5.4)

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (5.0)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (5.8)

The Hiding Place by Corrie TenBoom (6.4)

Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune (and the other dog books, Gray Dawn, Bruce, Wolf, etc.)

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington (8.2)


I would also love to find some good biographies of famous people. We've been exploring the Childhood of Famous Americans series in our home, but these don't really cover the adult lives and deeds of historical figures that every American child should be very familiar with--people like George Washington, Ben Franklin, Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King. Any suggestions, besides setting my children free in the children's "Biographies" section of the library? Or pointing them to this page?

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