Written by: Kelly on January 17, 2022.
Nonfiction for young readers— that 10-18 range, which spans both middle grade readers and teen readers — always seems to be one of the categories that doesn’t land on a whole lot of lists. I suspect part of it has to do with the fact these books are still not as widely publicized or reviewed as their fictional counterparts, part of it has to do with the fact it’s a bit of a strange age-range, part of it has to do with the stigma around nonfiction for young readers being “report books” still, and part of it has to do with the fact that many YA-centric reviews/blogs/publicity avenues ultimately cater to the adult reader of YA, as opposed to the young reader. Again, not a slight.
Young readers are the target market of nonfiction for young readers. How the word about these books spreads is just different.
One of the things that makes this category of books so special and has for the better part of the last decade is that they’re inclusive. They showcase a wide range of stories, of insights, and of perspectives.
This isn’t a comprehensive list because finding publishers of YA nonfiction isn’t easy and few lists exist that compile large numbers of titles (this might be one of the only!). I have done my best to include as many as I could find, and I welcome folks to drop other titles they know about in the comments.
It’s also challenging to differentiate between books which are meant to help students with research projects — aka, reference books — and those meant to be more leisure reading without looking at them first hand. That doesn’t mean these two types of nonfiction are at odds but rather, it’s something that makes highlighting narrative nonfiction a little trickier. You’ll see below I have included the kind of leisure reading that encourages creativity and trying out new skills, without being tied to research/school-style assignments.
Children’s nonfiction writer Melissa Stewart has a tremendous resource onthe five types of nonfiction I highly recommend reading if this is a category that interests you. I don’t include what she calls active nonfiction, nor do I tend to include tie-ins to franchises, fan service materials, and similar nonfiction that’s highly browsable. Last year, I put together a guide to some of the titles within these five types of nonfiction for young adults for Book Riot, so if you want to dive even deeper, you can.
All descriptions are from Goodreads, as are publication dates. Especially with the pandemic and printer challenges, publication dates can shift and change. Note, too, that these books cover a slightly different age range that typical YA books. Some will skew a little younger and encompass middle grade readers.
Early 2022 YA Nonfiction Book Releases
The Overground Railroad by Candacy Taylor
Overground Railroadchronicles the history of theGreen Book, which was published from 1936 to 1966 and was the “Black travel guide to America.” For years, it was dangerous for African Americans to travel in the United States. Because of segregation, Black travelers couldn’t eat, sleep, or even get gas atmost white-owned businesses.
TheGreen Booklisted hotels, restaurants, department stores, gas stations, recreational destinations, and other businesses that were safe for Black travelers. It was a resourceful and innovative solution to a horrific problem. It took courage to be listed in theGreen Book, and the stories from those who took a stand against racial segregation are recorded and celebrated.
This young reader’s edition of Candacy Taylor’s critically acclaimed adult bookOverground Railroadincludes her own photographs ofGreen Booksites, as well as archival photographsand interviews with people who owned and used these facilities. The book also includesan author’s note, endnotes, bibliography, timeline, and index.
Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party by Jetta Grace Martin, Joshua Bloom, Waldo E. Martin Jr.
There is a saying: knowledge is power. The secret is this. Knowledge, applied at the right time and place, is more than power. It’s magic.
That’s what the Black Panther Party did. They called up this magic and launched a revolution.
In the beginning, it was a story like any other. It could have been yours and it could have been mine. But once it got going, it became more than any one person could have imagined.
This is the story of Huey and Bobby. Eldridge and Kathleen. Elaine and Fred and Ericka.
The committed party members. Their supporters and allies. The Free Breakfast Program and the Ten Point Program. It’s about Black nationalism, Black radicalism, about Black people in America.
From the authors of the acclaimed book,Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, and introducing new talent Jetta Grace Martin, comes the story of the Panthers for younger readers—meticulously researched, thrillingly told, and filled with incredible photographs throughout.Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party.
When The Water Runs Dry by Nancy F. Castaldo
What would you do if you turned on the faucet one day and nothing happened? What if you learned the water in your home was harmful to drink? Water is essential for life on this planet, but not every community has the safe, clean water it needs. InWhen the World Runs Dry, award-winning science writer Nancy Castaldo takes readers from Flint, Michigan,and Newark, New Jersey, to Iran and Cape Town, South Africa, to explore the various ways in which water around the world is in danger, why we must act now, and why you’re never too young to make a difference.
Topics include: Lead and water infrastructure problems, pollution, fracking contamination, harmful algal blooms, water supply issues, rising sea levels, and potential solutions.
Augusta Savage by Marilyn Nelson
Augusta Savage was arguably the most influential American artist of the 1930s. A gifted sculptor, Savage was commissioned to create a portrait bust of W.E.B. Du Bois for the New York Public Library. She flourished during the Harlem Renaissance, and became a teacher to an entire generation of African American artists, including Jacob Lawrence, and would go on to be nationally recognized as one of the featured artists at the 1939 World’s Fair. She was the first-ever recorded Black gallerist. After being denied an artists’ fellowship abroad on the basis of race, Augusta Savage worked to advance equal rights in the arts. And yet popular history has forgotten her name. Deftly written and brimming with photographs of Savage’s stunning sculpture, this is an important portrait of an exceptional artists who, despite the limitations she faced, was compelled to forge a life through art and creativity.
And We Rise by Erica Martin
In stunning verse and vivid use of white space, Erica Martin’s debut poetry collection walks readers through the Civil Rights Movement—from the well-documented events that shaped the nation’s treatment of Black people, beginning with the “Separate but Equal” ruling—and introduces lesser-known figures and moments that were just as crucial to the Movement and our nation’s centuries-long fight for justice and equality.
A poignant, powerful, all-too-timely collection that is both a vital history lesson and much-needed conversation starter in our modern world. Complete with historical photographs, author’s note, chronology of events, research, and sources.
Become an App Inventor by Karen Lang
Have you ever wanted to build your own mobile apps? App Inventor, a free and revolutionary online program from MIT, lets you do just that. With the help of this companion guide chock-full of colorful graphics and easy-to-follow instructions, readers can learn how to create six different apps, including a working piano, a maze game, and even their own chat app to communicate with friends–then use what they’ve learned to build apps of their own imagination. User-friendly code blocks that snap together allow even beginners to quickly create working apps. Readers will also learn about young inventors already using their own apps to make a difference in their communities, such as the girls from Moldova whose app helps alert residents when local well water is contaminated. Or the boys from Malden, Massachusetts, whose app lets users geotag potholes to alert city hall when repairs are needed. With this inspiring guide, curious young dreamers can become real inventors with real-world impact.
In Harm’s Way by Michael J. Tougias, Doug Stanton
On July 30, 1945, the U.S.S. Indianapolis was torpedoed in the South Pacific by a Japanese submarine. An estimated 300 men were killed upon impact; close to 900 sailors were cast into the Pacific Ocean, where they remained undetected by the navy for nearly four days and nights. Battered by a savage sea, they struggled to stay alive, fighting off sharks, hypothermia, and hallucinations.
By the time rescue arrived, all but 316 men had died. The captain’s subsequent court-martial left many questions unanswered: How did the navy fail to realize the Indianapolis was missing? And how did these 316 men manage to survive against all odds?
This thrilling wartime account of heroism and survival, Book 5 in the True Rescue narrative nonfiction series, is inspiring and unforgettable—the perfect choice for young adventure-seekers.
Cramm This Book by Olivia Seltzer
Take a stand! Raise your voice! Join the movement and change the world!
But first–know what’s actually going on in it.
Read this book for the scoop behind the scoop of the day: for the context you need to understand everything from the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East to the origins of Black Lives Matter and Me Too to the full deal with all of the wildfires and hurricanes we see each year.
From the founder of The Cramm, a news outlet by and for a new generation, comes a dive into the history that’s shaped the world as it is today, looking at the wars, the movements, the disasters, and more–the points that have set the stage for what we see and read in the news on a daily basis.
Are you ready to take to the streets and take on the world? ThenCramm This Bookand get going.
What are you waiting for?
Spearhead by Adam Makos
Adapted for young adults from theNew York Timesbestseller, a riveting and true WWII story of a young man–an American tank gunner–who meets his destiny in an iconic armor duel and forges an enduring bond with his enemy.
Shut the hatches. It’s time to roll out. You’ll find yourself behind enemy lines with Clarence Smoyer and the 3rd Armored Division, the workhorse unit knows as Spearhead, the best in the tank armor ranks.
You’ll feel as if you are right beside Clarence and his fellow crew members–all formerly strangers from across America who have now become family to each other. You will be jarred by enemy fire, and then explore the other side, stepping into the boots of German tanker soldier, Gustav Schaefer and his crew. You’ll witness the heartbreaking tragedy, when an innocent young woman is caught in the crossfire. You’ll see what happens when all of these lives collide, and realize how the aftershock still affects the survivors more than a half a century later. A riveting and true account of the perils of war as well as the prospect of forgiveness.
Close-Up on War: The Story of Pioneering Photojournalist Catherine Leroy in Vietnam by Mary Farrell
From award-winning journalist and children’s book author Mary Cronk Farrell comes the inspiring and fascinating story of the woman who gave a human face to the Vietnam War.Close-Up on Wartells the story of French-born Catherine Leroy, one of the war’s few woman photographers, who documented some of the fiercest fighting in the 20-year conflict. Although she had no formal photographic training and had never traveled more than a few hundred miles from Paris before, Leroy left home at age 21 to travel to Vietnam and document the faces of war. Despite being told that women didn’t belong in a “man’s world,”she was cool under fire, gravitated toward the thickest battles, went along on the soldiers’ slogs through the heat and mud of the jungle, crawled through rice paddies, and became the only official photojournalist to parachute into combat with American soldiers. Leroy took striking photos that gave America no choice but to look at the realities of war—showing what it did to people on both sides—from wounded soldiers to civilian casualties.
Later, Leroy was gravely wounded from shrapnel, but that didn’t keep her down more than a month. When captured by the North Vietnamese in 1968, she talked herself free after photographing her captors, scoring a cover story inLifemagazine. A recipient of the George Polk Award, one of the most prestigious awards in journalism, Leroy was one of the most well-known photographers in the world during her time, and her legacy of bravery and compassion endures today.
Farrell interviewed people who knew Leroy, as well as military personnel and other journalists who covered the war. In addition to a foreword by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Peter Arnot, the book includes a preface, author’s note, endnotes, bibliography, timeline, and index.
The Race of the Century by Neal Bascomb
There was a time when running the mile in four minutes was believed to be beyond the limits of human foot speed. In 1952, after suffering defeat at the Helsinki Olympics, three world-class runners each set out to break this barrier: Roger Bannister was a young English medical student who epitomized the ideal of the amateur; John Landy the privileged son of a genteel Australian family; and Wes Santee the swaggering American, a Kansas farm boy and natural athlete.
Spanning three continents and defying the odds, these athletes’ collective quest captivated the world. Neal Bascomb’s bestselling adult account adapted for young readers delivers a breathtaking story of unlikely heroes and leaves us with a lasting portrait of the twilight years of the golden age of sport.
The Greatest Stories Ever Played by Dustin Hansen
We all know that video games are fun, but can a video game make you cry? Can it tell you a powerful love story? Can a video game make you think differently about war? About the environment? About the choices you make?
Whether it’s playing through blockbuster-esque adventures (Uncharted, God of War, The Last of Us), diving deep into hidden bits of story and lore (Red Dead Redemption II, Bioshock, Journey) or building relationships that change the fate of the world itself (Persona 5, Undertale), video games are bringing stories to life in ways that are immediate, interactive and immersive.
Focusing on some of the best, most memorable, experiences in gaming,The Greatest Stories Ever Played,examines the relationship between gaming and storytelling in a new way.
Murder Among Friends by Candace Fleming
In 1924, eighteen-year-old college students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb made a decision: they would commit the perfect crime by kidnapping and murdering a child they both knew. But they made one crucial error: as they were disposing of the body of young Bobby Franks, whom they had bludgeoned to death, Nathan’s eyeglasses fell from his jacket pocket.
Multi-award-winning author Candace Fleming depicts every twist and turn of this harrowing case–how two wealthy, brilliant young men planned and committed what became known as the crime of the century, how they were caught, why they confessed, and how the renowned criminal defense attorney Clarence Darrow enabled them to avoid the death penalty.
Following on the success of such books asThe Rise and Fall of Charles LindberghandThe Family Romanov, this acclaimed nonfiction writer brings to heart-stopping life one of the most notorious crimes in our country’s history.
Girls Who Green The World by Diana Kapp, Ana Jarén (Illustrated by)
Part biography, part guidebook to the contemporary environmental movement, this book is the perfect gift for future and current activists and changemakers!Girls Who Green the Worldfeatures the inspiring stories of 34 revolutionaries fighting for our future!
An inspired collection of profiles, featuring environmental changemakers, social entrepreneurs, visionaries and activists.
Journalist Diana Kapp has crisscrossed this country writing for and about empowered girls, girls who expect to be leaders, founders and inventors. This book takes it a step further. It says to girls: while you’re striving to be CEOs and world leaders, consider solving the biggest challenge of our lifetime, too–because you can do both at the same time, and here are 34 women doing just that.
How To Be a Difficult Bitch by Halley Bondy, Mary C. Fernandez, Sharon Lynn Pruitt-Young
In the past, being a “difficult bitch” was bad. Girls weren’t supposed to call people out for their BS, stand up for themselves, or do their own thing. This book embraces the insult with irreverent humor, encouraging readers to be themselves no matter what, including an exploration of the ways this phrase can be interpreted differently among people of different backgrounds.
Being a powerhouse is a choice. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a code of ethics. It takes work, a thick skin, and perseverance. In this book, you’ll learn the ins and outs of being a Difficult Bitch, from school to friends to body to life.
Saving Earth by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovic
By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change–including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late.Losing Earthis their story, and ours.
Expanded into full book form from the riveting 2018 issue ofNew York Times Magazine, and adapted here for younger readers,Losing Earthtells the human story of climate change from the distant past into the present day, wrestling with the long shadow of our failures, what might be ahead for today’s youth, and crucial questions of how we understand the world we live in. It is a call to action, a riveting dramatic history, and a rare literary achievement.
The Woman Who Split The Atom by Marissa Moss
As a female Jewish physicist in Berlin during the early 20th century, Lise Meitner had to fight for an education, a job, and equal treatment in her field, like having her name listed on her own research papers.
Meitner made groundbreaking strides in the study of radiation, but when Hitler came to power in Germany, she suddenly had to face not only sexism, but also life-threatening anti-Semitism as well. Nevertheless, she persevered and one day made a discovery that rocked the world: the splitting of the atom. While her male lab partner was awarded a Nobel Prize for the achievement, the committee refused to give her any credit.
Suddenly, the race to build the atomic bomb was on—although Meitner was horrified to be associated with such a weapon. “A physicist who never lost her humanity,” Meitner wanted only to figure out how the world works, and advocated for pacifism while others called for war.
The book includes an afterword, author’s note, timeline, select terms of physics, glossary of scientists mentioned, endnotes, select bibliography, index, and Marissa Moss’s celebrated drawings throughout.The Woman Who Split the Atomis a fascinating look at Meitner’s fierce passion, integrity, and her lifelong struggle to have her contributions to physics recognized.
You Are More Than Magic by Minda Harts
For girls of color, figuring out how to find your voice and make sure everyone around you can hear it is essential. In this book, Minda Harts acts like the reader’s big sister–she knows what it’s like to be a Black girl in high school, and she’s giving the reader advice based on her own experience and her own success, in high school, college, and beyond. Full of anecdotes, thought exercises, how-tos, and encouragement, this book tackles topics from how to build your squad to how to stand up for yourself when the system doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Minda’s voice is warm and validating, and the advice focuses on introspection, helping each reader find her own way. Each chapter ends with a series of questions that helps the reader decide on the best next moves for her.
Ready for Launch by Scott Kelly
Astronaut Scott Kelly uses his unusual path to success to motivate everyone who thinks that shooting for the stars is beyond their reach in this gifty package, perfect for graduations and other life-changing moments.
How did a distracted student with poor grades become the record-breaking astronaut and commander of the International Space Station? People think that astronauts are always perfect. Failure’s not an option, right? But Scott believes that it’s our mistakes and challenges that can lead to greatness. Not everyone’s road to achievement is a straight line up. Most of us need to navigate a bumpier road full of obstacles to get where we want to be. Using ten life-changing moments, Scott shares his advice for mastering fear and failure and using it to see the world with fresh eyes. Unusual lessons from his path to space can prepare everyone for success on the ground.
The World Turned Upside Down by Tim Grove
In October 1781, American, French, and British forces converged on a small village named Yorktown—a place that the British would try to forget and Americans would forever remember. In his riveting, balanced, and thoroughly researched account of the Revolutionary War’s last pivotal conflict, author–historian Tim Grove follows the true stories of American, French, and British players, whose lives intersected at Yorktown.
Through very different viewpoints—from General George Washington to the notorious traitor Benedict Arnold, from young French hero Lafayette to British General Lord Cornwallis, and an enslaved man named James who became a spy,The World Turned Upside Downtells the story of bold decisions made by famous military leaders, as well as the everyday courage shown by civilians. For every side involved, the world forever turned upside down at Yorktown.
Profusely illustrated with archival images, broadsides, and letters, the book includes a timeline, endnotes, bibliography and index.
We Have a Dream by Mya-Rose Craig, Sabrena Khadija (Illustrated by)
Indigenous people and people of color are disproportionately affected by climate change. And yet they are underrepresented within the environmental movement. But not anymore.
Written by the extraordinary environmental and campaigner for equal rights Mya-Rose Craig—aka Birdgirl—this book profiles 30 young environmental activists who are Indigenous people or people of color, from communities on the frontline of global climate change. Each speaks to the diverse set of issues they are fighting for, from water conservation, to deforestation, to indigenous rights, and shares their dream . . .
A dream for climate justice.
A dream for a healthy planet.
A dream for a fairer world, for all.
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna and the Race to Understand Our Genetic Code by Walter Isaacson, Sarah Durand (Adapted by)
When Jennifer Doudna was a sixth grader in Hilo, Hawaii, she came home from school one afternoon and found a book on her bed. It wasThe Double Helix, James Watson’s account of how he and Francis Crick had discovered the structure of DNA, the spiral-staircase molecule that carries the genetic instruction code for all forms of life.
This book guided Jennifer Doudna to focus her studies not on DNA, but on what seemed to take a backseat in biochemistry: figuring out the structure of RNA, a closely related molecule that enables the genetic instructions coded in DNA to express themselves. Doudna became an expert in determining the shapes and structures of these RNA molecules —an expertise that led her to develop a revolutionary new technique that could edit human genes.
Today gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR are already being used to eliminate simple genetic defects that cause disorders such as Tay-Sachs and sickle cell anemia. For now, however, Jennifer and her team are being deployed against our most immediate threat—the coronavirus—and you have just been given a front row seat to that war.