By the time students reach grade 12, the Common Core State Standards require that 70% of their reading should be nonfiction. In order to fulfill this requirement in content area subjects, students will need to read more than their textbooks. Luckily, nonfiction writers for teens continue to create amazing narrative nonfiction that supports science and social studies, and that our kids will want to read.
ANDERSON, Tanya. Tillie Pierce: Teen Eyewitness to the Battle of Gettysburg. Twenty-First Century Books. 2013. ISBN 9781467706926. JLG Level: NM : Nonfiction Middle (Grades 5-8).
Punctuated with diary entries from fifteen-year-old Tillie Pierce, Anderson tells the story of the events leading up to the infamous Battle of Gettysburg. In the summer of 1863, the residents of Gettysburg were worried that the Rebels were coming. They hid their valuables, shipped heirlooms to relatives, and took their animals to the mountains. When their worst fears came true, the foot soldiers needed hats and shoes more than anything else, though they took whatever they could find. Not long after, tens of thousands of Union troops entered the town. Tillie’s next door neighbor came over, asking if Tillie could accompany her to her parents’ farm to care for her young children. Thinking she would be safer there, Tillie’s parents agreed. What happened next was not what anyone expected. Little did they know they would spend the next three days feeding and nursing the wounded, surrounded by the most horrific battle in the Civil War.
Historical photographs and documents, an extensive bibliography, and a Google Earth activity provide excellent resource material in this nonfiction account of what we now refer to as the reason for Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
GRATZ, Alan. Prisoner B-3087. Scholastic. 2013. 9780545459013. JLG Level: HH : History – High School (Grades 10 & up).
Though the work is fictionalized, Gratz recreates the story of Jack Gruener, who as a child of thirteen was taken from his village in Krakow, Poland, by Nazi soldiers. His parents had already been taken the year before. All his aunts and uncles had since disappeared. Jack knew that one day, they would come for him. Jack was loaded onto a truck, and taken to Plaszow. It was the first of many concentration camps to which he would be sent. Briefly reunited with his uncle, he learned to be anonymous. Daily shootings of prisoners, backbreaking senseless work, and lack of food made him even more determined to survive. Death march after death march, the young boy fought to stay alive. Sent to Wielczka Salt Mines, Tazebinia, Auschwitz, and finally Dachau, Gruener survived the camps until he was rescued by American soldiers. The Allies had reached them at last! “Everything is going to be all right,” they said. For the first time in six years, he finally felt that it was true.
HERNANDEZ, Daniel and Susan Goldman Rubin. They Call Me a Hero: A Memoir of My Youth. S & S. 2013. ISBN 9781442462281. JLG Level: CH : City High School (Grades 10 & Up).
Daniel Hernandez never intended to be a hero. Growing up in a Latino community in Tucson, Arizona, he always liked school, and wanted to become a doctor. In the fifth grade, he ran for student council president and won. An avid reader, he also took a nursing class in high school and participated in HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America). In college he began an internship and got involved in politics.
On the morning of January 8, 2011, Daniel was doing what he loved most―volunteering in the campaign to re-elect Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. A lone shooter opened fire on the constituents and others who came to meet the politician. Giffords took a gunshot to the head. Hernandez ran through the chaos, applied pressure to her wound, and kept her engaged while he waited for medical assistance. Honestly written, David’s memoir shares his thoughts about what happened that day and how his own life changed as a result.
KIDDER, Tracy. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. Adapted by Michael French. Delacorte. 2013. ISBN 9780375990991. JLG Level: NM : Nonfiction Middle (Grades 5-8).
Dr. Paul Farmer could have practiced medicine anywhere he wanted to. He had multiple degrees from prestigious colleges and was well-respected in the Boston area. Yet, his heart drew him to Haiti. There he would work with the poorest of poor, treating those who couldn’t afford medicine, never turning anyone away. He raised money for programs that would support his work, and researched methods of decreasing the mortality rate for TB patients. An adaptation of an earlier work for adults, Kidder tells the story of a man driven to help those without a voice. His work in countries like Peru, Haiti, and Rwanda, and his success at obtaining funds to treat his patients, is unsurpassed. Founding Partners in Health, the country doctor found a way to clean the water, heal the sick, and encourage philanthropists like Bill Gates to fund his projects. Though he couldn’t heal everyone, he was known to say, “I don’t care if we lose, I’m gonna try to do the right thing.”
STONE, Tanya Lee. Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles. Candlewick. 2013. ISBN 9780763651176. JLG Level: HH : History – High School (Grades 10 & up).
“What did it take to be a paratrooper in World War II? Specialized training, extreme physical fitness, courage and―until the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion (the Triple Nickles) was formed―white skin.” Though black men could be in the Navy or Marines in 1940, they could only perform in service roles―building roads, digging ditches, cooking, or doing laundry. In the fall of 1943, Walter Morris led a black Army battalion with a morale problem. His solution? Give them the same training white paratroopers received. Within weeks of leading the drills, he saw changes in his troop―sharp uniforms and men who acted like soldiers. Sergeant Morris would become the leader of the first black paratroopers, the 555th Parachute Infantry Company. Though their skill was unsurpassed, these men continued to face racism. They weren’t allowed to enter the same recreational facilities as their white counterparts, and hotels, movie theaters, and restaurants wouldn’t serve them. Yet, they continued to volunteer and fight for a military that segregated them. “I have to go…. Part of it is so I can say, ‘This is my country. I fought for it and you can’t deny me.’”
Because the Army wasn’t willing to integrate the soldiers, these paratroopers served their country on U.S. soil as the first smokejumpers. They jumped from planes to fight fires and search for Japanese balloon bombs in the Pacific Northwest. In Europe, they fought on the ground, side by side with white soldiers in the 82nd Airborne. In December of 1947, the Triple Nickles were officially recognized for their work and integrated with the 82nd, marching in a victory parade as the 3rd Battalion of the 555th Parachute Infantry Brigade. No longer part of a two-color army, these soldiers were finally a team.
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