28 Enlightening & Highly Engaging Nonfiction Titles for Teens | Summer Reading 2021

These 28 works of YA nonfiction will leave teens informed and inspired to help make a better world.

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These 28 works of YA nonfiction will leave teens informed and inspired to help make a better world.

One Person, No Vote: How Not All Voters Are Treated Equally by Carol Anderson with Tonya Bolden. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781547601073.

Bolden’s adaptation of Anderson’s New York Times best seller covers the systematic, racially motivated legal, physical, and psychological tactics used since the end of Reconstruction to suppress black, poor, and/or otherwise marginalized voters.

SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson. Viking. ISBN 9780670012107.

Anderson’s haunting memoir in free verse addresses her history of trauma and the sexual assault that inspired her novel Speak; the author also discusses the fans, contemporaries, and survivors she has met and been impacted by in the last 20 years as an author and advocate.

The Racers: How an Outcast Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Challenged Hitler’s Best by Neal Bascomb. Scholastic/Scholastic Focus. ISBN 9781338277418.

Masterly history detective Bascomb provides a fascinating chronicle of the European grand prix racing scene during the 1930s. The text focuses on German driver Rudi Caracciola, who drove for the Nazi-sponsored team, and “the outcast” French driver René Dreyfus, who was excluded from the German teams because he was Jewish. Also integral to the story is Lucy Schell, an American heiress who hired Dreyfus to drive her team’s French Delahaye 145.

VIRAL: The Fight Against AIDS in America by Ann Bausum. Viking. ISBN 9780425287200.

Bausum’s comprehensive account of the AIDS crisis in America charts the social and medical conditions that led to the terrifyingly fast spread of the disease and relays the reactions from various parts of society.

What Linnaeus Saw: A Scientist’s Quest To Name Every Living Thing by Karen Magnuson Beil. Norton. ISBN 9781324004684.

Many students can explain biological classification in its simplest terms. But how many know scientist Carl Linnaeus, the creator of that system? Beil offers fascinating details about Linnaeus’s travels as a young man, as well as the prevailing cultural and religious beliefs of his time.

Accused!: The Trials of the Scottsboro Boys: Lies, Prejudice, and the Fourteenth Amendment by Larry Dane Brimner. Calkins Creek. ISBN 9781629797755.

Exploring the trials of the Scottsboro boys, nine African Americans falsely accused of raping two white women, Brimner draws parallels between the Scottsboro boys and present situations, reminding readers how far we’ve come—and how we continue to come up short.

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A Hip-Hop History by Jeff Chang & Dave Cook. St. Martin’s/Wednesday Bks. ISBN 9781250790514.

The 2005 adult edition of Chang’s sweeping overview of hip-hop history garnered several accolades, including an American Book Award. Part music history and part social history, the text is divided into four “loops,” which highlight the performers of the spotlighted time period and the historical events that coincided with the music.

A Queer History of the United States for Young People by Michael Bronski. adapt. by Richie Chavet. Beacon. ISBN 9780807056127.

This rich, sensitive young readers adaptation of the author’s 2012 title illuminates contributions to American history by a wide variety of queer individuals and groups, from Indigenous tribes who have long embraced two-spirit people to poets, musicians, politicians, and activists.

Ms. Gloria Steinem: A Life by Winifred Conkling. Feiwel & Friends. ISBN 9781250244574.

Conkling follows feminist icon Gloria Steinem from an unconventional childhood to college to her role as a leader in the second wave of feminism. Readers will find Conkling’s portrayal of Steinem to be authentic and relevant as she fights for equality for women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and marginalized groups.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. adapt. by Debbie Reese & Jean Mendoza. Beacon. ISBN 9780807049396.

In this adaptation of Dunbar-Ortzi’s adult title, Reese and Mendoza offer an Indigenous perspective of U.S. history, one that offers a vital counterpoint to whitewashed history curricula and textbooks. Essential.

Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis by K.R Gaddy. Dutton. ISBN 9780525555414.

This expertly researched, compelling narrative follows the Edelweiss Pirates, groups of young Germans committed to resisting the Nazis, through the perspectives of three individuals: Gertrud Kühlem, Jean Jülich, and Fritz Theilen. A unique addition to the YA World War II literary canon.

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes. Wordsong. ISBN 9781629798813.

In long poems, short poems, and the occasional prose poem, Grimes guides us through her past tragedies and triumphs while keenly observed moments build her inner world. A memoir that doesn’t demand a time line, this work is a personal history in poems that readers can read backward and forward.

We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance by Deborah Hopkinson. Scholastic Focus.  ISBN 9781338255775.

This narrative nonfiction book shares the stories of survivors of the Holocaust. Readers get to know the experiences of children, teens, and adults who lived through Hitler’s atrocities and survived. These once lost and hidden stories are full of strength, resilience, and survival against all odds coupled with the loss of family, friends, and freedom. 

Troublemaker for Justice: The Story of Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the March on Washington by Jacqueline Houtman & others. City Lights. ISBN 9780872867659.

While Martin Luther King Jr. became the face of the March on Washington, LGBTQ activist Bayard Rustin, long marginalized because of his sexuality, was the man behind the scenes. This excellent biography brings Rustin out of King’s shadow and into the foreground, chronicling how his upbringing and Quaker roots acted as a catalyst for his lifetime commitment to nonviolent activism and equal treatment for all.

Brave Face: A Memoir by Shaun David Hutchinson. S. & S./Simon Pulse. ISBN 9781534431515.

In this raw and moving memoir, YA novelist Hutchinson looks back on his life: his depression, his sexuality, and how he moved forward after contemplating suicide at 19.

Call Me American: The Extraordinary True Story of a Young Somali Immigrant by Abdi Nor Iftin. Delacorte. ISBN 9781984897114.

Iftin tells his story: growing up in Mogadishu, Somalia, as war raged; becoming obsessed with American culture; and finally leaving for America. The author’s optimism and sense of humor balance the sadness he experienced, and his challenges upon reaching the United States provide a critique of the notion of the American Dream.

All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson. Farrar. ISBN 9780374312718.

Journalist and activist Johnson takes readers through his life from childhood through young adulthood, reflecting on how his identity as a queer Black boy was shaped, refracted, and often suppressed for his own safety. The text infuses personal reflections with observations about white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and homophobia.

Teen Guide to Volunteering by Stuart A. Kallen. ReferencePoint. ISBN 9781682829370.

This title describes the many ways to volunteer. The text details short-term and long-term goals, including how to volunteer at local organizations for an afternoon and how to create an indefinite project. Included is how teens can help during the COVID-19 pandemic, imparting useful advice that could be applied to future pandemics. 

Folding Tech: Using Origami and Nature To Revolutionize Technology by Karen Latchana Kenney. Lerner/Twenty-First Century. ISBN 9781541533042.

Kenney details the history of origami and other folding methods and how these techniques can help solve problems in modern engineering, architecture, technology, and medicine. The text points out that math is the language of the universe, and it has ties to the natural and artificial worlds.

The Other F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce, edited by Angie Manfredi. Amulet. Abrams/Amulet. ISBN 9781419737503.

Renée Watson, Alex Gino, and others share their experience growing up fat and their work to reclaim the meaning of that word. A powerful anthology that creates an important discourse celebrating body diversity.

A Time of Fear: America in the Era of Red Scares and Cold War by Albert Marrin. Knopf. ISBN 9780525644293.

Marrin uses straightforward text to detail the rise of communism in the Soviet Union and the effects of the communist movement on the United States. The influence and impact of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) are explained well too, as is the U.S. government’s response to the party, its members, and suspected communists.

The Miracle & Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets by Sarah Miller. Random/Schwartz & Wade. ISBN 9781524713812.

Miller examines the Dionne quintuplets, five identical girls born in 1934 who were taken from their family and put on display for sightseers, in this poignant, meticulously researched story of exploitation.

Proud: Living My American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316477000.

Fencer and Olympic medalist Muhammad pens an eminently readable account of her childhood through her win at the 2016 Rio Olympics, discussing manipulative coaches, college and scholarship applications, racist and Islamophobic abuse from teammates, and the challenge of balancing practice, school work, and personal academic interests.

Ripples of Hope: Your Guide to Electing a New President by David Plouffe. Holt. ISBN 9781250259752.

Barack Obama’s campaign manager encourages pre-voters to get active in the 2020 presidential election to defeat President Trump, urging them to knock on doors, man phone banks, and travel to battleground states to volunteer.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award–Winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316453691.

Reynolds’s adaptation of Kendi’s National Book Award–winning title teaches readers to think critically about racism and antiracism in the United States and the Western world. Arguing that there are three mind-sets—segregationist, assimilationist, and antiracist—the authors evaluate the actions of figures such as Thomas Jefferson, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis.

Permanent Record: How One Man Exposed the Truth about Government Spying and Digital Security by Edward Snowden. Holt. ISBN 9781250767912.

In 2013, CIA contractor Edward Snowden fled the country after copying and leaking classified National Security Agency data on global surveillance. Snowden, who was charged with espionage by the U.S. government, currently remains exiled in Russia. Here he offers a fascinating look behind the scenes of real-life espionage and why he became a whistleblower.

Esports and the New Gaming Culture by Bradley Steffens. ReferencePoint. ISBN 9781682829257.

The text defines the phenomenon of esports as a true sport because it is competitive, there are millions of fans, and players must develop mental and physical skills to be successful at the games. Current statistics are sprinkled throughout, including the salaries of professional players and numbers of influencers in professional sports who are investing in esports teams. 

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo. Norton. ISBN 9781324002871.

This narrative nonfiction title chronicles the brutal 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, which led to the first federal civil rights case involving an Asian American. Chin’s story is an important parallel to today’s societal strife mirrored in the rise in racism and violence against Asian Americans who have been unfairly blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic.

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