Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Top Children's Nonfiction Chapter Books

I've been thinking for awhile about how I wanted to celebrate my one year blogiversary.  It actually passed in February but with everything going on at work and personally I didn't have time to really celebrate.  I am still pretty busy, but I've come up with an idea for what I want to do to celebrate.  For the next two weeks I will be posting about my favorite books of all time. Then I will host a giveaway where I offer my readers the chance to win a copy of one of my favorites (your choice).

Please keep in mind that these lists are not definitive.  There are many more books that I love and enjoy reading.  The books on these lists though are ones that I enjoy rereading when I have the time and that I love sharing or talking about. So, let's get started.  These books are in no particular order.

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow  
by Susan Bartoletti
Scholastic, 2005  (ISBN: 0-439-35379-3)

Bartoletti does a superb job of introducing the reader to some of the young people involved in Hitler's Youth Program.  Some of the young people are for Hitler and some were against, but for each, we get a glimpse of what it might have been like to live in Germany before and during World War II.  The stories and photographs present a compelling picture of a time when emotions were running high.  Books like this help children realize that history is not boring and dry, but fascinating and powerful.

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
by Jim Murphy, Houghton Mifflin Harcout, 2003 (ISBN: 9780395776087)

 There is nothing quite so fascinating as a scientific mystery, especially when it involves something like disease.  Murphy provides a fascinating account of one particular yellow fever epidemic that killed thousands.  Crises like this bring out both the best and the worst of people and Murphy doesn't shy away from the ugliness that such epidemics create.  The fact that mosquitoes carry yellow fever was not discovered until long after this series of events, but its interesting to read about the different opinions about the sources and treatments of the disease.

Chasing Lincoln's Killer
by James L. Swanson, Scholastic Press, 2009, (ISBN: 978-0-439-90354-7)

Few history books read like a novel, this one does.  Swanson follows the events of Lincoln's assassination through the death and trials of those involved.  The illustrations and photographs add the perfect touch, providing evidence of the events surrounding the murder and chase of Booth and his accomplices.

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming, Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011 (ISBN: 978-0-375-84198-9)

I knew about Amelia Earhart and her abilities before reading this book, but I knew much more after finishing it.  The author provides not only a detailed account of her mysterious disappearance and the theories surrounding it, but a thorough explanation of her past, both good and bad.  Both Amelia's strengths and weaknesses quickly become apparent, both her accomplishments and her failures.  This creates a detailed picture of a woman who left her mark on history for better or worse.

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland
by Sally M. Walker, Carolrhoda Books, 2009 (ISBN: 9780822571353)

I never realized before reading this book how much could be learned from bones and a few remnants of the past.  In this account, Walker takes us through the work and discoveries of those studying the past of Jamestown and the people who lived there.  Stories of sickness, war, and even servitude and murder are illuminated through the work of dedicated scientists.  This book is perfect for sharing with older students who see science and math as scary and intimidating.

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley
by Sally M. Walker, Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 2005 (ISBN: 1-57505-830-8)

The first submarine to ever sink a ship was the H.L. Hunley, built and sunk during the Civil War.  This book is the story of the creation and the first and also last mission of the H.L. Hunley.  The submarine was found in 1995 and she had quite the story to tell.   The book is divided into two parts.  The first part explains the history of the vessel as it was first known.  The second part details the careful work of scientists in studying the remains of the ship and her occupants.  A great way to introduce students to the fascinating world of archaeology. 

Saving the Ghost of the Mountain: An Expedition Among Snow Leopards in Mongolia
written by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009 (ISBN: 978-0-618-91645-0)

A great book that is part of a great series (Scientists in the Field), this book falls the work of Tom McCarthy as he travels through Mongolia trying to find and study the elusive snow leopard.  This is science in action, both the interesting and challenging aspects.  This series of books is a great way to introduce literature in the science curriculum.  These books give students the chance to see what science is like in the real world, rather than just words in a textbook.

Blizzard: The Storm That Changed America
written by Jim Murphy, Scholastic, 2000 (ISBN: 0-590-67310-6)

Weather and natural disasters can create powerful stories as people struggle to accept and survive what Mother Nature throws at them.  Jim Murphy tells the story of one such event. In March 1888, a major storm strikes the East Coast, wreaking havoc in both urban and rural areas.  I enjoy the way Murphy integrates general information about the storm with some of the experiences of individuals, it helps the story come to life, to feel more real.

Lafayette and the American Revolution
written by Russell Freedman, Holiday House, 2010 (ISBN: 978-0-8234-2182-4)

Lafayette, a French nobleman, came to America to help the colonists fight the British.  He did this on his own.  Lafayette was one of the few volunteers who had military training.  He quickly became one of Washington's trusted officers, despite his young age.  All this I've picked up while reading about the American Revolution.  But this book gave me a much better picture of a man uncomfortable with a life of leisure and societal expectations.  Not only does this book give the reader insights into an interesting individual but it gives the reader another look at the events that led to the founding of the United States of America.

The Many Faces of George Washingon: Remaking a Presidential Icon
written by Carla Killough McClafferty, Carolrhoda Books, 2011

George Washington is considered the father of our country.  Without his leadership and determined belief in democracy, the United States most likely would not exist as we know it today.  It's sad to think that we have almost no accurate images of the man.  This book provides the account of efforts to create models that accurately depicted our first president.  Not only is the book beautifully written and designed, but it addresses a topic I haven't seen covered anywhere else.

These are some of my favorite nonfiction reads, but I am always looking for great books to read.  If you have one you'd like to recommend, please do so. Thanks.


  1. Happy Blogiversary Heidi! It's always a milestone to celebrate that, and how generous of you to share well-loved books. And I truly mean that. While I am pretty generous at heart, I just can't bear to part with some of my books, much less my favorites! So you have a truly kind soul. I love the spread you have here. Thanks for sharing these lovely titles. I've heard so much about Amelia Lost, I'm sure it's a popular title in the libraries. An American Plague also looks very interesting. :)

  2. This is an interesting list. I'll track down the Secrets of a Civil War submarine. Interesting connections with history and science, I think.
    Apples with Many Seeds

  3. I love this list! I am a teacher jumping up to a much higher grade and was trying to find more challenging nonfiction in chapter books for my kids! This has given me a great place to start :)


Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Story Time kit by Kristin Aagard