ALA Annual 2014: Stranger Than Fiction: Reader’s Advisory for Nonfiction

One of best programs I attended at the recent ALA Annual Conference in alaconfVegas was the very popular session on Monday afternoon presented by Jennie Rothschild and Angela Frederick called Stranger Than Fiction: Reader’s Advisory for Nonfiction.

It seems like everyone’s talking about nonfiction these days because of the emphasis on the Common Core. Rothschild and Frederick suggested a large number of interesting and appealing nonfiction titles for teens, many from YALSA’s award and selection lists like the Alex Award, Excellence in Nonfiction Award, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and Outstanding Books for the College Bound. They also had a lot of suggestions for great nonfiction read-alikes for popular fiction titles.

The books they recommended are notable for their interesting subject areas that can be read for pleasure, not just for assignments; have appealing layout/style or design, and, despite that so many are published for adults, still have great teen appeal. Rothschild noted that since there isn’t a lot of teen nonfiction published compared to children’s and adult, teens are used to reading up or down. Many of the nonfiction titles are notable for their narrative style that reads like fiction and the fact that they complement so many popular fiction books.

Here are some of the highlights:

Copy of BombSubject read-alikes for Bomb: The Race to Build –And Steal –The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (YALSA 2013 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, 2013 Sibert Award Winner, 2013 Newbery Honor Winner; National-book-award-finalist for Young People’s Literature):



  • The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb by Edward T. Sullivan (YA)
  • Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, graphic novel (adults and older teens)
  • The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein (adult)
  • The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Keiran (adult)

Narrative-style read-alikes:

packing for marsSubject read-alikes for Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (adult), YALSA’s 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound (OBCB):




  • How I Killed Pluto: And Why it Had it Coming by Mike Brown (adult) YALSA’s 2014 OBCB list
  • The Mighty Mars Rovers: the Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch (Middle Grade)

Narrative style read-alikes:

scandalousSubject read-alikes for Scandalous! 50 Shocking Events You Should Know About (So You Can Impress Your Friends) by Hallie Fryd




  • Jim Thorp by Joseph Bruchac (Middle Grade)
  • Eight Men Out: the Black Sox and the 1919 World Series by Eliot Asinof (adult)
  • All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (adult)
  • Bullets, Bombs and Fast Talk: 25 Years of FBI War Stories by James Botting (adult) (Includes two scandals from Scandalous: Patty Hearst & Branch Davidians cult)
  • Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro by Eduardo F. Calcines (Middle Grade)
  • The World of Gloria Vanderbilt by Wendy Goodman (adult)

Narrative Reads-alikes for Scandalous:

  • Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail by Danica McKellar (Middle Grade)
  • Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon (Adult) YALSA’s 2014 OBCB list
  • Historical Heartthrobs: 50 Timeless Crushes from Cleopatra to Camus by Kelly Murphy & Hallie Fryd (YA)
  • The Economics Book Explained (DK) (adult)
  • Can I See Your ID?: True Stories of False Identities by Chris Barton  (Middle Grade)
  • Big Ideas Simply Explained (series) by various authors from DK publishers (adult)

Readalikes for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:9780525426363_p0_v2_s260x420

Rothschild and Frederick presented a lot more great books than I have space to list here. To see their entire list, including references to other places to find lists of great nonfiction for teens, see their handout on their website.

I guarantee teens (and adults) who think they don’t like nonfiction will find something on this extensive list that will appeal to them. Thank you, Jennie and Angela, for your fun and informative presentation!

-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson