Narrative Nonfiction with Social Justice Themes

Just like the term literacy, social justice has many arms. And just like literacy, we can focus on pieces or the whole of the concept. In this post, we’re focused on narrative nonfiction and how people individually or collectively have pushed for equal rights. The books can be seen as a call to action or providing context for fights still happening abroad and at home.


People Who Said No: Courage Against Oppression by Laura Scandiffio (2012)

peoplewhosaidnoA collection of stories about revolutionaries from across the globe, Scandiffio explains why and how individuals or groups stood up for the oppressed and made changes. For The White Rose is was against Hitler, for Helen Suzman is was against apartheid, but there are more highlighted in these chapters. Their courage shows teens that revolutions have happened and continue to happen with the inclusion of the contemporary uprising in Egypt as its last entry.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick (2014)

Read in conjunction with the adult biography Yousafzai wrote in 2013 and the picture book For the Right To Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story by Rebecca Langston-George and Janna Bock (2015) these three texts at varying degrees of interest and reading level, do not focus on the shooting that maimed her but on her family’s encouragement to be educated and to speak out against the Taliban and its oppression of women. Continue reading Narrative Nonfiction with Social Justice Themes

Overcoming Adversity in YA Nonfiction

Part One of young adult books focusing on overcoming adversity was focused on fiction.  Now it is time to focus on nonfiction.  I find it more difficult to get teens to read a nonfiction of a hardship, I think because they view it as boring or like school work whereas fiction offers an escape. However, biographies are always an interest even if the student does not know much about the person.  They like the personal story.  For similar reasons as to why teens choose fiction based on plot or character traits, biographies offer details of a person’s life and reading offers a connection to that person and their situation.

Similarly with fiction, reading about people who face struggles or adversity in a memoir or nonfiction will offer insight to the reader.  With insight comes understanding and compassion.  Nonfiction also gives credible information in a respectful, actual representation as long as the books are published by a respectable source.  An added bonus is many nonfiction books provide notes, glossary of definitions, online resources, and where to look for more information.  Young adult nonfiction that covers illness, biographies of a personal struggle, and social justice provide accurate information on issues that many readers do not understand or have experienced.



Out of Order: Young Adult Manual of Mental Illness and Recovery by Dale Bick Carlson (2013)

A manual that addresses what is mental illness, what are symptoms, how does one cope with it, and how can friends help friends cope. Personality disorders, learning problems, addictions (ranging in severity from substance abuse to TV or shopping) and treatment and recovery options are also mentioned. Each topic is given a clear definition, statistics on the number of those affected, symptoms, and coping mechanisms – whether personally or professionally.  Screening tests, mental disorder dictionary, online resources and hotlines, and a young adult reading list are provided.


The Courage to Compete: Living With Cerebral Palsy and Following My Dreams by Abbey Curran (2015)

Abbey Curran was the first contestant with a disability to win a major beauty pageant when she was crowned Miss Iowa, and later competed in Miss USA.  She offers encouragement for girls to try for their dreams, which she has turned into a business. Curran began the Miss You Can Do It, a national nonprofit pageant for girls and women with special needs and challenges, which became the subject of an HBO documentary with the same name.



Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk, and Rick Bundschuh (2006)

Bethany Hamilton was already respected as a young surfer before the shark attack that took her left arm.  Following the attack, and as she relearned how to surf, her personal determination and faith led her to not only overcome the physical struggles, but also get back on the board. Continue reading Overcoming Adversity in YA Nonfiction

What Problems Do You Want to Solve? Using Literature to Discuss Child Exploitation

Ask About What?

We have all met students who we know are destined to go on and do great things because of deep empathy for others or their leadership skills. And as graduation season wraps up for colleges and high schools across the country, I have been inspired to change my conversation with students in my high school after a slide shared at a conference went viral a while back.

“Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up but what problems do they want to solve. This changes the conversation from who do I want to work for, to what do I need to learn to be able to do that.” (Casap)  

I spend more time now talking with students about things they want to change or issues that they see and how they are feeling and thought it would be good to visit the topic of child exploitation. It’s more than just an awareness, but how choices they’re making are a part of a global community. How is that coffee farmed in your Dunkin Donuts cup? Where are those Nikes made on your feet and how much do they pay their employees?

It can start with a discussion over one of these titles that features children being exploited: sexually, physically, or psychologically.

Discussing It Through Literature 

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

Amadou and Seydou are brought to work on a cacao farm while being starved, beaten, and punished, unable to escape the devastation with little hope of escape until Khadija, abducted from her mother’s home provides the strength to try after a traumatic injury threatens the youngest boy’s life.

Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery by Abby Sher

The nonfiction titles showcases diverse stories related to trafficking for labor or sex. Inspiring stories that graphically detail their struggles in 2014. Continue reading What Problems Do You Want to Solve? Using Literature to Discuss Child Exploitation

School Library Journal 2016 Day of Dialog Recap

SLJDOD2016_SLJHeader_900x250Each year, School Library Journal presents a Day of Dialog, which allows librarians, educators, and library students the chance to come together and learn the latest about childrens and teens publishing trends and upcoming releases.  This was the first time I have attended a Day of Dialog and I would definitely recommend future attendance to anyone who works with children and/or teens promoting books and reading. Check out my recap of the middle school/high school panels and speakers from the day! Continue reading School Library Journal 2016 Day of Dialog Recap

Resources to Help Teens Choose a Career

It’s the time of year when many schools and groups focus on careers and career readiness. I don’t know about you, but I always felt dismay when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “What do you want to do for a job?” I think many teens feel the same pressure to choose, perhaps long before fully knowing themselves and their options. Here are some titles for considering the possibilities.

Books to help teens choose a career


careers the graphic guideCareers: The Graphic Guide to Finding the Perfect Job for You by Sarah Pawlewski, consultant

In this one-volume, comprehensive guide, each career’s two-page spread includes what skills and interests would lead to this career, related careers (and their page numbers in the book), and something I’ve never seen in a career book, “The Realities.” For instance, the photographer realities are, “Many hours are spent editing photos rather than shooting. Networking and building a reputation are key to having a successful career.”


encyclopedia of careersEncyclopedia of Careers and Vocational Guidance from Ferguson’s

This solid career reference set expands with each edition, including the changes brought about by social media and digital technology. Interested in different career tracks? Not sure what a job title means? There are over 820 different job descriptions here. Continue reading Resources to Help Teens Choose a Career

Booklist: Books to Celebrate Earth Day and the Environmentalist in All of Us

Friday, April 22, 2016 is National Earth Day, a day celebrated around the globe to demonstrate support for environmental protection. Started in 1970 and gaining momentum in the 1990s, Earth Day is great time to reevaluate the impact that we are having on the planet. Environmentalism has often been a cause taken up with passion by teens and new adults, and one recent study shows that during the recession years, conservations efforts among teens rose.

Copy of Copy of New nonfiction science for teens

In honor of Earth Day, here is a list of nonfiction and fiction titles that explore a variety of aspects of environmental issues and conservation actions.


It's Getting Hot In Here          Plants vs. Meats         Story of Seeds

It’s Getting Hot in Here: The Past, Present, and Future of Climate Change by Bridget Heos

Exploring the science behind global warming, Heos examines the past, present, and future of climate change, the effects of political denial, and how we can work together, tackle, and lessen the impacts of a warming world.

Plants Vs. Meats: The Health, History, and Ethics of What We Eat by Meredith Sayles Hughes

Covering the historical, nutritional, and ethical impacts of what and how humans eat, Hughes brings in discussion around popular diets; the health and science of what we ingest; environmental impacts of food production; political, ethical, religious factors that lead to personal decisions; and what the future of food may look like.

The Story of Seeds: From Mendel’s Garden to your Plate, and How There’s More of Less to Eat Around the World by Nancy F. Castaldo

Another look at the impact that food production has on the environment with the importance of plant biodiversity prolonged by seed preservation. It also explores the impact of monocultures and genetic engineering on food production.

Eyes Wide Open          Unstoppable- Harnessing Science to Change the World           Climate Changed- A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman

A guide to help teens navigate conflicting information around environmental issues that are represented in a variety of newsfeeds. Full of resources and ways that teens can make a difference. Also, see the updated resources and information from Fleischman on the book’s website.

Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World by Bill Nye

Nye applies his scientific rigorous understanding of the world to climate change, showing opportunities in today’s environmental crisis as a new beginning to create a cleaner and healthier world.

Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni

Investigative journalism  in a graphic novel format  Part diary, part documentary, this looks at our relationship with the planet and explains what global warming is all about. Continue reading Booklist: Books to Celebrate Earth Day and the Environmentalist in All of Us

Fun and Informative Science-Themed Graphic Novels

Who hasn’t turned to David Macaulay’s original The Way Things Work (1988) or The New Way Things Work (1998) to understand how something works by seeing it explained using illustrations, instead of just text? His books are standard reference sources in many libraries where I’ve worked. I’m really happy to know that an even newer revised and updated edition called The Way Things Work IMG_2875Now will be published in October 2016.

I’m a visual learner and it really helps to see how something works with images, as opposed to just with text. Many teens learn visually as well. Science concepts that are hard to imagine are much easier for teens (and adults) to grasp if we can visualize them. So much of what we are familiar with can be explained using science. Kids on a playground may not realize that everything they’re playing on uses physics: a swing is a pendulum, a see-saw is a basic lever and a slide is friction and gravity.

To accompany some of the other recent posts relating to science books for teens, here are just a few graphic novels where science is made more fun, interactive and understandable for teens in a graphic novel format. The books listed range from middle grade books with appeal to older readers, to those published for adults with teen appeal.

In 2016, First Second will begin publishing its Science Comics series. Coral Reefs written and illustrated by Maris Wicks and Dinosaurs by MK Reed and Joe Flood are both being published May, 2016. Volcanoes, written and illustrated by Jon Chad will be published in October 2016. (all Gr. 4 & up)IMG_2894IMG_2895IMG_2877

Every volume of Science Comics offers a complete introduction to a particular topic. Coral Reefs examines the biology of coral reefs as well as their ecological importance using Wicks’ signature appealing and accurate illustrations.

Human Body Theater by Maris WicksHuman Body Theater: A Nonfiction Revue written and illustrated by Maris Wicks. (2015) (Gr 4-8)

A talking skeleton tells all about the human body as part of its “all- singing, all-dancing” stage show. The skeleton entertainingly but accurately explains how each body system works, what can go wrong with it, and how to care for it. Lots of humor is reflected in Wicks’ colorful and detailed illustrations. (2016 Great Graphic Novels for Teens)

IMG_2896Jay Hosler’s The Last of the Sandwalkers (2015) written and illustrated by the author. (Gr. 5 & up)

In this fun and informative graphic novel, Lucy is a tiny field scientist who is also a beetle. She lives in a beetle civilization where beetles write books, run restaurants, and even do scientific research. But, the powerful elders don’t want too much research to be done because they guard a terrible secret about the world outside the shadow of the palm tree. Lucy defies them to lead a team of researchers into the desert to discover more of the wider world…but what lies in wait for them is going to change everything Lucy thought she knew.

IMG_2867Howtoons: Tools of Mass Construction by Dr. Saul Griffith, illustrated by Nick Dragotta (2015) (Gr. 4-8)

This 360 page part graphic novel, part instruction manual, features siblings Tuck and Celine who are urged to make something out of household treasures to keep them out of trouble. Howtoons was originally created by scientists Saul Griffith, Joost Bonsen and artist Nick Dragotta from MIT. Just a few of the science projects here include ice cream in a bag, an electric motor, bugeye lens, an underwater scope, a terrarium, a mini-submarine, spring-loaded chopsticks, pneumatic muscles, and rockets.

IMG_2892Howtoons: [Re]ignition by Fred Van Lente, illustrated by Tom Fowler. (2015) (Gr. 4 – 8)

Part graphic novel story, part science/energy instruction manual and energy history lesson, in which siblings Celine and Tuck and their parents are in suspended animation riding out an energy crisis. When the kids wake up, and find their parents gone, they must try to find them. As they cross a strange new world, they have to rely on their science knowledge to save them – and the world. Along the way, they learn to build such projects as a wind turbine, a solar cooker, and a go-kart.

Continue reading Fun and Informative Science-Themed Graphic Novels

Booklist: New Nonfiction Science

It’s been a very science-y week so far! The Hub kicked off Monday with funny science books for teens, and yesterday was the delicious Pi Day (not to mention Einstein’s birthday). Today I’ve got a sampling of some new nonfiction science books available for teen readers. For information on STEAM vs. STEM programming, check out this post on the YALSAblog, or for more inspiration on science programming, check out Anyone Can Do Science! which has lots of fun ways to incorporate science into your regular programming schedule.

Put on your lab coats and take a look — and don’t miss a PDF of this list at the end.

New nonfiction science for teens


The Story of Seeds: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less to Eat Around the World, by Nancy F. Castaldo

Discusses the impact of seeds on food supply, and their importance in everything from biodiversity to the global economy.

It’s Getting Hot in Here: The Past, Present, and Future of Climate Change, by Bridget Heos

Examines the history of climate change on our planet, including humanity’s role and current politics, and how young readers can take action. To add to an environmental discussion, pair with Fuel Under Fire: Petroleum and Its Perils, by Margaret J. Goldstein. Continue reading Booklist: New Nonfiction Science

Booklist: Scientifically Funny Nonfiction

The best kind of science books are the one that share information without getting too technical, are not monotonous, and have a unique angle: that it factor that makes it special. Humor is a draw, especially in nonfiction and, double-points if the book reads like fiction, too. So set aside the baking soda volcanoes and egg drop tests to read some of these humorous science books.

funny science books for teens
collage photos CC via Flickr user hine

Guinea Pig Scientists : Bold Self-Experimenters in Science and Medicine by Mel Boring, Leslie Dendy, and C.B. Mordan 

This book showcases a handful of scientists who advanced medicine by first starting with themselves, then others, then animals, until their theories were proved. Tenacity was the key for all of these innovators of such things as laughing gas or what caused yellow fever. Now we know!  

How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial by Darryl Cunningham

Useful for any STEM curriculum this graphic novel is for conspiracy theorists, science buffs, and graphic novel fans. It discusses topics like autism and vaccines to fracking. For many teens, some of the topics will build new knowledge. Continue reading Booklist: Scientifically Funny Nonfiction

Booklist: Schooled Unexpectedly, or Talking with Teens about Tough Issues

Just like food, variety seems to be the spice of life in reading. Yes, there are genres that you will always be current on because they’re dependable, but there’s something to be said for trying new formats or genres- sneaking them into to be read piles like a form of exposure therapy. Because of this, I’ve discovered so much and learned so much. I’m the first to share it with others too, especially the teens I work with in the high school library. Here are a few of my recent favorites and why they became other’s favorites too.

talking with teens about tough issues

All American BoysAll American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds

Hashtags are powerful tools and the conversation around social justice is far from over. Teens need to be sharing and talking about both, making up their minds about how they feel and what they can do to contribute to society.

In Reynolds’ recent visit to our high school, he asked the teen audience how many had seen posts on social media about police brutality and racial violence. They all raised their hands. He then asked how many of them reposted, re-tweeted, and shared those posts. Many raised their hands, but when he asked how many of them actually had a conversation with their friends face-to-face about it, sharing their thoughts and feelings about these incidents, to their peers, almost no one raised their hand. The take-away is that we need to encourage conversation and action– it’s not enough to know, you must act to make a difference.

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson

This is an adult title with YA appeal. So many teens are exploring their food preferences, likes and dislikes, or when eating disorders may develop, so Wilson’s position is that how we learn to eat can be unlearned. Retraining is possible and thinking about your eating can have a positive impact on your health and well-being.

As I was sharing this title with a teen who shares my love of quirky books, but also appreciates learning something from one too (we share a love for Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses), she replied that she could use the book as evidence that “going vegetarian” can be a conscious choice. Sometimes it’s a moral issue and other times it’s about learning how food affects your body and adapting for it. A tenet of Wilson’s book is about training yourself, even though there are caveats like scientific proof that some will just always dislike the taste of Brussels sprouts. Continue reading Booklist: Schooled Unexpectedly, or Talking with Teens about Tough Issues