Engaging Nonfiction Books for Middle School Readers

Nonfiction books can be a tough sell for many readers, but especially middle schoolers. If your students are anything like mine, they’re probably obsessed with dystopian stories, realistic fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy. They don’t naturally gravitate towards the nonfiction section of our classroom library, so I usually have to work a little harder to get them hooked on some nonfiction. The good news is that there are plenty of incredible nonfiction books for middle school students!

Whether it’s through Book Trailer Tuesday, First Chapter Friday, our “Bookflix” display, book recommendation brochures, or the titles I line up on my whiteboard, I’m always “advertising” nonfiction. It takes a little bit of marketing, but with the right high-interest texts, it’s easy to hook even the most reluctant of readers. To get you started, here are 10 of my favorite nonfiction books your middle school students will love!

Here are 10 of my favorite nonfiction books for middle school readers!

1. When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

If there’s only one book you can read, recommend, or order on this list, let it be this one! After all, everyone loves a good graphic novel, so it’s the perfect way to introduce students to nonfiction. The true story of Somalian refugee Omar Mohamed, this emotional memoir will give your students the gift of perspective. I’ve *never* had a student not love it. (It’s also perfect to pair with A Long Walk to Water, our first novel unit).

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

2. All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of The Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Your sports fans or readers who love survival stories will be hooked on this harrowing story of the Thai soccer team that was trapped in a cave for over two weeks. With plenty of photos and informative sidebars, All Thirteen is accessible and engaging! It’s one of those middle grade books that feels *just right* for middle school…chef’s kiss!

All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat
All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat

3. Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

For the graphic novel fans in your classroom, this is the perfect “easy” introduction to nonfiction via a memoir. Best for readers who can handle a bit of mature content, this is the story of Jarrett “Ja” Krosoczka growing up with his grandparents while his mom battled addiction.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

4. It’s Trevor Noah: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

For readers who are ready to tackle a memoir in prose form, I’d highly recommend Trevor Noah’s entertaining, informative, and powerful memoir of growing up during Apartheid in South Africa. The child of a black mother and a white father, he’s quite literally “born a crime,” but he manages to tell his story with a satisfying, sincere mix of painful scenes, hilarious moments, and earnest reflection. This is one of my personal favorite nonfiction books for middle school readers, but students absolutely love it, too!

It's Trevor Noah: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

5. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, & You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi

This list would be incomplete without this must-read that I love to recommend to any and all students. You readers will appreciate Reynold’s signature no-nonsense, engaging style in this “remix” of a we-never-learned-this-in-class history book. At its core, this book answers some seriously complicated questions without shying away from the truth: How did humans create racism, and what can we do to fight against it? It’s a must-read for any human being, but especially the lovely ones sitting in your classroom!

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi

6. Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander

This biographical novel in verse is a dream come true for teachers because of its uncanny ability to hook the kids who “don’t like to read.” Seriously, it’s that good. Like When Stars Are Scattered, it’s a book that only gets rave reviews from the readers in my classroom. In addition to easing students into nonfiction, it’s also a great way to show students that novels in verse can be just as good as traditional fiction, too. 

Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander
Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander

7. The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller

Perfect for true crime and mystery fans, The Borden Murders is the fascinating story of one of the most infamous murders in American history. Well-researched with lots of primary sources, it’s the book equivalent to an unsolved mystery show that leaves you wondering “whodunnit.” This is best for readers who can handle a bit of the graphic and gory, but it’s clean (well, as clean as murder in cold blood) and well done. It falls in that sweet spot of YA that can work for both middle and high school.

The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller
The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller

8. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

Your students have heard of Rosa Parks, but do they know that she wasn’t the first person of color to refuse to give up her seat to a white person? Do they know that the first person to do this was actually a brave 15-year-old girl? In this accessible biography with photos and interviews, students will meet Claudette Colvin, an inspiring young woman whose story is often left out of history books. At just 133 pages, it’s manageable for a reader who wants to sample some nonfiction and learn something new!

"Rebellion was on my mind that day...I was thinking, Why should I have to get up just because a driver tells me to, or just because I'm black?"
Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Phillip Hoose

9. Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand

Want something to recommend to the survival/war story-obsessed Alan Gratz fan club (or is that just my classroom)? The inspiring survival story of Olympian runner and WWII airman Louie Zamperini is sure to captivate these readers. This biography is a bit longer than some of the other texts on this list, but its thrilling narratives, photos, and perfectly-paced chapters will keep readers engaged. Your readers will be happy to know that there’s a movie, too: the perfect incentive for finishing a good book! 

Unbroken (YA) by Laura Hillenbrand
Unbroken (YA) by Laura Hillenbrand

10. The Radium Girls: The Scary But True Story of the Poison That Made People Glow in the Dark by Kate Moore

At 432 pages, this, too, is lengthier, but it’s a gripping, horrifying, and important read for students who don’t mind the page count. You’ll probably need to do a little book-talking to introduce the shocking story of how young women were fatally poisoned by radium while companies denied the truth for years. But once you have students hooked, they won’t be able to stop reading this fast-paced, unbelievable account of the glowing “radium girls.”

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

I hope these recommendations help your students learn to love a healthy dose of nonfiction in their reading diet! These are just a few of my favorite nonfiction books for middle school, but there are plenty of other high-interest biographies, memoirs, and other nonfiction texts available for your readers. If I’ve missed one of your students’ favorites, let me know in the comments. I love discovering new books and adding more to my tried-and-true reading recommendation toolbox.

WANT MORE BOOK RECS?

If you like these recommendations, then you’ll love these book recommendation brochures. Each brochure includes an interactive reader personality quiz that automatically gives students personalized book recs based on their interests. In fact, all of the above book recs (and dozens more) are featured in the different genre brochures.

Click HERE or on the image to check out the brochures.

These middle school book brochures are the perfect way to take your book advertising to the next level! You can check out the full collection of 12 different genre brochures HERE. It’s a magical, self-sustaining system that will help your students answer the question, “What do I read next?” With over 250 book recs within the brochures, your students will never run out of books to read!


Want more ideas to help your students fall in love with reading? For more ideas, tips, and book recs, check out the following blog posts:

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