Engaging Nonfiction for High School Readers

LET’S FACE IT…

Let’s face it: Nonfiction isn’t most readers’ favorite genre. Heck, I’ll admit it! I appreciate nonfiction as much as the next ELA teacher, but when it’s time to pick my next book to devour while I sip hot cocoa in a cozy blanket, I’m probably reaching for fiction. It’s not that I don’t like nonfiction; it’s just that fiction feels easier. Easier to find, easier to read, and easier to love. Sure, there are some incredible nonfiction texts out there, but there’s nothing like plunging head-first into a dystopian world and escaping reality. So it should come as no surprise that our high school students are hesistant to approach the nonfiction section of our classroom libraries.

These shelves don’t get nearly enough love because our students are even more intimidated by nonfiction. While that’s perfectly normal, it just means that we have a little bit of extra work to do to reel our high school readers in when it comes to nonfiction.

Just like I have to work a little harder to keep a healthy dose of nonfiction in my personal reading diet, I, too, have learned that I have to work a little harder to get my students hooked on nonfiction. It’s more work, but it’s worth it! Whether it’s through Book Trailer Tuesday, First Chapter Friday, our “Bookflix” display, my book recommendation brochures, or the titles I line up on my whiteboard, I’m always “advertising” nonfiction. If students aren’t going to approach the nonfiction shelves themselves, then I’m going to bring the shelves to them.

THE GOOD NEWS…

The good news is that there are plenty of incredible nonfiction texts to recommend to your students! And with the right high-interest texts and enough “advertising,” it’s easy to trick even the most reluctant of readers into finding a nonfiction book they love. To get you started, here are 10 of my favorite high school nonfiction books to recommend to your students (Pssst…if you’re looking for middle school recs, you can find them HERE.)

Your high school readers will love these high-interest nonfiction texts!

The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller

If you have true crime fans in your classroom, this book is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. The Borden Murders is the fascinating story of one of the most infamous murders in all of American history. Well-researched with lots of primary sources, it’s the book equivalent to a maddening unsolved mystery show/podcast that leaves you wondering “whodunnit.” This is another example of “clean” YA that can work for middle school, too. (Well, as clean as murder in cold blood can get, but still).

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

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

This masterfully written book explores one fateful bus ride that changed the lives of two teens forever. Through alternating perspectives, texts, letters, and other media, Slater tells the story of how 17-year-old Sasha’s skirt was set on fire as a reckless “prank”-turned hate crime in Oakland, CA in 2013. The book explores gender, poverty, racism, and more, making it a great text for powerful discussions in the classroom.

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

Call Me American (YA Adaptation) by Abdi Nor Iftin

This young adult adaptation of a story you may have first heard on This American Life, Call Me American is a moving memoir of a young Somalian refugee who grew up dreaming of America while war threatened his everyday survival. Fast-paced and accessible, Abdi Nor Iftin’s memoir is inspiring and informative for teen readers (even mature middle schoolers).

Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin
Call Me American (YA) by Abdi Nor Iftin

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

This recommendation goes out to all of the graphic novel fans sitting in your classroom! This powerful graphic memoir gives readers a glimpse into Star Trek actor George Takei’s life growing up in WWII internment camps. They Called Us Enemy is incredibly eye-opening because it gives readers the chance to witness injustice from the eyes of a child. This is nonfiction your high school readers won’t forget!

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

The Far Away Brothers (YA Adaptation) by Lauren Markham

Similar to Enrique’s Journey (another fabulous nonfiction read), this is the incredible true story of two identical twins who fled for the US when their home of El Salvador became too dangerous for them to stay. The Flores twins’ story sheds new light on the reality of immigration and puts two human faces to the policies, stories, and debates your teen readers have likely seen in the news. This is one of those empathy-building books you need in your classroom library!

The Far Away Brothers by Lauren Markham
The Far Away Brothers (YA) by Lauren Markham

Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee & Susan Elizabeth McClelland

If you want to recommend nonfiction that feels like fiction straight from a dystopia, then this is your book. Every Falling Star is the unbelievable account of Sungju Lee’s life as a “street boy” in North Korea and his eventual escape from the country. Your high school readers will not be able to put this one down!

Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee
Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee

March series by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell

March is another great option for graphic novel fans, reluctant readers, or anyone looking to learn more about Senator Lewis and the Civil Rights movement. Told in black and white illustrations across three books, this story brings history alive for readers in a powerful way! These graphic memoirs are a must-have for any classroom library, whether it’s middle or high school!

March Series by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell
March Series by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell

It’s Trevor Noah: Born A Crime (YA Adaptation) by Trevor Noah

For nonfiction with a healthy side of humor, I 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.” Still, he manages to tell his story with a satisfying, sincere mix of painful scenes, hilarious moments, and earnest reflection. This book appeals to a wide range of readers, so you’ll find it on my middle school nonfiction list, too.

It's Trevor Noah: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime (YA) by Trevor Noah

How Dare The Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana & Abigail Pesta

This gripping, inspiring memoir is the incredible story of Sandra Uwiringiyimana, a  “war child” who survived a brutal refugee camp massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In it, Sandra recounts not only her survival story, but reflects on the trauma, grief, and racism she faced after moving to the United States. But perhaps the best part is what she turned all of that into: resilience, hope, and activism. In addition to being a great addition to any high school classroom library, this book is a great option for mature middle school readers. 

How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana & Abigail Pesta
How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana & Abigail Pesta

Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive (YA Adaptation) by Laura Hillenbrand

Want something to recommend to the survival/war story-obsessed readers in your 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: high school nonfiction
Unbroken (YA) by Laura Hillenbrand

I hope these high school nonfiction books help your students learn to love a healthy dose of nonfiction in their reading diet! These are just a few of my favorites, but there are plenty of other high-interest biographies, memoirs, and other nonfiction texts available for your readers. In fact, many of the middle school nonfiction recommendations listed HERE would work for high school, too. If I’ve missed one of you or 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?

Book Recommendation Brochures
Your students will LOVE these brochures!

If you like these recommendations, then you’ll love my book recommendation brochures. The high school bundle is currently in progress and will be available soon, but you can check out the middle school collection in the meantime. 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 books (and dozens more) are featured in the different genre brochures.

These high school book brochures are the perfect way to take your book advertising to the next level! You can check out the growing collection of 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?

Want more ideas to help your students fall in love with reading? Check out the following blog posts:

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