Best Nonfiction Middle to High School 2023 | SLJ Best Books

These 28 middle grade and YA nonfiction titles invite readers to delve into different facets and figures of history, science, social justice topics, and more. With a range of titles from a graphic memoir by Jerry Pinkney to a logbook-style look at an Arctic expedition to a history of the Scopes Monkey Trial that ties to contemporary censorship, there's much to explore and consider.


Abdel-Magied, Yassmin. Stand Up and Speak Out Against Racism. illus. by Aleesha Nandhra. Candlewick/Walker. ISBN 9781536231335.
Gr 4 Up–UK writer and activist Abdel-Magied and illustrator Nandhra deliver an eye-catching, comprehensive, and accessible overview of racism and its roots. Brightly colored infographics, charts, and glossaries parse difficult topics and provide helpful, actionable guidance for discussing racism and challenging inequality.

Aberg-Riger, Ariel. America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780063057531.
Gr 8 Up–In this illustrated work that features collage and unconventional text formatting, Aberg-Riger explores different facets of American history and their lasting effects on society. Including stories often untold and highlighting the contributions of diverse individuals, this unique title is compelling and thought-provoking.

Brown, Daniel James. Facing the Mountain (Adapted for Young Readers): A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II. Viking. ISBN 9780593465660.
Gr 5 Up–This focuses on four young Japanese Americans who fought for their country during World War II, three on the warfront and one as a protester in the courts—all despite the treacherous Executive Order 9066, which incarcerated all people of Japanese descent. Equal parts enraging and inspiring, this is narrative nonfiction at its best.

Day, Nicholas. The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity. illus. by Brett Helquist. Random House Studio. ISBN 9780593643846.
Gr 5 Up–Readers will be mesmerized by this gripping account of the 1911 theft of what would later become the most famous painting in the world. Day’s sly narrative, Helquist’s expressive drawings, and the mystery of La Joconde’s fate captivates until the last page.

Donnelly, Rebecca. Total Garbage: A Messy Dive into Trash, Waste, and Our World. illus. by John Hendrix. Holt. ISBN 9781250760388.
Gr 4-8–Donnelly makes garbage absolutely fascinating. Facts about what and how much we throw away, past solutions for waste, and how we can do better for our planet are all discussed in a light, conversational tone. An excellent read with a lasting impact.

Dronfield, Jeremy. The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz: A True Story Retold for Young Readers. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780063236172.
Gr 7 Up–This biography portrays the astonishing survival story of Jewish teenager Fritz and his father, determined to stay together in the Nazi death camps. Intertwined is the story of younger brother Kurt, who escaped to the United States. With elegant prose, this is a heart-pounding read of steadfast devotion in the face of almost certain death.

Edinger, Monica & Lesley Younge. Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself. Zest. ISBN 9781728464077.
Gr 7 Up–This adaptation of Olaudah Equiano’s 1789 autobiography creatively and effectively utilizes the found verse poetic form. Combining the autobiography of this formerly enslaved man who rose to be one of England’s foremost abolitionists with explanatory sidebars puts Equiano’s story in the context of historic events.

Fitzharris, Lindsey & Adrian Teal. Plague-Busters!: Medicine’s Battles with History’s Deadliest Diseases. illus. by Adrian Teal. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781547606030.
Gr 6 Up–A thoroughly engaging—albeit sometimes gross—dive into the history of medicine and deadly diseases. Packed with little-known facts about ailments that have haunted the human population for centuries, this well-researched title will fascinate readers.

Florio, John & Ouisie Shapiro. Doomed: Sacco, Vanzetti & the End of the American Dream. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250621931.
Gr 8 Up–This compelling history tells the story of the conviction of Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti through a host of primary source documents and images. The meticulously detailed, thoroughly sourced, gripping narrative compassionately contextualizes this story while vividly explaining its historic significance.

Havrelock, Deidre & Edward Kay. Indigenous Ingenuity: A Celebration of Traditional North American Knowledge. Little, Brown/Christy Ottaviano. ISBN 9780316413336.
Gr 5 Up–A thorough exploration of the historical and ongoing innovations of Indigenous North Americans from the realms of agriculture to thermodynamics, and how colonialism and persecution have necessitated adaptation. An interactive text that shines a light on essential, underrepresented Indigenous history in STEM and beyond.

Hopkinson, Deborah. Race Against Death: The Greatest POW Rescue of World War II. Scholastic/Focus. ISBN 9781338746167.
Gr 4-6–Hopkinson’s gripping narrative of the rescue of World War II prisoners from Cabanatuan Camp in the Philippines is beautifully told through individual stories. Amply illustrated with maps and photos, and with extensive source notes, this is a high-interest read and a superb resource.

Levy, Dana Alison. Breaking the Mold: Changing the Face of Climate Science. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823449712.
Gr 3-8–Levy profiles 16 boundary-pushing scientists of marginalized backgrounds from all over the world. Gorgeously designed, this volume sports stunning photos, engaging pull quotes, vibrant colors, and impeccable back matter. An inspirational text about underrepresented folks in STEM fields.

McAnulty, Stacy. Where Are the Aliens?: The Search for Life Beyond Earth. illus. by Nicole Miles. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780759553996.
Gr 4-8–In a tone that’s consistently friendly, McAnulty deftly conveys many weighty ideas from mathematics and philosophy that underpin the search for intelligent life outside Earth. Cheerful illustrations, sidebars, and boxes of “fun facts” will appeal to a wide range of readers.

McGhee, Heather. The Sum of Us (Adapted for Young Readers). Delacorte. ISBN 9780593562628.
Gr 5 Up–Economic and social policy expert McGhee blends narrative with research to explain the systemic pitfalls of the zero-sum “us versus them” racial hierarchy, a result of white supremacy. This deep dive advocates for solidarity with concrete examples and metrics of success.

Miller, Ron. The Big Backyard: The Solar System Beyond Pluto. Lerner/Twenty-First Century. ISBN 9781728475349.
Gr 8 Up–In seven quick chapters, Miller makes the complexities of outer space accessible and compelling. Through stimulating text and dynamic photographs, readers learn about the outer reaches of the solar system beyond Pluto. Fascinating and informative, an excellent resource that will keep even non–space-loving teens turning the pages.

Mufleh, Luma. From Here. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen. ISBN 9780593354452.
Gr 9 Up–Raised in 1980s Jordan, Mufleh knew she would be killed if discovered to be a lesbian. While in college in the United States, she makes the agonizing decision to apply for asylum and give up the family she loved. This gripping memoir beautifully portrays the palpable urgency of a young woman who had to save her own life to be true to herself.

Osborne, Linda Barrett. Who’s Got Mail?: The History of Mail in America. Abrams. ISBN 9781419758966.
Gr 4-8–An offbeat subject is treated here with deep research and highly engaging text, focused on the history and mission of the mail, but also on the broad diversity of the workforce. With vibrant page design and copious illustrations, this will be a quirky favorite.

Pinkney, Jerry. Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316383851.
Gr 3-7–This illustrated memoir centers the late Caldecott Medalist’s childhood in 1940s Philadelphia, capturing his voice and heart through the sepia-toned sketches and earnest recollections. Perhaps we didn’t get to read this as Pinkney had envisioned it, but for his admirers and kids everywhere, this is just perfect.

Rodgers, Allison K. We Need to Talk About Vaginas: An Important Book About Vulvas, Periods, Puberty, and Sex! illus. by Annika Le Large. Macmillan/Neon Squid. ISBN 9781684492848.
Gr 4 Up–A gynecologist discusses everything anyone would ever want to know about vaginas. In this brilliant and illustrated title, Rodgers makes all the facts about periods, pregnancy, and more accessible to children and young adults. A phenomenal work that answers the questions most kids are too nervous to ask.

Sanchez, Anita. The Monkey Trial: John Scopes and the Battle Over Teaching Evolution. HarperCollins/Clarion. ISBN 9780358457695.
Gr 8 Up–This account of the Scopes Monkey Trial seems perfectly designed to engage readers. Yet the narrative’s true genius is that it situates this almost 100-year-old trial over the teaching of evolution in schools within today’s controversies surrounding intellectual freedom, faith, and the media.

Sandler, Martin W. Shipwrecked!: Diving for Hidden Time Capsules on the Ocean Floor. Astra. ISBN 9781662602047.
Gr 5 Up–Blending adventure, history, marine science, and archaeology with a dose of technological gee-whiz, Sandler sketches the findings from seven historic shipwrecks ranging from South Africa to the Northwest Passage. Eye-catching illustrations are smoothly integrated with the dense text. This makes for excellent research or independent reading.

Sepetys, Ruta. You: The Story: A Writer’s Guide to Craft Through Memory. Viking. ISBN 9780593524381.
Gr 6 Up–Taking advice on writing from a masterful storyteller like Sepetys makes sense. Personal memoir and writing prompts are woven together seamlessly for readers to tackle cover to cover or in sections in this book that will certainly inspire the next generation of writers.

Sheinkin, Steve. Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi ­Europe. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250265722.
Gr 8 Up–In vivid language, Sheinkin recounts Rudi Vrba’s harrowing escape from the camps during World War II while contextualizing history appropriate for the intended audience. The narrative also tells of the survival of classmate Gerta Sidonová, living under an assumed identity. Dual stories build suspense while championing the teens’ survival.

Shepard, Ray Anthony. A Long Time Coming: A Lyrical Biography of Race in America from Ona Judge to Barack Obama. illus. by R. Gregory Christie. Calkins Creek. ISBN 9781662680663.
Gr 7 Up–This collective biography told through “story-poems” explores the lives of six important Black Americans and their work fighting for racial justice. With illustrations that bring to life the figures and the times they lived in, it’s a compelling work that includes extensive back matter.

Sibley, David Allen. What It’s Like to Be a Bird (Adapted for Young Readers): From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing—What Birds Are Doing and Why. Delacorte. ISBN 9780593430187.
Gr 4-8–More than a compendium of bird species, Sibley’s superior volume captures the essence of each bird, delving into the particularity of each one. His exquisitely illustrated book offers incredible yet digestible details and fascinating insights that will intrigue kids from urban to rural communities.

Slater, Dashka. Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed. Farrar. ISBN 9780374314347.
Gr 9 Up–A riveting social media firestorm at a high school in California in 2017 sets the stage for a new book by Slater, this time focused on school discipline and freedom of speech. Captivatingly crafted from interviews, news reports, and courtroom documents.

Spicer Rice, Eleanor. Unseen Jungle: The Microbes That Secretly Control Our World. illus. by Rob Wilson. Candlewick/MIT Kids. ISBN 9781536226461.
Gr 4 Up–Spicer Rice takes readers on a captivating journey through the best and worst of microbes that live in homes, yards, food, and people. Entertaining, often amusing, and sometimes disgusting, this work is a superb choice for research or leisure. A thorough bibliography is also included.

Weiss-Tuider, Katharina. Mission: Arctic: A Scientific Adventure to a Changing North Pole. illus. by Christian Schneider. tr. by Shelley Tanaka. Greystone. ISBN 9781771649568.
Gr 3-7–Weiss-Tuider, a MOSAiC team member aboard the Polarstern, shares her compelling observations of the Arctic expedition, how they impact climate research, and what they reveal about humanity’s future. The text resembles a logbook packed with stunning mixed-media images that will inspire young people to climate activism.

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