10 for 10: Nonfiction Books I Could Not Teach Without

The Nonfiction Picture Book event 10 for10 is a wonderful event hosted by Cathy at Reflect and Refine  ,  Julie  of Write at the Edge, and Mandy , of Enjoy and Embrace Learning
Everyone participating has to ask themselves the following questions:

  • What are 10 nonfiction books you cannot live without in your classroom? 
  • What books do your students love?  
  • What nonfiction books would you suggest for other educators?  

Here, in no particular order, is my list:

1. Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a Job: The Birmingham Children’s March  the inspiring story of the children of Birmingham, Alabama, who decide to stand up and march in for civil rights.

Told from the “then and now” perspective of three students who participated in the march –  Audrey Faye Hendricks (9), Washington Booker (14), James Stewart (15), and Arnetta Streeter (16) – this is an eye-opening account of their courage in facing the infamous segregationist Bull Connor and his posse of brutal law enforcement officers.   Levinson’s website has marvelous activities for students and resources for teachers to extend research and learning about this important era in our nation’s journey to civil rights for all its citizens. 

2. A Black Hole is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano and Michael Carroll:

How awesome is it to pick up a science book and be invited in with this line: In outer space, mysterious entities called black holes seem up to no good.  Of course, one wants to read on!  The engaging text is informative and entertaining, and the many nonfiction visual clues (illustrations, diagrams, font styles and sizes, maps, and so on) are exactly what I’d hoped to find in a mentor text.  

3. And the Soldiers Sang written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Gary Kelly is a stunning account of a real life miracle.  On Christmas of 1914, soldiers on both sides of the long stretch of the Western Front set down their guns to celebrate one night of peace and hope.  Owen Davies, the fictional narrator of this true episode in history, raises his beautiful voice to sing “First Noel” across the battle weary expanse of no-man’s land.  A German soldier sings in response, inviting an evening of camaraderie.  As Owen dares to wonder if this truce is able to stop the fighting for good, his life is claimed by a sniper, “carrying me from the earth on that voyage all creatures must take.”   Poetically written and illustrated with hauntingly beautiful paintings, this is a powerful book.    

4. When The Wolves Returned by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent: 

The story of why the wolves were removed in the first place, and the resulting disappearance of badgers, birds and certain species of trees from Yellowstone between 1926 and 1995, is nothing short of remarkable.  It really is a story of what happens when man interferes with nature’s balance.  With the re-introduction of wolves, Yellowstone seems to be returning to the way it was when first discovered. The wild life photographs are remarkable – there are wide angle shots to give the reader a sense of the majestic expanse of the park, and close ups for revealing views of baby elk, owls and badgers.  Patent’s text is engaging and informative, and I think my kids will fascinated to learn  how fragile nature’s balance really is.  This is a wonderful book to launch a photo essay unit of study.

5. Looking Back: A Book of Memories by Lois Lowry:
 Looking Back
This is another book I love using for our memoir genre study.  Lowry shares photographs from her childhood and the stories that lie behind the pictures. The writing is just so beautiful and evocative.

6.   I have a Dream: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson:
The book contains a synopsis of the speech, the full text of the speech and a CD of Dr. King’s speech. 

This is just a glorious book – and not just for MLK Day, either.  We studied the paintings for units in social studies as well as read the text for writing and reading workshops.

7.  Doreen Rappaport’s Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust.  

Beyond Courage is  a history of  Jewish resistance across many countries and in many forms. In five separate sections, Rappaport traces the deepening crises facing Jews across Europe as they come to realize that the faith they treasure and honor puts them at the center of Hitler’s maniacal cross-hairs.  They may have lived in Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands  for many generations, but now they are outcasts in their homelands, living in grave danger.  How to survive? How to fight back? How to keep hope?   This is one of our topic based nonfiction book club selections.

8.  Tonya Bolden’s  Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty:

This book has become an important part of my unit on the Civil War. This is  the story of what led Lincoln to issue the Proclamation is complicated, and the Bolden does a masterful job of telling this story in a clear and engaging way.  The many archival photographs, maps and letters bring the story to further life; and I also loved the fact that the pages of the book were designed to look antique, with frayed edges and creases running down its sides – you really feel as though you are holding an old book telling a very important story. 

9. When I Was Your Age: Original Stories About Growing Up:
I could not envision teaching memoir without this collection of life stories from authors such as James Howe and Mary Pope Osborne.  Each story is a treasure.

10. Heart and Soul, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson:

“The story of America and African Americans is a story of hope and inspiration and unwavering courage. But it is also the story of injustice; of a country divided by law, education, and wealth; of a people whose struggles and achievements helped define their country. This is the story of the men, women, and children who toiled in the hot sun picking cotton for their masters; it’s about the America ripped in two by Jim Crow laws; it’s about the brothers and sisters of all colors who rallied against those who would dare bar a child from an education. It’s a story of discrimination and broken promises, determination and triumphs” (from the jacket copy).  
I use this beautiful book in my social studies classes over any number of units of study.


8 thoughts on “10 for 10: Nonfiction Books I Could Not Teach Without

  1. I love many of these too, Tara. What a dilemma as to what to choose! I especially love that last one, When I Was Your Age is fabulous-I've loaned it out more than once! Thanks for all-the only one I really don't know is Beyond Courage. I'll be sure to note it! Have you read Miep Gies' book about her time with the Franks? I think you & your class would enjoy it. Have a great week!

  2. Tara, what a gift to share this list. I like Looking Back. I just pulled When I Was Your Age out of my never-ending stack of books to read and moved it to the top of the pile. Now I'm off to request some new titles from the library!

  3. My mom recently finished and recommended Beyond Courage. I admitted to her that it had been in my book stack for months. I just hadn't read it yet. Ack. Now you're recommending it. That means two people I trust are giving me advice. Time to put it on the top of my ever-growing stack!Great list, Tara!

  4. Tara, you have assembled a list that will have something for everyone. History, science, biography, memoir, war and civil rights. Non-fiction really helps tell the story of a person or a country. Lots of familiar titles here, but I love When Soldiers Sang. It's so poignant.Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hi, Tara. I found your ten for ten fascinating. I love your list's civil rights/history slant. If you like Beyond Courage, you might also like a Holocaust themed book for kids by a Maryland author, Debbie Levy. It's called "A Year of Goodbyes" and is based on family letters and photographs. Here's the link: http://debbielevybooks.com/

  6. Tara,What a great list! I have seen A Black Hole Is Not a Hole on several lists. I'm going to have to check it out. I'm looking forward to sharing your list with my husband. He teaches 8th grade and does a social justice (civil rights movement, Holocaust, etc.) unit. I know some of these books will be perfect for building background knowledge and leading students into more difficult texts.Glad you joined the conversation,Cathy

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