Narrative Non-Fiction for 6th Graders

Narrative non-fiction is non-fiction ("not fake") writing that "reads like a story." In good narrative non-fiction, the facts are accurate, but the author uses many of the same "writing tricks" that fiction writers use. This is a way for the author to create an interesting book that "flows well" and tells one or more true stories. An example of a non-fiction book that is NOT narrative non-fiction is The Guinness Book of World Records. The information contained in this book is often fascinating, but the book itself is a random collection of facts, not a non-fiction narrative. It is the world records themselves, not the writing style, that captures the readers' attention.

Guinea Pig Scientists: Bold Self-Experiments in Science and Medicine by Leslie Dendy and Mel Boring (J 616 DEN)

How much would you be willing to risk for science? Your money? Your reputation? Your health? Your life? This book tells about scientists who used their own bodies as a laboratory--either because they believed so strongly in their own theories--or because the experiments were so dangerous that they didn't want to risk someone else's safety.

True Everest Adventures by Paul Dowswell (J 796.522 DOW)

Can you imagine what it takes to climb Mount Everest? After finishing this book, you may long to travel to Nepal--or you may decide that the "Expedition Everest" roller coaster in Walt Disney World is as close as you want to come to the world's tallest mountain. Either way, you will come away from this book with a sense of respect for those who have dared to make the climb.

Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science by John Fleischman (J 362.197 FLE)

Everyone present was amazed that Phineas survived having an iron bar thrust through his head and out the other side, creating a hole right through his skull (and brain). The doctors who were called to treat it at first didn't believe the accident had happened as described. Once they arrived at the scene and saw his wounds with their own eyes, they did their best to treat his wounds, not expecting Phineas to survive. Much to their surprise, Phineas did survive. He lived, traveled, found a job driving stagecoaches--and taught doctors much about the human brain.

Escape: The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman (J-B Hou FLE)

Newbery award winning author Sid Fleischman began learning magic tricks as a child and grew up to become a professional magician who developed a friendship with Harry Houdini's widow. His biography of "the greatest magician of all time" offers an insider's view of the magician's world.

House of a Million Pets by Ann Hodgman (J 636.088 HOD)

A million? Well, maybe Ann Hodgman is counting the worms in the compost heap and the mealworms in her pets' refrigerator. Even if the count is not literally "one million," the author certainly has more pets than most people--and some of the pets are very unusual. Animal lovers will yearn to grow up and live a life similar to the author's.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Arthurdale Experiment by Nancy Hoffman (J 975.4 HOF)

A little boy and his pet rabbit were the inspiration for one of the most complex projects of the Great Depression: the creation of an entire town that embodied the spirit of the New Deal. Although Arthurdale is not as well-known as other New Deal programs, such as the CCC and the TVA, it was a life-changing experience for its residents.

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose (J 598.07 HOO)

Why Moonbird? Because in his lifetime, B95 has flown the distance to the moon and halfway back. In fact, that's probably an underestimate, as scientists did not start measuring the distance B95 flew until they caught and tagged him. B95 weighs only four ounces, but his grit, athleticism and endurance have made him famous among scientists and ecologists. 

Bulu: African Wonder Dog by Jim Houston (J 636.7 HOU)

Life in the African bush: lions, leopards, crocodiles--and a puppy? The author talks about starting a Wildlife Education Center in Zambia--while also raising an adopted dog--a puppy who grew up to survive a lion attack.

Ice Story: Shackleton's Lost Expedition by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (J 910 KIM)

Can you imagine spending the entire winter on the Antarctic sea, never seeing the sun rise or stepping foot on solid ground? The is only one hardship faced by the men of Shackleton's expedition (along with their dogs and cat) during the 497 days they were stranded in the Antarctic. An incredible story of courage and endurance. 

Lives of the Writers: Comedies, Tragedies, & What the Neighbors Thought by Kathleen Krull. Illustrated by Katheryn Hewitt. (J 920 KRU)

Chocolate for breakfast? Raw meat for supper? Kathleen Krull does NOT discuss simile, metaphor, and other literary devices. Instead, she creates fascinating "word portraits" of famous writers to accompany Katheryn Hewitt's caricatures. These brief glimpses into the eccentric lives of famous writers whet the readers appetite for longer works.

Angels of Mercy: The Army Nurses of World War II by Betsy Kuhn (J 940.54 KUH)

Yes, there were women in the army (and the air force and the navy) during World War II. Despite rules limiting how woman could serve, the nature of fighting in both the Pacific and Europe meant that women faced many of the same risks to their safety that male soldiers did. Betsy Kuhn takes on an underutilized perspective in writing about World War II from the point of view of female soldiers. 

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery (J-B GRA Mon)

Temple Grandin is a well-respected animal behaviorist (she may be the only scientist who has won awards from both PETA and the meat packing industry). She has autism and has also won awards for her achievements in explaining autism to neurotypicals and in advocating for herself and others with autism. The book is recommended to anyone interested in science, disabilities, or just growing up to make the world a better place.

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss. Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. (J 796.357 MOS)

What would you, an innocent American citizen, do if you and your family were ordered to leave your home, bringing only what you could carry, transported miles from your home, and forced to live in a desert prison camp? Zeni and his family responded by undertaking a project that would lift the spirits of their fellow prisoners--building a regulation playing field and creating a baseball league of thirty-two teams. This title is an excellent example of a "illustrated narrative"--books which use illustrations combined with a brief, focused story to provide a comprehensible introduction to a complex topic.

Blizzard: The Storm that Changed America by Jim Murphy (J 974.7 MUR)

The Blizzard of 1888 was a national disaster of epic proportions. Jim Murphy not only tells many true life survival stories--he describes how the blizzard (and the resulting media coverage) forever changed the way the United States responds to (and tries to predict) natural disasters.

Caught by the Sea: My Life on Boats by Gary Paulsen (J-B Pau PAU)

The author of Hatchet tells of his own sailing experiences--he describes both fighting for survival when battling storms and tranquil moments spent at sea. You'll come away with a deeper understanding of how Paulsen's love of, and respect for, nature inspires his adventure books. 

How Angel Peterson Got His Name and Other Outrageous Tales of Extreme Sports by Gary Paulsen (J-B Pau PAU)

The author of Hatchet was once a boy, hanging out with a group of friends looking to create more excitement than was readily available in their quiet community. You'll laugh out loud reading about their "don't-try-this-at-home" adventures.

White House Kids: The Perks, Pleasures, Problems, and Pratfalls of the Presidents' Children by Joe Rhatigan (J 973.09 RHA)

Would you want to live in the White House? If your parent were president, you'd get to live in a mansion with its own bowling alley, swimming pool, and elevators. Of course, the secret service would follow you everywhere (even when you just wanted to hang out with your friends) and your parent would have the most demanding job in the country. Don't make up your mind quite yet--first read Joe Rhatigan's book to get a fuller ideas of the pros and cons of being a president's kid.

Trapped in Ice by Martin Sandler (J 693.2 SAN)

You have probably heard of the Titanic, but do you know about Arctic Disaster of 1871? The Titanic tragedy involved one ship; the Arctic Disaster of 1871 involved an entire fleet: 32 ships and 1,219 men, women, and children. A true tale of courage, determination, and survival. 

Duped!: True Stories of the World's Best Swindlers (J 364.16 SCH) and Scams!: Ten Stories that Explore Some of the Most Outrageous Swindlers and Tricksters of all time (J 364.163 SCH), both titles by Andreas Schroeder

Aliens landed in New Jersey? A car that runs on ordinary tap water? Would you be fooled by these and other tricks and swindles featured in these books? Hundreds of people were!

"You Wouldn't Want To" series (Various authors--see separate reading list for individual titles and information on where they are located)

Warning: This series is not for the faint of heart. It can get gory. However, if you are the kind of person who is intrigued by such historical "highlights" as the Donner Party and the Curse of King Tut, you won't be disappointed by this illustrated series.