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.

George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen (J 973.385)

"Washington did not really outfight the British, he simply outspied us," said the head of British intelligence operations for the war. Certainly, esponiage on both sides played a large role in the war, and spies, double agents, and misinformation played a key role in many American victories, on and off the battlefield.

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 in pursuit of a scientific breakthrough? 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.

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 Dick 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? That 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. 

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. 

We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson (J 323.1196)

Have you ever been told that you can't do something because you're "just a kid"? After you've read this book, you'll have all the information you need to back up your response that "Kids can do amazing things. In 1963, kids changed the world!"

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 away, and forced to live in a desert prison camp? This is a difficult question to ponder, but it is something that really did happen to many kids in 1942. This particular title by Marissa Moss is an excellent example of an "illustrated narrative," brief books intended to stimulate discussion on difficult topics.

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.

Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson (J 973.049 NEL)

You know about the Civil War and you know about the Civil Rights Movement, but do you know what came in between? Do you know how the assasination of an archduke in Europe impacted where people live in the United States? Kadir Nelson does the seemingly impossible by condensing all of American history (including answers to the above questions) into a very readable 101 pages. He is able to do this because he uses the narrative device of an African-American grandmother telling her family histroy. This is narrative non-fiction at its very best.

Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim (J 940.53 OPP)

Sometimes circumstances are extremely unfair. Sometimes unfairness stems from other people's bad behavior--and nothing you say can convince them to behave otherwise. What do you do then? This is the type of situation that Miss Breed faces. Her inspired response shows that courage and compassion are never wasted, even when external circumstances do not seem to change.

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.

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

What would you do if someone told you that aliens had landed in NJ? Or that a new renewable form of energy called "etheric force" had been discovered? These, and other swindles and scams described in the books, were greeted by scepticism by some, but believed by thousands of others.

Robbers!: True Stories of the World's Most Notorious Theives by Andreas Schroeder (J 364.15 SCH)

There may be no such thing as a "perfect crime," but there are many crimes worth reading about! Aspiring detectives & forensic scientists, along with mystery lovers, will be fascinated by these true crime stories.

If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World's People by David Smith (J 304.6 SMI)

Don't be fooled by this book's resemblance to a picture book--it is actually a tool for understanding statistics that is geared towards middle school students. Statistics involving 7 billion+ people can be difficult to visualize. In this book, David Smith uses the metaphor of the world as a village of 100 people to make statistics about the world's population easier to comprehend.