Narrative Nonfiction Hotlist

Narrative nonfiction reads like a novel, but the stories are true. It’s a great way for kids to learn about the world, and appeals to to lovers of fiction and whatever topic a given book covers. Here’s an overview of Narrative Nonfiction and a look at some of our best-selling narrative nonfiction titles!

Run, Sea Turtle, Run: A Hatchling’s Journey

  • Interest Level: Preschool – Grade 3    
  • Reading Level: Grade 2

“Can you hear me? Scritch, scratch. I’m a little sea turtle inside an egg.”

Follow a hatchling’s treacherous journey from nest to sea. Longtime science writer Stephen Swinburne creates an engaging first-person narrative from the sea turtle’s perspective. Gorgeous photographs by Guillaume Feuillet capture the drama of the hatchlings’ race to safety. Back matter includes information on the life cycle of leatherback sea turtles, tips for how readers can assist with sea turtle conservation, and recommended further reading.

The Most Beautiful Thing

  • Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3    
  • Reading Level: Grade 2

A warmhearted and tender true story about a young girl finding beauty where she never thought to look.

Drawn from author Kao Kalia Yang’s childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee, this moving picture book portrays a family with a great deal of love and little money. Weaving together Kalia’s story with that of her beloved grandmother, the book moves from the jungles of Laos to the family’s early years in the United States.

When Kalia becomes unhappy about having to do without and decides she wants braces to improve her smile, it is her grandmother—a woman who has just one tooth in her mouth—who helps her see that true beauty is found with those we love most. Stunning illustrations from Vietnamese illustrator Khoa Le bring this intergenerational tale to life.

“A deep and moving reflection on enduring hardship and generational love. . . . Poignant storytelling with stunning visuals.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

“A sincere narrative that centers on the power of family love.”—starred, School Library Journal

Minnesota Book Award Finalist, ALA Notable Children’s Book, New York Public Library Best Book for Kids, NPR Best Book of the Year

Sports All-Stars (Lerner™ Sports)

  • Interest Level: Grade 2 – Grade 5    
  • Reading Level: Grade 3

This high-interest series is sure to score with sports fans, reluctant readers, and report writers. Action-packed titles cover high-profile sports superstars and explain how the athletes got to the top, how they maintain their bodies and their skills, what they like to do for fun, and much more. More interesting than cradle-to-grave bios, these titles focus on the biggest games, the most defining moments, and the intriguing facts and fun aspects that make these superstar athletes who they are.

The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just

  • Interest Level: Grade 1 – Grade 4    
  • Reading Level: Grade 3

“A must-purchase picture book biography of a figure sure to inspire awe and admiration among readers.”—School Library Journal (starred review)
Extraordinary illustrations and lyrical text present pioneering African American scientist Ernest Everett Just.

Ernest Everett Just was not like other scientists of his time. He saw the whole, where others saw only parts. He noticed details others failed to see. He persisted in his research despite the discrimination and limitations imposed on him as an African American. His keen observations of sea creatures revealed new insights about egg cells and the origins of life.
Through stunning illustrations and lyrical prose, this picture book presents the life and accomplishments of this long overlooked scientific pioneer.

Let ‘Er Buck! George Fletcher, the People’s Champion

  • Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 6   
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

“Nelson plaits her narrative with Western lingo and homespun similes. . . . James’ painterly oils swirl with energy, visible daubs creating the dusty, monumental landscape and equally monumental horses and humans. . . . A champion indeed.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The true tale of a cowboy’s epic rodeo ride from acclaimed author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Caldecott Honoree Gordon C. James.

In 1911, three men were in the final round of the famed Pendleton Round-Up. One was white, one was Indian, and one was black. When the judges declared the white man the winner, the audience was outraged. They named black cowboy George Fletcher the “people’s champion” and took up a collection, ultimately giving Fletcher far more than the value of the prize that went to the official winner. Award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson tells the story of Fletcher’s unlikely triumph with a western flair that will delight kids—and adults—who love true stories, unlikely heroes, and cowboy tales.

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion

  • Interest Level: Grade 2 – Grade 5  
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

A visually stunning look at innovative and eye-popping measures used to protect ships during World War I.
During World War I, British and American ships were painted with bold colors and crazy patterns from bow to stern. Why would anyone put such eye-catching designs on ships?
Desperate to protect ships from German torpedo attacks, British lieutenant-commander Norman Wilkinson proposed what became known as dazzle. These stunning patterns and colors were meant to confuse the enemy about a ship’s speed and direction. By the end of the war, more than four thousand ships had been painted with these mesmerizing designs.
Author Chris Barton and illustrator Victo Ngai vividly bring to life this little-known story of how the unlikely and the improbable became just plain dazzling.

Follow Those Zebras: Solving a Migration Mystery

From the Series Sandra Markle’s Science Discoveries

  • Interest Level: Grade 4 – Grade 6  
  • Reading Level: Grade 5

Every year in Namibia, about two thousand zebras suddenly disappear from their grazing area along the Chobe River. Months later, the herd returns. Where do they go? And why? Thanks to satellite-tracking collars, scientists were able to solve the mystery, but several questions remain. Award-winning science author Sandra Markle reveals the process scientists used to study the zebras, and she also delves into the science of migration, exploring how animals know where to go, how to get there, and when to leave.

Gateway Biographies

  • Interest Level: Grade 4 – Grade 8    
  • Reading Level: Grade 5

Discover the human side of key newsworthy and historical figures. Each biography in this easy-reading series is peppered with quotes and childhood stories, accounts of successes and failures, and descriptions of the inspirational sources and experiences that influenced the person’s achievements. Detailed timelines and indexes make these valuable reference resources.

50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet, 3rd Edition

  • Interest Level: Grade 6 – Grade 12    
  • Reading Level: Grade 6

How quickly can you name 50 American heroes?

50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet introduces readers to a diverse cast of great Americans. The remarkable stories of fifty inspiring Americans are highlighted, from Jane Addams to Louis Zamperini. Among our heroes are architects and aviators, activists and scientists, entrepreneurs and advocates. They are teachers, musicians, inventors, and athletes. Some are well known. Others deserve to be. Some of our heroes lived long ago. Others continue to enrich our world today. Our heroes share admirable qualities: exceptional talent, fierce determination, and indomitable spirit. They are courageous and confident and possess an unwavering commitment to being the best they can be.

Theodosia Burr: Teen Eyewitness to the Founding of the New Nation

  • Interest Level: Grade 6 – Grade 12    
  • Reading Level: Grade 8

Theodosia Burr, daughter of Vice President Aaron Burr, came of age in New York City when the New Nation was growing up. She attended the inauguration of President George Washington in 1789, was at her father’s side on the campaign trail and at his inauguration in 1801, attended presidential addresses to Congress, and hosted the most prominent politicians and thinkers of her time.

The Burrs’ ideas about educating young women were revolutionary. Theodosia was an experiment in the equal treatment of women—regardless of social status—in education, family life, society, and the law. The family believed that women had an important role to play in the New Nation, and Theodosia was fully prepared.

Based on research at libraries and archives, and from the rich body of letters Theodosia and her family left behind, this historical narrative introduces readers to a most unusual girl who pursued a radical new path for women.

The Dozier School for Boys: Forensics, Survivors, and a Painful Past

  • Interest Level: Grade 8 – Grade 12   ·  
  • Reading Level: Grade 8

Some true crimes reveal themselves in bits and pieces over time. One such case is the Florida School for Boys, a.k.a. the Dozier School, a place where—rather than reforming the children in their care—school officials tortured, raped, and killed them. Opened in 1900, the school closed in 2011 after a Department of Justice investigation substantiated allegations of routine beatings and killings made by about 100 survivors. Thus far, forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle and her team from the University of South Florida have uncovered fifty-five sets of human remains. Follow this story of institutional abuse, the brave survivors who spoke their truth, and the scientists and others who brought it to light.

Narrative Nonfiction is a category of Melissa Stewart’s Five Kinds of Nonfiction. This post is part of a weekly series of guest articles by nonfiction authors about their craft, their process, and their amazing books. Stay tuned each week to learn more by visiting the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction page for poster and flyer downloads, curated booklists and more. You can also follow the Lerner Blog’s 5 Kinds of Nonfiction series, or the hashtag #5KNF on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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