Non-fiction is the often overlooked gem in the treasure chest of literary bullion. Through glittering autobiographies and shiny history collections, younger readers can open a whole new world of richness they didn’t know existed.
So how can we get them started? Here are 12 books to turn your students onto non-fiction
1. The Secret Footballer by Anonymous (13+)
A brilliant book full of frank – and sometimes quite surprising – descriptions of life as a professional footballer playing in the English Premier League. An added bonus is trying to figure out who he is. There are many blogs online devoted to that very subject.
2. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (14+)
Beyonce sampled the TED Talk this book was taken from – need it any more endorsement than that? A wonderful, short and thought-provoking book. It was given to all 16-year-olds in Denmark with the hope it would provoke discussion about equality, femininity and what it means to be equal. It should be read by everyone.
3. Animals Behaving Badly by Nicola Davies (5+)
"Never work with children and animals," the famous saying goes…after reading this, you will know why. The farting fish are a high point – or a low point, depending on your views on toilet humour – but the design of this book means you can dip in and out. Perfect for dropping in gross facts at the end of the school day, or for parents to share before bedtime.
4. #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso (16+)
Adapted the Netflix into a series of the same name, this book is definitely one for older readers who you might be trying to reignite that flaming love of reading. Funny, quick, and cruel, Sophia’s brutally honest story charts the somewhat sticky climb to success in the vintage fashion world.
5. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford (9+)
If Brian Cox calls this book "brilliant" and tells you that you’ll be "spellbound" then you really need to pay attention. And really, who doesn’t need to know a brief history of everyone who ever lived? Exactly. Moving succinctly and methodically through the ages, Rutherford manages to make the complicated, well, not simple – but very interesting!
6. Charlie Brooker’s Screen Burn by Charlie Brooker (16+)
Mr Brooker is your go-to man for sarcasm and wit that is Sweeny-Todd sharp. Screen Burn, or any of Brooker’s review writing, is a smart way to show older teens that adult writing can be funny, rude, and relevant.
7. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson (12+)
There is something extremely enjoyable about viewing your own country through the lens of a foreigner – and Bryson’s amusing and warm retellings of very ordinary adventures result in lots of chuckles for readers young and old alike.
8. Unbelievable by Jessica Ennis (11+)
The journey from bullied school girl to record-breaking Olympian is one that will not just draw admiration, but a few tears, too. The author's impressive sporting performances make up the main part of this autobiography, but the childhood recounts of bullying and crippling insecurity will fill you with inspiration. Perfect to give you a much-needed boost of inspiration.
9. Little Library Cookbook by Kate Young (11+)
Blogger Kate Young has written many salivating recipes, but these have a little twist: they’re dishes found between the pages of your favourite classic books. You can rustle up some of Paddington Bear’s marmalade, or a warm Gryffindor treacle tart – or even Mrs Beaver’s a sweet jam roll, from deep in a Narnian wood. Some of the recipes and stories may be a little adult for younger readers, but of the 100 in there, you have plenty to feast on.
10. Hope in a Ballet Shoe by Michaela and Elaine De Prince (9+)
If your readers have already read and enjoyed Malala’s autobiography, or if you have a reader with an interest in dance, then this uplifting tale is the one to recommend. Although the accounts of war-torn Syria are full of sickening brutality, the De Prince sisters manage to inject enough hope to leave you feeling positive and upbeat, despite the horrors that are being described. Their journey was a hellish one, but now more than ever, it is important that we listen to these voices and celebrate their songs of survival.
11. Dear Jelly: Family Letters from the First World War by Sarah Ridley (8+)
Next year is the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War. These letters and ones like them are some of the only sources we have into the day-to-day lives of the soldiers who fought in the trenches and battlefields. Adjectives such as "brave" and "courageous" seem understated when considering the horrors that they faced – and in this horror, there was much love, and lightness, and humour. Proof of this can be found in these heartwarming letters, sent between siblings, evidence that despite everything we can always find time to tease our brothers and sisters.
12. The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller (11+)
Real crime has been growing in popularity for adult readers: Serial, Making a Murderer and Spotlight have all grabbed headlines in recent years. For teens, their interest may not always be matched by suitable reading material, but this book manages to avoid dwelling on grizzly details. Instead, it reveals a complex legal system and an unsolved crime.
Grainne Hallahan has been teaching English in Essex for 10 years
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