Your favourite non-fiction books to teachIn response to my last post about immature Grade 12 students, scarletpimpernel responded with an excellent idea of using non-fiction books to try and engage...

Your favourite non-fiction books to teach

In response to my last post about immature Grade 12 students, scarletpimpernel responded with an excellent idea of using non-fiction books to try and engage the male contingent of my class. This was the suggested list:

Columbine by David Cullen

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Devil in the White City by Eric Larson

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Either of the Freakonomics Books

The Burn Journals

Stiff (a book about how human cadavers are used)

What non-fiction books have you/do you/would you like to use in your teaching and why?


Expert Answers
scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I didn't include Night earlier because it's part of my district's sophomore curriculum, but my students (male and female) really get into Wiesel's memoir. I'm always surprised at how little my 10th graders seem to know about the Holocaust prior to reading Night. In the past, I've paired Night with Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza which tells about her experience during the Rwandan holocaust. It's an easy read and suited for lower level readers.

One of my students found a nonfiction book for her choice reading entitled Burned Alive: A Victim of the Law of Men by Souad. It's about an attempted honor killing. I read the book this summer, and it's extremely interesting. I would offer it only as a choice book, though, because it's quite controversial (which is why my students this year have liked it).

Post 4, thanks for the tip about Chickenhawk. I had heard about it a couple of years ago, and the title slipped my mind. I've added it to my personal reading list and will probably end up offering it with Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I haven't taught it, but The Jungle by Sinclair immediately comes to mind.  The gruesome and horrific conditions of the meat packing industry in Chicago nearly a century ago are historically interesting, especially in light of our current food safety concerns in this country, most recently with the egg industry.  Using this novel could create a connection to a real-life research component in regards to organic food, eating locally, genetically engineered food, etc. 

Another related book from the current decade is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  She recounts the story of the year her family moved to a piece of land in West Virginia(?) and tried to live only on food they themselves produced, or bought from other local producers.  It is very readable, not "scary," and Kingsolver is such an excellent writer that the prose is excellent.

copelmat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've always had great experiences with Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Although written in 1946, the two parts of the book work together very well to catch the attention of students in part I--Frankl's retelling of his experiences in Nazi concentration camps--and then in part II by explaining Frankl's theory of logotherapy and the need to search for meaning as a primary motivating force in human life. It causes most students to step outside themselves, consider the world and their place in it, and begin thinking about the kind and quality of life they desire to live.

ajmchugh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've also had lots of success with Wiesel's Night, and in the past, I've worked with members of the history department to align our curricula for such a unit.  Also, many of my students read The Diary of Anne Frank, so they've already been exposed to Holocaust nonfiction. 

I agree with mwestwood that In Cold Blood might work well (depending on what level you're teaching).

For American Lit courses, there are lots of slave narratives that can be used alone or paired with works of fiction.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We had a teacher cadet class for a few years in my school that required students to choose from the following list:

Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire by Rafe Esquith
The Freedom Writers by Erin Gruwell
Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell

Tons of students in this class did book projects for MY class with one of these books - and honestly, I loved the student-responses to seeing the world of education from the other side.  It was great to see kids "thinking like teachers."

sboeman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Good books suggested so far.  I think I would add Greg Mortensen's Three Cups of Tea and Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran to the list for some more difficult reading.

I recommended these books to some more advanced readers in my ELA 11 class.  Three Cups has become pretty popular, and there is an easier-to-read version of it out there as well.

These books deal with other cultures and touch on the themes of oppression, hardship, etc.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I teach a military history class, and the book Chickenhawk, by Robert Mason about a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War is a wonderful eyewitness account to the entire experience, from recruitment and training to repeated service in Vietnam and some of its aftermath. 

The war is so far removed from today's students, I found this book can really bring home what it was like for them.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Night, The Kiterunner, there are several books (a series I think?) by muslim women which tell what life is like for women in Muslim countries...the one I read was Princess:A True Story of Life Behind the Veil...very captivating!

Others I would suggest are Life Freaks Me Out and Then I Deal With It,  It was Never About a Hotdog and Coke, and First Do No Harm.


mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What about Truman Capote's In Cold Blood ?  This book broke ground for the new genre of journalist novel.  There has been a fairly recent movie about this first serial killing in American, so students may be curious to read the book.  Capote is always a compelling author, as well, and boys usually like bloody stories.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Without specifying a particular book, I like reading nonfiction books on interesting topics.  So do my students!  I try to choose books that relate to our fiction books, or to history or science material the students are studying.  This way, we all get more bang for our buck!

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would certainly agree with the first post that included Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. Students still identify with The Diary of Anne Frank and it is a great lead-in to further discussions and study on the Holocaust.

kgrashot | Student

The Little Engine that Could is my favorite non-fiction and children's book to teach. The message is powerful and the children love it! I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.....

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