New Nonfiction for Teens (& Tweens)

I couldn’t put this book down – Marching to the Mountaintop by Ann Bausum (National Geographic, 2012). In the introduction, Bausum describes the grim working conditions of the Memphis sanitation workers who were treated like the garbage they collected. The first chapter starts with the gripping death of two workers who, trying to escape the rainy weather, crawled into the clutches of the garbage truck and were swallowed alive by the compacting unit. Ghastly. No wonder they decided to strike. 1968. This leads into the last days of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life as he endeavored to inspire this group to continue striking peacefully, giving one of the most powerful speeches of his career with the words “I’ve been to the mountaintop…And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” Less than 24 hours later MLK was assassinated.

This book reveals the power of a group – a community of believers – to come together and change society. I was swept along with them – wanting their lives to change, wanting society to realize its role in crushing or empowering citizens to live decent lives and to be actively engaged in the world around them. More importantly, I started thinking about how Bausum’s themes are relevant today. What can we learn from these courageous people? What should we do in response? This book would read aloud well to students – especially if you could put the book on a document camera to project the photos and other features or this would make a good text for small groups of teens to read and discuss.

The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O’Connell & Donna M. Jackson with Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell & Timothy Rodwell.

This series is turning upside down what students (as readers) may think scientists do for a living. Scientists are not locked in a lab somewhere with a white coat. Dr. O’Connell is actually in a temporary camp in the Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa with a team of researchers who are observing and investigating the behavior patterns of elephant – including collecting and analyzing elephant dung. The major focus of their work is confirming O’Connell’s theory that elephants communicate by sending and receiving messages through the ground. They can sense vibrations from miles away – vibrations that indicated the presence of friend or foe.

This is another in the Scientists in the Field series, a series that has won several awards for the quality of the text and illustrations. The photos alone could lead to important conversations if groups of teens (or tweens) read this in a literature (nonfiction) circle. Essential questions for discussion might include simply “Why bother? Why is O’Connell’s team’s work important?” and “What does this inspire?”

Relevant Common Core State Standards

Reading Standards for Informational Text-

  • Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas. (8th grade)
  • Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text…(11th-12th)

Speaking & Listening Standards –

  • Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (6th-8th)
  • Initiate and participate effective in a range of collaborative discussions (9th-12th)
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