Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Pairing Fiction and Nonfiction

I find that a lot of my more reluctant readers love informational books, even if they do not consider themselves readers.  One of the ways that I help turn those students into readers is by finding fiction books that pair well with the informational books they enjoy reading.  It’s also a great way to get tweens to try out historical fiction, a genre many of my students avoid at all costs.  Here are some of my favorite pairings.

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. is a fantastic middle grade realistic fiction novel. It pairs well with Trees, Leaves & Bark (Take-Along Guide), an informational book that will help readers identify trees in their neighborhood and town. (And while it is not nonfiction, Swinger of Birches: Poems of Robert Frost for Young People is a great book to give with Gianna Z., too!).

Operation Redwood is a realistic eco-adventure that made me want to learn more about redwood trees. It would make a fantastic companion to The Ever-Living Tree: The Life and Times of a Coast Redwood.

Moon: Science, History, And Mystery is a popular nonfiction book in my classroom right now. I love to pair it with Shooting the Moon, a historical fiction novel that takes place during the Vietnam War. It also makes a great companion to Every Soul A Star. And all of these books work well with another popular nonfiction book, Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream.

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 is a recent favorite of mine and I use it all the time in my “Journeys: The Monarch Butterfly” class when we talk about MesoAmerica. A few of my students have become very interested in ancient Mesoamerica and have gone on to read fiction set in that time period. Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow is a very popular companion to the book, as is The Seven Serpents Trilogy. Both deal with the Incan and Mayan cultures during the conquering of the New World.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer has slowly been building steam in my room. This narrative nonfiction book is being passed from student to student and they are raving about it. Many of those who finish it come to me looking for more books about Lincoln, before his death, and I have been handing them Lincoln and His Boys.

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum is a fantastic biography of the legendary P.T. Barnum. I would pair this with Tony Abbott’s great middle grade/YA mystery The Postcard.

I love dolphins and so do many of my students. Thus, Face to Face with Dolphins (Face to Face with Animals) is always a popular choice when it comes to independent reading. Lately, I have had a lot of luck pairing it with A Ring of Endless Light, a personal favorite of mine.

These are just a few suggestions for nonfiction/fiction pairings. Really, you can find a fiction companion to almost any nonfiction middle grade/YA book.  (And it works just as well the other way around!)  Do you have any favorite fiction/nonfiction pairings?  Please share them in the comments!

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

Wow.  That is all I can say about Ann E. Burg’s All The Broken Pieces. I picked this off my pile of Cybils nominees and began reading without looking at the flap cover. I was caught completely off guard by how amazing this verse novel is!

Matt Pin is haunted by his memories of Vietnam. He was born a bui doi, the dust of life, son of an American GI and Vietnamese mother during the Vietnam War. He has nightmares of falling bombs, land mines, and the awful secret he left behind in Vietnam. He was airlifted out of Vietnam at ten years old, leaving behind his mother and brother.

Through the course of the book Matt is forced to come to terms with his with his horrifying past and his American present. Unsure if he can exist in both worlds, or if he even should, he comes face to face with the effects of the Vietnam War on American soil.

This is an extremely powerful novel. As a huge Miss Saigon fan, my middle school self would have loved this book.  I found myself humming Bui Doi throughout the novel.    However, I don’t think reading the novel requires any previous knowledge of the Vietnam War. Even readers with no knowledge of the Vietnam War will close this book understanding the ramifications of war. The book explores its effects on soldiers, civilians, parents, sons, daughters, and those left behind.

The verse format of this novel also works exceptionally well. The verse is spare yet you can not breeze through it. Being in Matt’s head connects you to him more than a standard 1st person perspective. I know many of my students look for verse novels because they are less intimidating than prose novels. However, this novel is a perfect example of how deeply evocative verse novels can be.  I can’t wait to recommend this to all of my sixth graders.  It will connect with boys and girls, I think.


*Review copy courtesy of the publisher, via the Cybils. All opinions are my own and not necessarily shared by the panel as a whole.