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!

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Sports Enthusiast

Whether the tween in your life is a rabid baseball fan or a traveling soccer player, there is a book out there for them.  Sometimes, my athletes are the hardest readers to hook, as they tend to be overbooked, tired after long days on the field or watching their favorite team, and sometimes view reading as “boring”.  But don’t worry, there is a book out there for even the pickiest sports enthusiast in your life!  

Below are some favorites from my classroom:

  • Six Innings by James Preller-  In this book, there are two teams.  Two teams playing six innings.  One championship game.   Each chapter is devoted to the top of bottom of the inning, and the reader experiences the game from both sides, through the eyes of different players.  With details that make you feel like you are in the stands watching the game, you can almost hear the bats crack and see the slides into first base.   But this is more than just a simple baseball book.  Two friends are struggling to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis that has sidelined one of them, forcing him to give up baseball, the game that he loves.   It’s not just a game- it’s life for these boys.  And for everyone else, this is the last- the last game for those who will choose to play a different sport next season, the last time the teams will play together, the last hurrah.                                                                This is a book that has resonated deeply with my 6th graders, whether they are baseball fans or not.  Preller’s story is one that most tweens can identify with, especially those involved in organized sports.  A great choice for tweens, especially baseball players!


  • Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery by John Feinstein-  Sports and a mystery?  Sign me up!  Set at the Final Four, this is an action-packed mystery full of sports trivia and Final Four information.  Two eighth-graders win a writing contest that sends them to the Final Four to report for their local newspapers.  When they stumble upon blackmail threat and one team possibly throwing the game, they may have bitten off more than they can handle.  My students love that fact that throughout the story, famous basketball personalities make guest appearances, including spirited sports analyst Tony Kornheiser and well-known commentator Dick Vitale. Combined with references to real players and coaches, my kids have been eating these up since they entered my library. Feinstein is a best-selling sportswriter and his extensive sports expertise is obvious, which kids appreciate.  And the mystery is realistic and keeps my most reluctant readers turning the pages.  Plus, this is a series!  Check out Cover-up: Mystery at the Super Bowl  and Vanishing Act: Mystery at the U.S. Open, too!


  • Travel Team by Mike Lupica-  Lupica is another sportswriter-turned-children’s-author.  His sports books are go-to selections when I am suggesting books for my biggest sports fans.  His characters are easy to relate to, realistic, and multi-dimensional.  Their problems are realistic and frequently touch on current events in sports.  In this selection, Danny Walker is devastated when he doesn’t make the cut for his local travel basketball team.  He is told that he is too short, but secretly suspects he was cut because of issues with his divorced father, a former NBA player, and the coach.  But then his father announces he is starting his own travel team and Danny finally has a team.  When unexpected events happen and Danny’s dad is unable to coach, Danny himself steps in.  A great sports book that connects with my athletes and non-athletes alike, I frequently find myself recommending this one.  And once they read one Lupica book, the rest usually follow!  Other favorites include Summer Ball and Heat.


  • There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli-  Jerry Spinelli is formidable force in middle grade literature.  There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock is a tried and true favorite that always connects with my students.  When eighth-grader Maisie Potter decides to try out for the wrestling team, she has no idea that it will be a catalyst for so many issues.  Legally, the school can not keep her from participating, despite that fact that it is a boy’s team.  However, she quickly becomes a hated figure in school and the center of a media storm.  But what is constantly lost in the chaos is that Maisie is a pretty darn good wrestler!  Spinelli’s tale grabs boys and girls alike, and Maisie reminds a lot of my students of Maniac Magee (a perennial favorite read in 5th grade).  


  • We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson- This non-fiction title is absolutely stunning and baseball fans and history buffs will not be able to put it down.  Using an anonymous player as the narrator, Kadir Nelson tells the story of Negro League baseball from its beginnings in the 1920s through its decline after Jackie Robinson crossed over to the majors in 1947. Told through accessible text and accompanied by gorgeous oil paintings (done by Nelson), this is a book that no baseball fan should be without.  There is no doubt this one will be tossed about as a possible Newbery winner come January.  


  • The Million Dollar Kick by Dan Gutman-  Gutman seems to specialize in books for otherwise reluctant readers.  In The Million Dollar Kick, seventh-grader Whisper HATES soccer. Her little sister is the family athlete, and a sports star. However, Whisper is the one who is chosen as a contest participant and she must try to kick a goal past the town’s famous professional star in front of a whole stadium full of huge soccer fanatics. The prize is one million dollars.   Is the chance to win a million dollars worth the huge possibility of total and utter humiliation?  The worst part is that no one supports her! She is fairly certain her family expects her to fail. Her classmates know she won’t make the shot. It seems her only supporter is Jesse, a self-proclaimed computer geek. Does Whisper even want to be seen with him, even if he has created a laptop simulation that could help her succeed?  A funny book that will connect with those who enjoy soccer just as much as those who love realistic middle school fiction.


While this is just a small sample of the great sports books out there, I hope they help you make some great decisions for your holiday book-buying!  Stay tuned for another list tomorrow!



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