Archive for Nonfiction

My Favorite YA Books of 2016


And … we’re back!  To celebrate the start of the new year, here’s a new in-depth episode featuring a list of my favorite YA books of 2016.  Here you’ll find lots of titles that made many other top 10 lists, as well as other books that didn’t make as many lists but which I thought were awesome and which definitely deserve some love!

Here are the titles I selected as my favorites of 2016.  Listen to the episode to find out why!


Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

With Malice by Eileen Cook

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston

When We Collided by Emery Lord

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Breakfast With Neruda by Laura Moe

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace


How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman with adaptation & artwork by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

The Gods Lie by Kaori Ozaki

Paper Girls 1 by Brian K Vaughan

I Hate Fairyland Vol 1 by Skottie Young


Diary of a Tokyo Teen: A Japanese-American Girl Travels to the Land of Trendy Fashion, High-Tech Toilets and Maid Cafes by Christine Mari Inzer

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes


Booktalk: Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes

Ten Days a Madwoman cover

When I first saw a copy of Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes that had been returned to my library, I jumped at the chance to read it.  I’ve been a huge fan of Nellie Bly for years, and while a lot of attention went to her “Around the World in 80 Days” stunt, I was always much more fascinated by the stunt that got her foot in the door and her name in the headlines: faking insanity to write an expose of what it was really like inside a lunatic asylum.  It’s a great story about women’s history and New York history, and it will definitely appeal to readers who like nonfiction stories that are “ripped from the headlines!”


Nellie Bly wanted to get her name in the paper.  Specifically, she wanted to become a reporter for one of the many newspapers in New York City.  But even though she’d already been a reporter in Pittsburgh, when she went to the New York newspapers, every single one said no.  At the end of the 19th century, most newspapers didn’t hire female writers.  If they DID hire women, there were only a few topics that editors wanted to hear about.  Topics like how to clean your house, or how to be more fashionable.  But Nellie Bly wanted to report on something REAL.  She wanted to report on something, uncover something, discover the truth about something … but first, someone had to give her a chance.

Finally, the editor of a newspaper called The World gave her that chance.  He asked her if she could pretend to be insane and get herself committed to the lunatic asylum on Blackwell’s Island.  If she could do that, then THAT would be a story.  After she got out of the asylum, she could write about what conditions were really like there.  She could be the person who could reveal to the world what it was like in that dark, secret, and dangerous place.

But for Nellie to write this story, a couple of things had to happen first, and each one was risky.  First, she had to act crazy enough in public to get sent to the asylum.  She had to fool a lot of people, including doctors, to make them believe that she was really crazy.  If that part of the plan worked, then she had to survive in the asylum until she was rescued.  The other patients might be dangerous, and the staff might be dangerous, too.  And then if she survived … well, then she needed to be rescued.  Nellie had no control over that part of the plan.  The newspaper staff would try to rescue her when she’d been in the asylum for a week, but they weren’t quite sure how they were going to do it.  Nellie was literally putting her life in the hands of her new employers to get a story.

But she decided that getting the story was worth the risk.  Getting a job was worth the risk.  And being taken seriously as a reporter was worth the risk.  She had no idea how much this decision would change her life, her career, and the careers of all the women who followed in her footsteps.

Booktalk: The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook by Rosanna Pansino

Nerdy Nummies Cookbook cover

I’m always on the lookout for nonfiction books that I can share with teens, and I’m ESPECIALLY on the lookout for “show and tell” format books that I can use to engage my audience no matter what their reading / attention level.  I found this book in my library’s adult collection, but I instantly knew that it would be a big hit with teens.

When presenting this booktalk to a class, I would first make sure that I’d marked the pages I wanted to show with sticky notes or page markers, and then I would show each picture to the class while I talked.  When booktalking a title like this I’d recommend marking pictures that look interesting to you, and then seeing if you can find something interesting to point out about each one.  If I’m addressing a large class but trying to show everyone a page in a particular book, I usually end up trying to find something to say to fill the silence while I walk from one side of the room to the other.

The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook is based on Rosanna Pansino’s very popular YouTube channel, so you can engage your audience even more by directing them to the videos for fun recipes that they can watch online.


Maybe you’re a nerd.  Maybe you’re a geek.  Maybe you’re into fantasy, science fiction, math, science, outer space, gaming, and more!

This unique cookbook is based on Nerdy Nummies, the internet’s most popular baking show.  You’ll learn how to make basic recipes like apple pie, pound cake, red velvet cake, brownies, cookies, and royal icing.  And then you’ll learn how to adapt those recipes to make very unusual, cool, and photogenic treats that you’ll just HAVE to show off!

You can use this book to learn how to make recipes like:

Chemistry Lab Cake

Periodic Table of Cupcakes

Moon Cake

Earth Cake

Unicorn Poop Cookies (because OF COURSE unicorn poop is made of rainbows!)

Loch Ness Cupcakes

Robot Brownie Pops

Zombie Brain Cake

Video Game Controller Cookies

Wi Fi Cheesecake

Smart Cookies

Comic Book Cookies

Nerd Bird Cupcakes
You can let your imagination and your taste buds run wild with this one-of-a-kind cookbook!

Booktalk: Ask the Past by Elizabeth P. Archibald

Ask the Past cover

I first heard about Ask the Past when I was listening to an episode of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast.  Elizabeth P. Archibald was being interviewed, and she talked about how she’d started the Ask the Past blog which turned into the Ask the Past book.  Even though this book was written for an adult audience, I thought that it might be worth reading because I’m always looking for nonfiction books (especially funny nonfiction books to balance out all of my depressing fiction books) that I could share with teens.  I was pleased to discover that this would be a great book to share with teens, although I am leaning towards high school rather than middle school because of the book’s higher reading level.

Also, I just wanted to mention that this is one of my favorite types of booktalks.  It’s basically a list, and if I leave out some of the items on the list it’s okay and if I rearrange the order of the items on the list it’s also okay.  This is always a good quality in a booktalk which can be very helpful if I lose my place while I’m talking or if I see that the kids in my audience don’t have the attention span I thought they did and I need to cut things short.


Sometimes you can get good advice by listening to people who are older than you.  Your parents and even your grandparents can try to point you in the right direction, and sometimes their advice will be good and sometimes it’ll be too old-fashioned and it won’t work.

This book is filled with advice that is much older than your parents or your grandparents.  It’s filled with advice from books that are hundreds of years old!  Sometimes the advice still works, but more often it’s really REALLY ridiculous.  For example, people used to believe:

  • that you could cure a nosebleed by using powdered toad
  • that you could cure insomnia by putting lettuce in your bed
  • that if you wanted to check if someone was alive or dead you should apply roasted onion to his nostrils (because if he was alive, he would scratch his nose)
  • that if you want to attack a ship you should throw jars of soap and hog’s fat to make the deck slippery so your enemies will fall down
  • that you could lose weight by eating bread, butter, and 3-4 cloves of garlic every morning and every evening
  • that you could cure seasickness by putting dirt under your nose
  • that you could cure laryngitis by applying a thin piece of raw beef to your forehead overnight
  • that you could get your hair to grow back by rubbing your bald spots with ground onions
  • that you could get rid of mosquitoes by fumigating your home with elephant dung
  • that you could win a court case if you carried the teeth, skin, and eyes of a wolf with you, and …
  • that you could heal a wound by covering it with a piece of raw bacon

You can learn all about these pieces of unusual advice and many more by reading —

Ask the Past: Pertinent and Impertinent Advice From Yesteryear by Elizabeth P. Archibald

Booktalk: Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen

Popular cover

Since most of the YA books I read are fiction and many of those are dark and depressing, I’m always on the lookout for nonfiction titles and for books that are sweet and uplifting at their core.  Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen succeeds on both counts!


This is the true story of a girl who tried to do something brave.  She tried to come out of her shell and become popular.  In order to transform herself, she used a book called Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide.  Betty Cornell wrote that book in 1951, and Maya’s father had bought a copy of that book at a thrift store before Maya was born.

Maya decided to see if advice that was over 60 years old would still work today, and if it could help her transform into something she definitely wasn’t.  Because up until now Maya had been quiet and shy, she only had a few friends, and she hated talking to strangers.  But when she was in 8th grade Maya used this book to learn how to use Vaseline instead of makeup on her eyes, how to brush her hair 100 times before she went to sleep at night, how to close her pores with ice cubes, how to wear pearls, how to stand tall, how to talk to strangers, and how to transform herself into a whole new person.





Booktalk: How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg

How They Croaked cover

How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg combines two of my favorite qualities.  It’s a collective biography, which has added appeal for readers who are intimidated by the idea of reading “a whole book,” PLUS it has plenty of gross-out appeal!  Frankly, any day that I can ominously ask a group of kids if they’ve had lunch yet is a good day for me.

Collective biographies also have an extra plus in the booktalking department, which is that if you lose your place and forget someone, it’s okay.  I’ve shortened this booktalk since I first wrote it — I also talked about Cleopatra and Mozart in earlier versions of this booktalk, but those were the people most likely to leave my head so they didn’t make the final cut.

While this has been one of the more entertaining books I’ve shared during class visits recently (it’s been circulating more than most of the fiction books I’ve shared!) it’s also been one of the more frustrating ones.  That’s because I’ve had to do lots of stopping and starting as students interrupt me to ask the meanings of words — “guillotine” and “croaked” have been recent stumpers.  And talking about this book has led to more follow-up questions from students and teachers alike who want to know about how other famous people died.  So I’ve definitely learned that this booktalk might take longer than I expect!


How They Croaked is a nonfiction book, which means that all of the stories in here are absolutely true.  And MOST of the stories are pretty gross.  In fact, the introduction to this book begins with a warning that says If you don’t have the guts for gore, don’t read this book!  

Uh … you guys haven’t had lunch yet, right?

Okay, so let me tell you about some of the people you can read about in this book.  Some famous deaths happened from a very direct cause.  For example, Julius Caesar died because he was stabbed dozens of times by the Roman senators.  Marie Antoinette died because her head was cut off with a guillotine during the French Revolution.  Those deaths were pretty straightforward.

Then there were the deaths that could have been prevented if people knew then what we know now.  For example, Galileo used to drink wine instead of water because hundreds of years ago water could be very dangerous to drink.  But it turns out that the wine he was drinking was stored in casks made with lead, so he died of lead poisoning.  Marie Curie was a famous scientist who studied radioactive material, and she died from radiation poisoning.

But one of the WORST examples of a death that could have been prevented was president James Garfield.  He’s one of our least famous presidents, because he was only president for four months before someone shot him in the back while he was standing in a train station.  The first doctor who arrived on the scene tried to find the bullet inside Garfield’s body by sticking his finger into the bullet hole.  Soon, more doctors arrived, and each one poked their fingers into the hole to try to find the bullet, but none of them could find it.

I should probably mention at this point that none of them wore gloves and none of them washed their hands!

Garfield wasn’t expected to live for another day, but in fact he lived for another 80 days, with infection spreading through his body and making him sicker and sicker.  It wasn’t until he died and an autopsy was performed that doctors could see that the bullet wasn’t anywhere near the bullet hole, but it also wasn’t near any vital organs.  So it wasn’t the bullet that killed him — it was infection that did.

If you’d like to learn more about different famous people throughout history — how they lived, how they died, and what happened to their bodies after they were dead, then you should DEFINITELY read —

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg

Booktalk: Dear Marcus: A Letter to the Man Who Shot Me by Jerry McGill

Dear Marcus cover

I first checked out Dear Marcus by Jerry McGill because I’d heard it referred to as “the #1 book in juvie,” and I wondered what kind of book could entice kids in juvenile detention centers. As soon as I started reading it, I was swept up in the universal questions that it raised about forgiveness, about anger and grief, and about how often each of us look back on our lives and wonder “what if?”

Many library systems including mine have this book shelved in their adult collections.  That’s understandable because it’s written from an adult perspective, but it’s also understandable that it would have lots of crossover teen appeal because so much of it focuses on the author’s youth.  This would make a great book to share with older teens who are fans of real-life survivor stories, and it would also make a great topic for a book discussion.


Jerry McGill was 13 years old when he was shot in the back by a stranger.  He had been a smart kid with a promising future.  He was great at sports, he could dance, and he was popular.  But then one bullet changed everything.

Jerry spent a lot of time thinking about the “what ifs.”  What if he hadn’t been out on the street that night?  What if he and his friends hadn’t stopped to play video games on the way home?  What if they had walked home a different way?  Jerry and Eric had been walking next to each other — what if the man had decided to shoot Eric instead?

What if, what if, what if?

But all the what ifs in the world don’t matter, because Jerry was shot and his life changed forever.  When he wasn’t thinking about the what ifs, he was thinking about the person who did this to him.  Was it a boy or was it a man?  Why did he shoot him?  Was it accidentally or on purpose?  Was he proud afterwards, or did he regret it?  Is he still alive, or is he dead?  Is he in prison, or is he free?

Jerry has no idea, because they never caught the person who did this to him.  But he can imagine that person.  He imagines that the person who shot him is named Marcus, and that whether he was a boy or a man on the day he pulled the trigger, he’s definitely a man by now.  This book is a letter from Jerry to Marcus, filled with all the things he wants to say to the man who ruined and transformed his life.

Booktalk: Dog Shaming by Pascal Lemire

Dog Shaming cover

I first heard about Dog Shaming on a reluctant readers booklist.  I was already familiar with the idea of embarrassed owners putting signs on their dogs from the hilarious Dog Shaming blog, so I ordered several copies of the book for my library.  Today was the first time I ever booktalked it, and the 7th graders who came to visit were delighted with this book and checked out my copies right away!

The most important thing about booktalking this book is that your audience needs to see the book while you’re talking about it (so yes, it’s not ideal for an audio podcast, but such is life).  I marked off the pages I wanted to talk about beforehand — see my sticky notes in the picture above — and then I showed the class the pictures as I talked about the book. You should all get copies of this book and share your own favorite pictures!


In 2012, Pascal Lemire had several dogs who were sometimes destructive.  One night she and her fiancee Mike were at home when they heard a weird chewing noise coming from under the bed,  When they went to investigate, they discovered that their dog Beau had been chewing on Mike’s underwear.  Some of it was in pieces and some of it was gone because the dog had eaten it.  Mike made a sign that said “I am an underwear eating jerk,” put it next to the dog and the half-eaten underwear, and took a picture of it.  Pascal posted the picture to her blog, and within 24 hours the post had nearly a thousand comments.  The Dog Shaming blog took off after that.

Here are examples of some of the many dog shaming pictures that readers have shared with Pascal, and you can look at these pictures and decide for yourself if you think these dogs are ashamed or not!

  • I knocked over the fish food so I could eat it.
  • My family went to Disney without me, so I ate my bed.
  • I have a high heel fetish.
  • I occasionally enjoy a battery with a side of remote.
  • I DESTROYED this couch.
  • I like to “paint” like my mom when she’s gone.  Wish I hadn’t gone with blue …
  • I refuse to eat my food out of my bowl.  I stand in front of the bowl and cry until my mom puts some on the floor for me to eat.  I am spoiled and I am not ashamed!
  • I got chocolate and tried to eat the hand that wanted to save me.
  • Irene,  I’m sorry I ate your flash drive (again).  Who knew that was homework?
  • I bit the landscaper and now have a record!
  • I ate nine red velvet cupcakes.  Including the paper.  They were delicious.

You can see these and many more dogs who embarrassed their owners in …

Dog Shaming by Pascal Lemire

Booktalk: How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous

How They Choked cover

If you’re looking for nonfiction books that will entice older kids and younger teens, How They Choked by Georgia Bragg is an excellent choice.  Since it’s a collective biography, readers will have the option to read it all the way through or to jump back and forth between chapters to read about the people who interest them the most.  And if this is the kind of book that your kids and teens will like, make sure you also check out Bragg’s earlier book How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous!


This is is an unusual book that covers different famous people throughout history who made some pretty big mistakes, including …

  • Marco Polo, who lied a LOT about where he’d been and what he’d seen
  • Queen Isabella of Spain, who started the Spanish Inquisition
  • Montezuma, who thought that the mysterious visitor named Hernan Cortes was actually a god
  • Anne Boleyn, who thought it would be a REALLY GOOD IDEA to marry King Henry VIII
  • and General Custer, who thought it would be a REALLY GOOD IDEA to lead several hundred soldiers in an attack against several thousand Indians.

Every person in this book made bad decisions.  Some of those bad decisions affected or ended the life of one person.  But many of those bad decisions affected the lives of hundreds or thousands of other people.  All of the stories in this book are true, and they’ll all help you understand why these people were “awfully famous.”

Booktalk: Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose

Dear Nobody cover

Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose is a powerful and painful story about a girl who was plagued by bad luck and bad choices.  Give this book to your teens who are looking for real-life tragic stories.  As the editors say in this interview about the book in School Library Journal, Dear Nobody is “the authentic version of Go Ask Alice.”


Mary Rose kept a diary where she wrote about all the things that were going wrong with her life.

She wrote about how her mother kept getting back together with Joe, even though they fought all the time and even though he’d been violent with both of them.  About how they moved to a new place to get away from Joe, but how Mary Rose was lonely because all the other kids already knew each other and none of them wanted to be friends with her.  About how drinking made her feel better, even if it made her sick.  About how taking drugs made her forget how unhappy and lonely she was, even though they made her forget things sometimes, like who she could trust or how she woke up in this strange place.  About falling in and out of love with different boys.  About going to rehab to try to break her addiction to drugs and alcohol … and failing.

Mary Rose is a real person who kept a diary.  THIS is that diary.