Nonfiction for Teens

April 5, 2010 @ 7:48 am | Filed under: Books

Books my 14-year-old has enjoyed in recent months (and me, too, many of them):

The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists by Peter Laufer. My first-half-of-the-book notes here. (Edited to add, now that I’ve finished the book: there is a bit of, erm, mature content in the chapter about convicted butterfly smuggler Yoshi Kojima. Parents of younger readers may want to preview that bit.)

Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis by Rowan Jacobsen. Posts here and here.

Also by Rowan Jacobsen, Chocolate Unwrapped: The Surprising Health Benefits of America’s Favorite Passion. My MFA classmate was ahead of the wave on the “chocolate is health food” news. This slim little book packs a ton of information in Rowan’s typically engaging style, delving into the science behind these glad tidings. My thoughts here.

(We are keen to read his latest work, American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of our Woods, Waters, and Fields—”Why does honey from the tupelo-lined banks of the Apalachicola River have a kick of cinnamon unlike any other? Why is king salmon from Alaska’s Yukon River the richest in the world? Why do coffee beans from a single estate in Panama sell at auction for ten times the price of any other beans in the world? The reason is terroir, the ‘taste of place.’” His shellfish and shorelines book looks interesting, too.)

Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul. I heard about this one at Mental Multi-vitamin and knew both Jane and I would enjoy it. I read a few early passages out loud, and Jane recalled reading about Alexander Wilson’s woodpecker misadventure in Muse magazine some time earlier. She took over Of a Feather and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Don’t Know Much about History
Don’t Know Much about Geography
Don’t Know Much about the Universe
, all by Kenneth C. Davis

Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif, about the discovery of microbes and their role in the transmission of disease.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, adapted for younger readers by Sarah Thomsen. An American mountain-climber falls ill near a remote village in Pakistan and is rescued by the villagers. He promises to come back some day and build a school for them, and he follows through on the promise. This one is still working its way to the top of my TBR pile, but Jane beat me to it and gave it an enthusiastic recommendation.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. Although I was a little disappointed in the depiction of Emma Darwin’s religious conviction—it seemed more like a salve deliberately applied to soothe grief than an authentic, considered belief system, which is at odds with the sharp intelligence and probing powers of examination we see in Emma’s letters—I really liked this book about the Darwins’ marriage and the development of Charles’s ideas. Deborah Heiligman’s affection and respect for both Charles and Emma is shiningly apparent. I was surprised to learn what a doting teddy-bear of a father Charles was, and I loved reading his letters and journal writings which are overflowing with expressions of his deep love and admiration for his wife. Jane remarked upon how interesting she found their relationship, how they made it work despite differences of belief. Yes, that resonated with me too. 😉

This week’s Nonfiction Monday roundup can be found at Lerner Books.


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Comments

6 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. I just finished Charles & Emma, and I agree with both you and Jane. I was also a little disappointed that it wasn’t a better written story – sometimes it seemed liked a fact or event with some filler to get me from point a to b. That said, I very much enjoyed learning about Darwin from a non-science point of view, as well as Emma. I was impressed that each respected the other’s beliefs so much and didn’t insist upon change, and in fact relished the differences- a very valuable point for *all* marriages!

  2. I’m so glad you liked (at least parts of) Charles & Emma, that’s been sitting on my TBR pile…need to get to it.
    A word of caution on Three Cups of Tea – I don’t know if Jane read the original or the adapted version, but if she read the original she must be much more forgiving than I! I recommend reading the adapted version, because the story is wonderfully inspiring but the writing in the adult book is long winded and IMHO, a literary nightmare.

  3. She read the adapted-for-younger-readers version, because the publisher sent me a copy. Sounds like that may have been a lucky thing! Thanks for the feedback.

  4. Huh. Unlike your earlier commenter, I really enjoyed reading the adult version of Three Cups of Tea. I can’t remember much about the literary style, but I don’t tend to finish books whose style I can’t abide. Oh well! I’d like to get the adapted version to read with my kiddos (who are a bit younger than yours). I just finished the sequel, Stones into Schools, which was written by Mortenson himself — apparently no help this time. That he was able to craft a well-written book amidst his grueling speaking schedule is a marvel.

    I agree with your review of Charles and Emma. Loved and hesitated over the same things. I think both you and I place a high value on close family ties, so we’re a natural audience for a book that portrays the human side of the Darwins so endearingly. They weren’t far from being a family of homeschoolers, I’d say!

  5. I really enjoyed reading _Charles and Emma_. I read it because we are currently reading through _The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate_ each day for homeschooling. I loved learning about the Darwin family life, and while I wasn’t so much interested in how her faith was portrayed, I did enjoy reading about how both Charles and Emma worked things out between the two of them.

  6. Great list! The Butterfly one I may add to my son’s list for “Nature Study”–he loves true crime! “Three Cups of Tea” amazed me. “Microbe Hunters” is already on his list for biology next year! I’m enjoying “Fruitless Fall” in small does, savoring it, little by little right now. His Chocolate book is on my “to read” list and I’ve got the “Voyage of the Beagle” to read for next year!! Great post and once again, Great Minds Think Alike! We certainly seem to enjoy the same sorts of books!