Nonfiction Summer Reads for Parents and Kids
With no school and a (hopefully) slower work schedule, summer is an ideal time to co-read with your kids. In addition to more time for reading, you've suddenly got so many more opportunities for conversation around the dinner table or on trips. But where to start? We've paired middle grade nonfiction titles with adult nonfiction on related subjects, from historical figures to awesome feats of technology. So crack these spines with your kids and let the fascinating conversations begin.
As role models go--not only for little girls!--you don't get much better than Marie Curie. She worked for eight years just to get into the Sorbonne, set up mobile x-ray units during World War I (as McClafferty reveals) and discovered the elements radium and polonium. And that's saying nothing about her love story with Pierre Curie! Redniss details the two scientists' successes and the heartbreaking tragedy that separated them. But she doesn't shy away from the more "adult" material, like Marie's affair with a married man after Pierre's death.
Life as a colonist
For kids: "Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland" by Sally M. Walker
For parents: "Jamestown, the Buried Truth" by William M. Kelso
Both books, released around the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, get into the nitty-gritty of the failed colony. As you can guess from the titles, Walker and Kelso documented the archaeological expeditions tasked with digging up bones and other artifacts that provided detailed insight into colonial life. More importantly, they strip the Jamestown narratives of their odd combination of romanticism and derision. The colonists are given more credit than ever for surviving the near-impossible mission of settling and surviving in the New World.
Weapons and their impact
For kids: "Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon" by Steve Sheinkin
For parents: "Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety" by Eric Schlosser
"Bomb" was named a 2013 Newbery Honor Book for Sheinkin's ability to keep readers engaged in the history of the atomic bomb by introducing a bevy of fascinating real-life players. His narrative follows Soviet spies, a Norwegian commando force and scientists working feverishly in Los Alamos. Similarly, Schlosser puts faces to names with his minute-by-minute account of the 1980 accident at a nuclear missile site in Damascus, Ark. However, he also draws upon recently declassified documents and interviews to probe the dangers of our country's nuclear reliance. We expect no less from the man who brought us the riveting (if sometimes stomach-turning) "Fast Food Nation."
Swanson adapted his book "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase to Catch Lincoln's Killer" for young readers, retaining the trial transcripts and other archival material that lend the story greater depth than kids might get in a classroom. For the gorier details--including the female co-conspirator who became the first woman to be executed by the government--O'Reilly's historical narrative, which inspired a National Geographic docudrama, covers it all.
For kids: "Liberty or Death: The Surprising Story of Slaves Who Sided with the British During the American Revolution" by Margaret Whitman Blair
For parents: "New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan" by Jill Lepore
During the American Revolution in 1775, nearly a century before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Virginia's Royal Governor promised slaves their freedom if they fought on England's side. What other choice did they have? Blair explores this and other tough questions; Lepore focuses on the slave uprisings in New York City in 1741. Between the two, you'll have plenty to debate at the dinner table.
Like nuclear warfare but imbued with more hope, our triumphs in space are due to the teams who collaborated on groundbreaking missions like Apollo 11. Both Thimmesh and Chaikin gathered quotes, each from a different side of the glass: She profiled the seamstresses, engineers and camera designers, while he spoke with 23 of the 24 astronauts. His research establishes the moon landing's inarguable place in history, while the photos she collected will remind you of your own first breathtaking discovery of space.