Want to help the kids in your life nurture their interests? From art, to science, to history, these brainy books can teach and inspire—and who knows? Your young friends might be able to school you on a few topics after reading!
History doesn’t have to be dry—and author-illustrator Nathan Hale’s series is anything but. Presented in graphic novel form, Hale’s Hazardous Tales covers everything from the Alamo to the Donner Party. But the first book in the series, appropriately, is on the author's namesake—the American spy who was captured during the Revolutionary War, and uttered the famous "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," before being hanged by the British. Hazardous history, indeed!
2. RAD WOMEN WORLDWIDE: ARTISTS AND ATHLETES, PIRATES AND PUNKS, AND OTHER REVOLUTIONARIES WHO SHAPED HISTORY, BT KATE SCHATZ AND MIRIAM STAHL
Nothing illustrates the saying "Well-behaved women rarely make history" better than the 40 women highlighted in this book. Famous fab females are featured, like Marie Curie and Frida Kahlo, but young readers will also appreciate tales about lesser-known figures such as environmental and political activist Wangari Maathai and punk rocker Poly Styrene.
Kids can make history into reality by putting themselves in the shoes of astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the lunar module pilot for the third moon landing. Mitchell's first solo airplane flight as a teen and his firsthand accounts of eating, sleeping, and even going to the bathroom on the moon are sure to fascinate any science buff.
Dubbed "The DaVinci Code for kids," this youth novel sends a pair of sixth-graders on a scavenger hunt to recover a stolen painting. The clues and puzzles presented in the book encourage kids to scrutinize and analyze real works of art to solve the mystery themselves. And you may recognize illustrator Brett Helquist's style from his work on Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events books.
Any kid who has felt a sense of wonder while looking up at the stars will feel a kinship with little Carl Sagan, who once gazed at the cosmos from his apartment window. Learning how a kid from Brooklyn went on to be one of the most renowned astrophysicists in the world will no doubt inspire budding astronomers—and the fun illustrations definitely don't hurt.
The author of the critically acclaimed children's book How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark tackles the topic of the Salem witch trials in an age-appropriate manner, including intriguing illustrations and well-researched information. In 2012, Witches! was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor book, an award given by the Association for Library Service to Children to honor writers and illustrators of distinguished informational books for kids.
Calaveras skeletons are the hallmark of Dia de los Muertos, but not many people know the name of the artist behind them. This book changes all of that by telling the story of Mexican printmaker and engraver Lupe Posada, who used his artwork to make political statements—it's sure to inspire any young aspiring artist.
Astrophysics and super computers are big concepts for anyone to grasp, let alone children. But if anyone is up to the task, it's Lucy Hawking and her father, Stephen. In George and the Unbreakable Code—the latest in a series of George books that teach kids the principles of astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology—the young title character and his best friend have to travel into space to figure out who hacked into the world's super computers.
How do you explain the creation of the atomic bomb to a young reader? You turn it into an international spy story. But this historical tale told by author Steve Sheinkin is 100 percent true—no embellishment necessary. In fact, adults who need a refresher themselves would do well to give this one a read: According to The Wall Street Journal, Bomb is "an excellent primer for adult readers who may have forgotten, or never learned, the remarkable story of how nuclear weaponry was first imagined, invented and deployed—and of how an international arms race began well before there was such a thing as an atomic bomb."
Most of us have never known a world that includes segregated schools—and even fewer can imagine what it must have been like to be one of the "Little Rock Nine," the first group of black students to integrate. Experiencing the historic event through the eyes of author and Little Rock Nine member Melba Pattillo Beals is sure to be a fascinating, terrifying, and eye-opening perspective for any teen.
Look, let's talk about the elephant in the room: 11th president James K. Polk had a serious mullet, OK? It's tidbits like this one that makes Adam Selzer's Smart Aleck way more interesting than your average history textbook—but he also manages to work plenty of important stuff in amongst the Daily Show-style humor. It even invites readers to do some critical thinking about the subjects by asking questions such as, "Who was the bigger jerk, Hitler or Stalin?"
From Galileo to J.K. Rowling, books have been under siege from censors for centuries. This book, targeted specifically at young readers, helps them understand why books have been banned based on historical context—and makes them think about the banned texts of today. Other titles in the series, including Play It Loud!, a look at how musicians from Bach to Tupac have used music to fight oppression, are also worth checking out.
It wasn't just adults who were opposed to Hitler and the Nazi regime. Fifteen-year-old Knud Pedersen and seven of his friends committed numerous acts of sabotage against the Nazis during the German occupation of Denmark, including stealing weapons and destroying plane parts. Their action-packed story, which includes narratives from the boys themselves, is a great reminder that you don't have to be an adult to make a difference.
The story of how the Ferris wheel came to be is a tale of inspiration, invention, and perseverance, with more than a little bit of history mixed in. Though younger children will no doubt be interested to see how a favorite carnival ride came to be, they'll also learn about the creation of the Eiffel Tower and the 1893 World's Fair while they're at it.
Between 1854 and 1929, homeless children from crowded cities on the East Coast were loaded onto trains and sent into the Midwest in hopes of being taken in. Sometimes it went well for the children—but just as often, it didn't. Orphan Train is a fictionalized account of what the emotional experience must have been like for kids of different genders, ethnicities, and ages.