Best Nonfiction 2022 | SLJ Best Books

Stellar research, unexplored histories, scientific breakthroughs, and heartbreaking truths loom large in this whopping list of 52 choice nonfiction works.




Atkins, Jeannine. Hidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to Science. S. & S./Atheneum. ISBN 9781665902502.
Gr 5 Up–In this lyrical biographical novel in verse, Atkins shines a light on the struggles and accomplishments of physicist Lise Meitner, who was instrumental in the discovery of nuclear fission but was never fully credited for it. Compelling imagery and stirring verses excellently capture Meitner’s contributions, which are hidden no more.

Balouch, Kristen. One Million Trees: A True Story. Holiday House/Margaret Ferguson. ISBN 9780823448609.
Gr 3-6–A charming account of a family who went to Canada to plant a million trees. This excellent resource about conservation and preserving nature has been ably rolled into a delightful reminiscence vividly retold.

Barton, Chris. Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins with Airman Alton Yates. illus. by Steffi Walthall. S. & S./Beach Lane. ISBN 9781534473652.
Gr 2-4 –For a glimpse of the world before the Civil Rights Movement, Yates’s early life offers a window into the obstacles he faced to pursue his dreams. Barton’s expertly composed description of events creates a thought-provoking document and biography of a genuine unsung hero.

Caldwell, Stella. Pride: An Inspirational History of the LGBTQ+ Movement. Penguin Workshop. ISBN 9780593382943.
Gr 6 Up–An inspiring look at LGBTQIA+ history from ancient times to the present day. While not shying from somber truths, this title serves equally for research or browsing with bright colors and a vivid layout, an episodic design with multiple sidebars, and rich, informative illustrations.

Chin, Jason. The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey. Holiday House/Neal Porter. ISBN 9780823450701.
K-Gr 4–Chin travels from the level of what makes us human down to the building blocks of the universe and then pulls back out, to the outer spheres of the cosmos. In page after page of cascading spreads, science and poetry blend flawlessly to deliver information with grace and confidence.



Duster, Michelle. Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth: Educator, Feminist, and Anti-Lynching Civil Rights Leader. illus. by Laura Freeman. Holt/Godwin. ISBN 9781250239464.
Gr 3 Up–There are many biographies of Ida B. Wells for children but none as personal and poignant as this one. A superb picture book for all libraries, it can effectively be used with a broad range of students as a celebration of activism and Black history.

Dyson, Michael Eric & Marc Favreau. Unequal: A Story of America. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780759557017.
Gr 7 Up–This collaboration offers a look at how race has been woven into the fabric of our country through brief biographies of civil rights heroes. Spanning 1865 to 2021, this work profiles 20 Black Americans; teens can digest the substantial narrative profile by profile, but it’s best read as a whole.

Fleming, Candace. Murder Among Friends: How Leopold and Loeb Tried to Commit the Perfect Crime. Random/Anne Schwartz. ISBN 9780593177426.
Gr 8 Up–True crime set in the 1920s featuring the eerie relationship between two 18-year-olds who committed murder. Fleming’s command of history and suspense combine perfectly to capture this captivating crime and trial.

Ganeri, Anita. Forest Fighter: The Story of Chico Mendes. illus. by Margaux Carpentier. Crocodile. ISBN 9781623718565.
Gr 2-6–This stellar biography of a not-often-featured environmental activist is a necessary addition to all biography shelves. Ganeri crafts a mix of international affairs and environmental causes with lessons of social justice.

Harvey, Jeanne Walker. Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas. illus. by Loveis Wise. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780063021891.
PreS-Gr 4–Harvey rectifies an enormous wrong with this spirited biography of Black painter Alma Thomas (1891–1978), who is not nearly as renowned as she ought to be. Wise complements Thomas’s own style with glorious illustrations that amplify the originals, while Harvey takes on segregation and puts it into terms children will understand.

Higginbotham, Anastasia. You Ruined It. Dottir. ISBN 9781948340304.
Gr 4-8–A heartbreaking but realistic account of a child’s life soon after a sexual assault by a trusted family member. The story is seamlessly woven into a series of journal entries and scrapbook pages, and the author thoughtfully examines the complicated emotions children may feel after going through such trauma.


Hinton, Anthony Ray with Lara Love Hardin & Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. The Sun Does Shine (Young Readers Edition): An Innocent Man, A Wrongful Conviction, and the Long Path to Justice. Feiwel & Friends. ISBN 9781250817365.
Gr 5 Up–Hinton’s story of incarceration for 30 years on Death Row as a wrongfully convicted Black man in 1985 highlights this miscarriage of justice. The powerful words of a man who came to be respected for his decency and resolve are a force for change and hope.

Hopgood, Tim. My Big Book of Outdoors. Candlewick Studio. ISBN 9781536215335.
Gr 3-6–This beautifully illustrated title broken up by season discusses many things readers will see if they take a walk outside. Filled with curriculum connections to poetry and life science, as well as year-round activities, this book has plenty to offer students and teachers.

Hoyt, Megan. The Greatest Song of All: How Isaac Stern United the World to Save Carnegie Hall. illus. by Katie Hickey. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780063045279.
Gr 3-6–With utter charm and imagination, Hoyt takes apart an event from history, the near-destruction of Carnegie Hall, and puts at the center the very esteemed Stern, who stopped it. Hickey’s illustrations make a song of every page, and children will take away a lesson of civics, a love for music, and a full heart for a good cause.

Jarrow, Gail. American Murderer: The Parasite that Haunted the South. Calkins Creek. ISBN 9781684378159.
Gr 5-9–In this continuation of the “Medical Fiascoes” series, hookworm is the culprit, especially for Southerners. In a title that’s equal parts science, education, and public health, Jarrow nimbly grosses out readers with visuals and facts that keep the pages turning.

Johnson, Dinah. H Is for Harlem. illus. by April Harrison. Little, Brown/Christy Ottaviano. ISBN 9780316322379.
Gr 2-5–An extraordinary alphabet takes children on an unforgettable cultural stroll through the sights and sounds of one of the greatest neighborhoods in the world. Harrison’s illustrations carve out the corners, hot spots, literary influences, and more, till the sizzle of Harlem’s heritage bursts from every page.

Latta, Sara. I Could Not Do Otherwise: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. Zest. ISBN 9781728413921.
Gr 9 Up–With engrossing text and numerous historical images, Latta delivers a riveting biography of Mary Edwards Walker, a fiercely independent 19th-century woman who overcame significant adversity. Readers will be enthralled by this tenacious woman who never compro­mised her beliefs.



Macaulay, David. Mammoth Math: Everything You Need to Know About Numbers. DK. ISBN 9780744056112.
Gr 2-6–It’s madness, it’s brilliant, it’s funny—there is no better way to learn math than to give the job of teaching it to mammoths and shrews. This compendium of demonstrations makes math seem effortless or at least worth puzzling over, and everyone will have fun trying.

McCarthy, Cory. Hope Is an Arrow: The Story of Lebanese-American Poet Kahlil Gibran. illus. by Ekua Holmes. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536200324.
K-Gr 4–This poignant, brilliant biography about the boy who was born as Gibran Khalil Gibran and came to be known as one of the bestselling poets of all time creates a beautiful space for his name to live on. From his travels from Lebanon to the United States and his seeking of peace to his awakening as a writer, it’s clear that hope is an arrow, but its path is not a straight line.

Maloney, Brenna. Buzzkill: A Wild Wander Through the Weird and Threatened World of Bugs. illus. by Dave Mottram. Holt/Godwin. ISBN 9781250801036.
Gr 5-8–Dropping fascinating fun facts on every page, Maloney is an intrepid and sometimes grossed-out investigator of the insect world. Her concise style and jokey delivery are perfect for middle graders, while her passion and deep commitment make for a vivid take on ecology.

Maraniss, Andrew. Inaugural Ballers: The True Story of the First U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Team. Viking. ISBN 9780593351246.
Gr 8 Up–Maraniss places the 1976 groundbreaking first American women’s Olympic basketball team firmly in historical and political context. The book is full of quotes from interviews and contains an abundance of black-and-white photographs. Even non-sports fans will enjoy this compelling history of an athletic competition and the women who made it great.

Marwan, Zahra. Where Butterflies Fill the Sky: A Story of Immigration, Family, and Finding Home. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781547606511.
K-Gr 4–In this moving debut, Marwan pares immigration to its elements—family, loss, and acceptance—conveying it in delicate but lively watercolor and line. Much of the profound appeal of this book comes from the art. Thin expressive lines define spaces of cool color, with touches of plum and black, against gentle washes floating free.

Moore, Lindsay. Yoshi and the Ocean: A Sea Turtle’s Incredible Journey Home. Greenwillow. ISBN 9780063060982.
Gr 2-4–Yoshi’s amazing story, the collection of scientific information, and engaging illustrations will capture readers, encouraging inquiry and exploration through a sea turtle’s eyes. What makes this title extraordinary is the back matter that substantiates the story; readers will be awed.



Moss, Marissa. The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner. Abrams. ISBN 9781419758539.
Gr 4 Up–Lise Meitner, a Jewish physicist working in Germany as Hitler rose to power, made some of the most celebrated discoveries in the 20th century, including nuclear fission, and yet never received the recognition she deserved. With captivating writing and interstitial comics-like illustrations, Moss’s biography of this groundbreaking woman is spectacular.

Nature and Me: A Guide to the Joys and Excitements of the Outdoors. illus. by Tyla Mason. The School of Life. ISBN 9781912891313.
Gr 3-5–This unique title is not just for nature lovers. The School of Life uses colorful illustrations, short passages, and everything outdoors to offer children guidance and encourage them to think positively about life.

Nelson, Marilyn. Augusta Savage: The Shape of a Sculptor’s Life. Little, Brown/Christy Ottaviano. ISBN 9780316298025.
Gr 6 Up–A master poet breathes life and color into this portrait of influential sculptor Savage, who often worked with humble materials and brought out the beauty and depth of her subjects with her attention to detail and creative vision. Nelson does the same in poetry to give shape and dimension to Savage’s remarkable life and work.

Partridge, Elizabeth. Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration. illus. by Lauren Tamaki. Chronicle. ISBN 9781452165103.
Gr 5-8–Two prominent photographers and one prisoner, working with smuggled equipment, highlighted the injustice of incarceration and the remarkable resilience of interned Japanese Americans during WWII. Tamaki intersperses striking illustra­tions with the text and photos for a visually ar­resting complement to the horrifying story.

Sarsour, Linda. We’re in This Together: A Young Readers Edition of We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders. S. & S./Salaam Reads. ISBN 9781534439290.
Gr 5-8–The 2017 Women’s March co-organizer stirringly narrates how a Palestinian Muslim American girl went from her father’s Brooklyn bodega to speaking to 470,000 people at the National Mall in Washington, DC. Young people will be inspired to find their own voices and take steps toward advocating for the things they believe in.

Schrefer, Eliot. Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality. illus. by Jules Zuckerberg. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. ISBN 9780063069497.
Gr 7-10–From bisexual bonobos to intersex deer to lesbian albatrosses, Schrefer skillfully outlines the wide variety of sexual diversity found in the animal kingdom and the functions of different animal sexual behaviors beyond basic reproduction. A captivating scientific work but, more importantly, a necessary and affirming message of love and acceptance.


Staaf, Danna. The Lady and the Octopus: How Jeanne Villepreux-Power Invented Aquariums and Revolutionized Marine Biology. Carolrhoda. ISBN 9781728415772.
Gr 8 Up–This biography of Jeanne Villepreux-Power features the compelling story of her life and work as a natural scientist in vivid and accessible language, and also includes a helpful timeline and other back matter. Frequent illustrations and featured insets provide important context in this life story of a female scientific pioneer.

Stiefel, Chana. The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs. illus. by Susan Gal. Scholastic. ISBN 9781338225891.
Gr 3-5–There are many picture books about the Holocaust, but this one stands out with Gal’s beautiful watercolor pictures and the shattering true account of one woman’s goal that her community never be forgotten.

Stone, Tanya Lee. Peace Is a Chain Reaction: How World War II Japanese Balloon Bombs Brought People of Two Nations Together. Candlewick. ISBN 9780763676865.
Gr 5-8–Stone masterly interweaves the stories of Japanese American teens living in U.S. concentration camps and Japanese adolescents who were secretly charged with manufacturing balloon bombs that were launched at the U.S. during WWII. With impeccable research and compelling firsthand accounts, this is an incredible story of a miraculous reconciliation.

Taylor, Candacy. Overground Railroad: (The Young Adult Adaptation): The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America. Abrams. ISBN 9781419749490.
Gr 7 Up–Taylor traces the dark but fascinating story of postal worker Victor Hugo Green’s travel guide for Black Americans published beginning in 1936. Like a well-designed museum exhibit, the book uses stark, perfectly chosen illustrations along with thorough, engaging text to create an immersive experience of an era of racist segregation.

Theule, Larissa. Concrete: From the Ground Up. illus. by Steve Light. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536212501.
Gr 1-5–Theule tells the story of concrete, from ancient times to its rediscovery in the 18th century, and in pared-down style introduces readers to advanced vocabulary, architectural monuments, professions, social history, and more, with clarity, directness, and humor. An utterly compelling read.

Thundercloud, Ria. Finding My Dance. illus. by Kalila J. Fuller. Penguin Workshop. ISBN 9780593093894.
Gr 3-5– “Beautiful Thunder Woman” chronicles her career, beginning with a jingle dress her mother made for her. With so little on this subject available outside of Indigenous communities, and even less written down, this is a compelling volume of a life and the importance of self-expression, as well as the protection of custom.



Turner, Pamela. How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps. illus. by John Gurche. Charlesbridge. ISBN 9781623542504.
Gr 5 Up–A fascinating narrative on the history of our species from 66 million years ago to now. Turner has transformed a dense topic into an easy-to-understand and enjoyable journey for middle grade readers. Well-researched and engaging, this book belongs in every collection.

Watson, Renée. Maya’s Song. illus. by Bryan Collier. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062871589.
Gr 5-8–This in-depth biography in poems, with unsurpassable watercolor and collage illustrations, is not exhaustive, but delivers an understanding of Angelou from her childhood experiences, excerpts of her writing, and adult accomplishments and friendships.

Williams, Yohuru & Michael G. Long. Call Him Jack: The Story of Jackie Robinson, Black Freedom Fighter. Farrar. ISBN 9780374389956.
Gr 6 Up–This outstanding biography chronicles the life of Robinson, focusing on his lifetime of activism in the face of racism. With crisp, absorbing text, this compelling work demonstrates that Robinson’s contributions to civil rights were more than simply breaking the MLB color barrier.

Wilson, Mark. Snowy Owl Scientist. HarperCollins/Clarion. ISBN 9780358329596.
Gr 3-6–The latest in the “Scientist in the Field” series follows Denver Holt, a snowy owl researcher who travels to Alaska’s north slope each June to survey nesting. Stunning photographs, accessible text, and impeccable back matter make this the quintessential title for research, browsing, and conservation inspiration.

Yuksel, M.O. One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University. illus. by Mariam Quraishi. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780063032910.
Gr 2-5–A gorgeous biography about Fatima al-Fihri, and the university she founded in Morocco. In simple but flowing prose, Yuksel brings al-Fihri’s story from the ninth century to the present—and who could not love a book about a girl whose first spoken word was “read”? Add this biography to every collection.

Zoboi, Ibi. Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler. Dutton. ISBN 9780399187384.
Gr 5 Up–Zoboi’s multimedia text gives new meaning to the concept of biography, infusing Butler’s legacy of dreaming and discipline with the vibrancy it deserves through poetry, newspaper clippings, sketches, handwritten notes, and more. A stellar title worthy of its visionary subject.

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