10 Narrative Nonfiction Books that Leave an Impression

Back when I started writing, narrative nonfiction (creative nonfiction, literary nonfiction, etc), or nonfiction that employs the techniques and tools of fiction to tell stories, was becoming increasingly popular. Now, the Common Core has brought narrative nonfiction back into the spotlight—for 6-12 educators at least—with the shift towards an increase in informational text across all grades, more literary nonfiction in the upper grades, and a focus on learning from text.

Thinking about how students learn from text, narrative nonfiction books and essays may be an untapped resource. Students remember stories, and great narrative nonfiction merges storytelling with information in ways that engage readers and leaves a lasting impression. They’re also fantastic anchor texts for students to use as springboards into more technical reading. Think: reading Unbroken alongside articles about World War II, aviation history, and the Olympics. 

These 10 narrative nonfiction books are bound to have an impact on students (as they did on me):

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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

This is a narrative nonfiction classic, Capote explores the mystery of how the Clutter family was murdered with journalistic precision.

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

I read this in high school and will forever remember the sultry, lazy setting and the engrossing cast of characters (Chablis, anyone?).

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Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson

In my middle school years, I read this book multiple times, fascinated at the life that was so different from any other experience that I’d previously read about.

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I love medical narrative nonfiction, and Skloot seamlessly weaves medical info together with the story of Henrietta Lacks’ family.

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The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

Back in 1995, this was my first introduction to the ebola virus, in a book that reads like a Michael Crighton novel.

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Boo paints such a vivid, and endearing, portrait of the children who live their lives in a large slum in India that I slowed down my reading so the story would last longer.

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Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Krakauer’s book is a perfect example of how to tell a tragic tale without losing it to sentimentality.

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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Hillenbrand’s story about Louis Zamperini reads as well as any literary epic journey.

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Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

McDougall makes the act of running a character in this book that inspired me to pick up distance running.

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1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered America by Gavin Menzies 

I love when history turns into a narrative, and this story of the exploration of the world by Chinese fleets reads like a movie.

For more narrative nonfiction, check out this GoodReads list.

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2 thoughts on “10 Narrative Nonfiction Books that Leave an Impression

  1. Hi Samantha,

    Found your blog through the guest post with We Are Teachers.

    Just wanted to chime in and give kudos on the thought of inspiring students through great narrative nonfiction.

    Into the Wild by Krakauer, that book changed my life!

    Oh, and I love the Thoreau quote 🙂

    Will Boesl

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