Nonfiction books for 9 year olds
June 24, 2012 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Great non-fiction books for a smart 9 year old search: my kindle owning niece is embarking on summer vacation. I'd like to gift her some good books to fill up her summer days... she reads a huge amount, and I'd really like to encourage this. She's nine but has a roughly 9th grade reading level, so she's definitely capable of handling somewhat advanced books, and she's curious about a wide range of things. Really I'm looking for pretty much anything non-fiction & interesting.

She especially likes: astronomy, math involving fractions, cats, bugs and anything having to do with gardening.

I started her off with these books:

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

Turn Left at Orion by Dan M. Davis

Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut's Story by Michael Collins

What other books should I get her? I'd love to build up a good list so that I can send her one a week all summer. Kindle format is easiest as I don't usually have physical access to her kindle to install PDFs or other formats, but go ahead and recommend books in other ebook formats if you think they're worthwhile.
posted by lyra4 to Education (27 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Anything by Tracy Kidder would be great. I think especially Mountains Beyond Mountains. It seems like a kid might not be interested in the subject matter but she might.

Also Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox. It's about an open ocean swimmer who started when she was a teenager. Really neat story.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:40 AM on June 24, 2012

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach is more fascinating than gross.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe may be too dense, but I think he writes amaaaazing narrative style nonfiction

Maybe a Miss Manners book - I thought they were funny even around that age

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

I may be totally off base on reading level, but hopefully these will at least spark some ideas.
posted by ansate at 7:51 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

She's the 9-year-old me! The Quirks and Quarks Guide to Space is a really accessible and funny astronomy book in a Q&A format.

Does she like other animals? These are lovely and I would have loved them as much at age 9 as I do now (though they have heartbreaking parts too, that you can probably imagine, in case that is a little too much for her):

-The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood
-Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

(Links above are all Kindle editions.)
posted by dayintoday at 7:53 AM on June 24, 2012

Red-Tails in Love: A wildlife Drama in Central Park is a great read about the first known breeding pair of red-tailed hawks in NYC in decades.
posted by rtha at 7:57 AM on June 24, 2012

These are all excellent suggestions.

I want to add that if you can get the email address for the Kindle, all that needs to be done is adding your email address as an authorized address and you can send all the PDF's and such as you like! There is also Send To Reader (which also needs to be authorized) for automagically sending things.

You are an awesome aunt. :D
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:12 AM on June 24, 2012

I can't remember how old I was when I first read them,but the Uncle Albert books by Russell Stannard are an excellent children's introduction to relativity and quantum physics. Great idea!
posted by jonrob at 8:20 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Almost anything by David Macaulay. I particularly recommend Underground, Unbuilding, and Motel of the Mysteries.
posted by ubiquity at 8:27 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not sure if these are available on Kindle, but Gail Gibbons writes/illustrates the most amazing non-fiction books for kids. They look like they are geared towards younger kids, but there is an amazing wealth of knowledge in her books.
posted by ruhroh at 8:34 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is a bit advanced, but maybe not. It ain't cheap, but it's worth it: The Codebreakers, by David Kahn.

It's an absolutely fascinating book, the definitive history of codes and ciphers up to the point where computers changed everything. People who like math tend to also like codes and ciphers.

But if she got into it, it would take her a lot more than one week to read. It's 1200 pages on paper.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:14 AM on June 24, 2012

Medieval Lives by Terry Jones - really good, really accessible, and hilarious.
posted by cilantro at 9:15 AM on June 24, 2012

I'm not sure how many of these are available on Kindle.

-Jay Ingram's books, like "The Science of Everyday Life"

-The Code Book by Simon Singh -- this is also available in a YA edition as "The Code Book For Young People." I've only read the adult edition, but I found it very entertaining and accessible.

-Charles And Emma: The Darwins' Leap Of Faith is an excellent YA nonfiction book that goes into the controversy surrounding the theory of evolution and how it was navigated within the Darwins' own marriage -- Emma was a devout Christian and Charles was not. It's got romance, science, religion, and social history!

Some good space books:

-Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream

-Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 On The Moon
posted by Jeanne at 9:16 AM on June 24, 2012

Mary Roach's books are excellent! (Although Bonk is probably inappropriate at this point.) If she likes space, Packing for Mars is new and excellent.
posted by jeudi at 9:17 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I want to be Mary Roach when I grow up and hate to discourage any potential reader, but Packing for Mars also has some discussion of sex. You should probably check with the parents first to see if they're okay with their nine-year-old reading about it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:24 AM on June 24, 2012

The Shiloh trilogy. Award winning books aimed at her age, about a beagle. Everyone who reads these books (adult and child) loves them.
posted by Flood at 9:27 AM on June 24, 2012

Possibly my favorite astronomy book Of All Time is Four Men Who Changed the Universe, sadly not available on Kindle. (It's a little dated, and IIRC propagates the myth that Galileo went blind by observing the Sun, but Robert Silverberg sure knows how to write some good YA popsci.)

The Ptolemy->Copernicus->Brahe->Kepler/Galileo narrative is absolutely fascinating: big ideas, eccentric personalities, crazy politics, etc. Would Dava Sobel be too advanced for her?
posted by BrashTech at 9:34 AM on June 24, 2012

I love my ereader very much and I'm not one to dwell romantically on paper.

But remembering my youth, the freedom, independence, and in some way, power, of browsing through a library and knowing that any of these books could be mine (to read) was a wonderful part of reading.

I wonder if there's away to integrate a library or bookstore experience for her into this project? Even starting with these recommendations? Even if you end up actually purchasing everything as an e-book?

(Just want to add that I guess that Woman: An Intimate Geography might be the Our Bodies Ourselves for our time (also, I think, a much more fun read), and at 9 it's probably not too early to get it onto her library).
posted by Salamandrous at 9:45 AM on June 24, 2012

I loved Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years — Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. (Hm. Not yet available on Kindle. Darn. Still fascinating.)
posted by Lexica at 9:48 AM on June 24, 2012

Does she have the kind of Kindle that can handle magazine subscriptions? That might be a whole other avenue to explore.
posted by jvilter at 9:54 AM on June 24, 2012

Bill Bryson is fantastic, and a Short History of Everything would be great for a science kid with a high reading age.
posted by Jilder at 10:05 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anything by John McPhee but specifically Oranges, Basin and Range, The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed, Assembling California, or you could start with The John McPhee Reader as a taste to see if she likes it.

This might be a bit above her current reading level, but maybe not.
posted by caryatid at 10:33 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

What about Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, if she hasn't read it before?
posted by lysimache at 10:39 AM on June 24, 2012

I can't remember what Asimov has in his age-appropriate nonfiction, but... mefis, does Issac Asimov have anything this young lady needs to read?
posted by Jacen at 11:04 AM on June 24, 2012

Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl fame writes books about gardening that are smart and fun and breezy and very DIY-centric. They're available for Kindle.
posted by desuetude at 12:33 PM on June 24, 2012

Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams & Mark Carwardine

Possibly Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:48 PM on June 24, 2012

How about The Disappearing Spoon, which is a very light introduction to the elements? It's fun, too (it might mention sex, I do not recall). Mary Roach is great, but probably too adult for your purposes.

I'd recommend books of/about mythology.

Carl Zimmer writes accessible books -- Parasite Rex is fascinating and altogether revolting.
posted by jeather at 2:14 PM on June 24, 2012

Asimov's "Wendell Urth" short stories are accessible space-based mysteries, and his "Azazel" short stories would be fine for any young person. I think a 9-10 year-old might be up for the original robots trilogy: The Caves of Steel, the Naked Sun, Robots of Dawn

How about Ray Bradbury?
posted by Sunburnt at 6:34 PM on June 24, 2012

John Allen Paulos! He's an American mathematician who writes about math in a really fun and accessible way. I'd recomend Beyond Numeracy to get her thinking about other fun math concepts, but he's written several good ones.
posted by Gori Girl at 7:55 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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