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15 Books Every Young Reader Will Love

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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!

1. NATHAN HALE’S HAZARDOUS TALES, BY NATHAN HALE

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.

3. EARTHRISE: MY ADVENTURES AS AN APOLLO 14 ASTRONAUT, BY EDGAR MITCHELL

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.

4. CHASING VERMEER, BY BLUE BALLIETT AND BRETT HELQUIST

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.

5. STAR STUFF: CARL SAGAN AND THE MYSTERIES OF THE COSMOS, BY STEPHANIE ROTH SISSON

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.

6. WITCHES! THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE TALE OF DISASTER IN SALEM, BY ROSALYN SCHANZER

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.

7. FUNNY BONES: POSADA AND HIS DAY OF THE DEAD CALAVERAS, BY DUNCAN TONATIUH

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.

8. GEORGE AND THE UNBREAKABLE CODE, BY LUCY AND STEPHEN HAWKING

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.

9. BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD—AND STEAL—THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON, BY STEVE SHEINKIN

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."

10. WARRIORS DON'T CRY, BY MELBA PATTILLO BEALS

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.

11. SMART ALECK’S GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY, BY ADAM SELZER

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?"

12. YOU CAN'T READ THIS! WHY BOOKS GET BANNED, BY PAMELA DELL

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.

13. THE BOYS WHO CHALLENGED HITLER: KNUD PEDERSON AND THE CHURCHILL CLUB, BY PHILIP HOOSE

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.

14. MR. FERRIS AND HIS WHEEL, BY KATHRYN GIBBS DAVIS AND GILBERT FORD

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.

15. ORPHAN TRAIN: A NOVEL, BY CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE

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.

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The Truth Is In Here: Unlocking Mysteries of the Unknown
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In the pre-internet Stone Age of the 20th century, knowledge-seekers had only a few options when they had a burning question that needed to be answered. They could head to their local library, ask a smarter relative, or embrace the sales pitch of Time-Life Books, the book publishing arm of Time Inc. that marketed massive, multi-volume subscription series on a variety of topics. There were books on home repair, World War II, the Old West, and others—an analog Wikipedia that charged a monthly fee to keep the information flowing.

Most of these were successful, though none seemed to capture the public’s attention quite like the 1987 debut of Mysteries of the Unknown, a series of slim volumes that promised to explore and expose sensational topics like alien encounters, crop circles, psychics, and near-death experiences.

While the books themselves were well-researched and often stopped short of confirming the existence of probing extraterrestrials, what really cemented their moment in popular culture was a series of television commercials that looked and felt like Mulder and Scully could drop in at any moment.

Airing in the late 1980s, the spots drew on cryptic teases and moody visuals to sell consumers on the idea that they, too, could come to understand some of life's great mysteries, thanks to rigorous investigation into paranormal phenomena by Time-Life’s crack team of researchers. Often, one actor would express skepticism (“Aliens? Come on!”) while another would implore them to “Read the book!” Inside the volumes were scrupulously-detailed entries about everything from the Bermuda Triangle to Egyptian gods.

Inside a volume of 'Mysteries of the Unknown'
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Mysteries of the Unknown grew out of an earlier Time-Life series titled The Enchanted World that detailed some of the fanciful creatures of folklore: elves, fairies, and witches. Memorably pitched on TV by Vincent Price, The Enchanted World was a departure from the publisher’s more conventional volumes on faucet repair, and successful enough that the product team decided to pursue a follow-up.

At first, Mysteries of the Unknown seemed to be a non-starter. Then, according to a 2015 Atlas Obscura interview with former Time-Life product manager Tom Corry, a global meditation event dubbed the "Harmonic Convergence" took place in August 1987 in conjunction with an alleged Mayan prophecy of planetary alignment. The Convergence ignited huge interest in New Age concepts that couldn’t be easily explained by science. Calls flooded Time-Life’s phone operators, and Mysteries of the Unknown became one of the company’s biggest hits.

"The orders are at least double and the profits are twice that of the next most successful series,'' Corry told The New York Times in 1988.

Time-Life shipped 700,000 copies of the first volume in a planned 20-book series that eventually grew to 33 volumes. The ads segued from onscreen skeptics to directly challenging the viewer ("How would you explain this?") to confront alien abductions and premonitions.

Mysteries of the Unknown held on through 1991, at which point both sales and topics had been exhausted. Time-Life remained in the book business through 2003, when it was sold to Ripplewood Holdings and ZelnickMedia and began to focus exclusively on DVD and CD sales.

Thanks to cable and streaming programming, anyone interested in cryptic phenomena can now fire up Ancient Aliens. But for a generation of people who were intrigued by the late-night ads and methodically added the volumes to their bookshelves, Mysteries of the Unknown was the best way to try and explain the unexplainable.

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Trash Collectors in Turkey Use Abandoned Books to Build a Free Library
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A stack of books abandoned on the sidewalk can be a painful sight for bibliophiles. But in Ankara, Turkey, garbage collectors are using books left to be discarded to build a free library. As CNN reports, their library of salvaged literature is currently 6000 titles strong.

The collection grew gradually as sanitation workers began saving books they found on their routes, rather then hauling them away with the rest of the city’s trash. The books were set aside for employees and their families to borrow, but eventually news of their collection expanded beyond the sanitation department. Instead of leaving books on the curb, residents started donating their unwanted books directly to the cause. Soon the idea arose of opening a full library for the public to enjoy.

Man reading book at shelf.
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With support from the local government, the library opened in the Çankaya district of Ankara in September 2017. Located in an abandoned brick factory on the sanitation department’s property, it features literature for children, resources for scientists, and books for English and French speakers. The space also includes a lounge where visitors can read their books or play chess. The loan period for books lasts two weeks, but just like at a regular library, readers are given the option to renew their tomes.

People reading books in a library.
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The experiment has proven more successful than anyone anticipated: The library is so well-stocked that local schools, prisons, and educational programs can now borrow from its inventory. The Turkish sanitation workers deserve high praise, but discarded book-loving pioneers in other parts of the world should also get some recognition: For decades, José Alberto Gutiérrez has been using his job collecting garbage to build a similar library in Colombia.

[h/t CNN]

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