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Biographies for Teens

Almost AstronautsAlmost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone (133 pages)

What does it take to be an astronaut? Excellence at flying, courage, intelligence, resistance to stress, top physical shape - any checklist would include these. But when America created NASA in 1958, there was another unspoken rule: you had to be a man. Here is the tale of thirteen women who proved that they were not only as tough as the toughest man but also brave enough to challenge the government. They were blocked by prejudice, jealousy, and the scrawled note of one of the most powerful men in Washington. But even though the Mercury 13 women did not make it into space, they did not lose, for their example empowered young women to take their place in the sky, piloting jets and commanding space capsules.

Burn JournalsThe Burn Journals by Brent Runyon (374 pages)

In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon came home from school, doused his bathrobe in gasoline, put it on, and lit a match. He suffered third-degree burns over 85% of his body and spent the next year recovering in hospitals and rehab facilities. During that year of physical recovery, Runyon began to question what he’d done, undertaking the complicated journey from near-death back to high school, and from suicide back to the emotional mainstream of life.

Bad BoyBad Boy: A Memoir by Walter Dean Myers (214 pages)

Walter Dean Myers weaves the details of his Harlem childhood in the 1940s and 1950s: a loving home life with his adopted parents, Bible school, street games, and the vitality of his neighborhood. Although Walter spent much of his time either getting into trouble or on the basketball court, secretly he was a voracious reader and an aspiring writer. But as his prospects for a successful future diminished, the values he had been taught at home, in school, and in his community seemed worthless, and he turned to the streets and his books for comfort.

Charles and Emma

Charles and Emma: the Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (268 pages)

Charles Darwin published 'The origin of species' in 1859. Even today, the theory of evolution creates tension between the scientific and religious communities. This same debate raged within Darwin himself and played an important part in his marriage: Emma's faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on his controversial theory. His wife's religious convictions made him rethink how the world would receive his ideas.

Claudette Colvin

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose (133 pages)

Based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, Phillip Hoose presents the first in-depth account of an important yet largely unknown civil rights figure, skillfully weaving her dramatic story into the fabric of the historic Montgomery bus boycott and court case that would change the course of American history.

Diary of a Girl

The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank (340 pages)

Written by a young Jewish girl while in hiding with her family from the Nazis during World War II, Frank's Diary has been dramatized in one form or another in every major language and country around the world.

Everything sucks

Everything Sucks: Losing My Mind and Finding Myself in a High School Quest for Cool by Hannah Friedman (256 pages)

Welcome to the inside of Hannah Friedman's head.  Everything Sucks details her teenage years in all of their cringe-worthy absurdity - from getting home schooled in a tour bus with hippie musicians to attending one of New York's most prestigious private schools on full scholarship to developing a drug addiction and eating disorder to nearly getting kicked out of Yale University before she even gets to attend. In the end, it's Friedman's spirit that keeps her afloat.

Game of my life

The Game of My Life: A True Story of Challenge, Triumph, and Growing Up Autistic by Jason McElwain (243 pages)

On February 15, 2006, the Greece Athena Trojans high school basketball team took the court for the final game of the regular season. With four minutes and nineteen seconds left on the clock, and the Trojans nursing a comfortable lead, the coach sent Jason McElwain - an autistic student and the team manager - to the scorer's table. He scored twenty points, including a school record six three-pointers. J-Mac, as McElwain became known, was carried off the court on his teammates' shoulders, and a videotape of the game quickly found its way onto national television, making J-Mac a household name.

Grayson Grayson by Lynne Cox (147 pages)

Lynne Cox was swimming her last half-mile back to the pier before heading home for breakfast when she became aware that something was swimming with her. It was a baby gray whale, and it had been following alongside her for a mile or so. Lynne had been swimming for more than an hour; she needed to get out of the water to rest, but she realized that if she did, the young calf would follow her onto shore and die from collapsed lungs. If Lynne didn’t find the mother whale soon, the baby would most likely die. Something so enormous - the mother whale was fifty feet long - suddenly seemed very small in the vast Pacific Ocean. This is the story of what happened.


The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum by Candace Fleming (151 pages)

Known far and wide for his jumbo elephants, midgets, and three-ring circuses, here’s a complete and captivating look at the man behind the Greatest Show on Earth. Readers can visit Barnum’s American Museum; meet Tom Thumb, the miniature man (only 39 inches tall) and his tinier bride (32 inches); experience the thrill Barnum must have felt when, at age 60, he joined the circus; and discover Barnum’s legacy to the 19th century and beyond.

The Greatest

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers (172 pages)

Walter Dean Myers presents the amazing story of Muhammad Ališs childhood, his rise as a champion, his politics, and his battles against Parkinsonšs disease. 

Gutsy Girls

Gutsy Girls: Young Women Who Dare by Tina Schwager and Michele Schuerger; edited by Elizabeth Verdick (261 pages)

In exciting, inspiring first-person stories, 26 young women tell of their daring feats, from extreme sports to ground-breaking achievements. Part One features these stories. Part Two tells readers how they can set goals and follow their dreams. And Part Three explains the how-tos and benefits of getting fit and staying safe. Resources point the way toward more information.

Hole in my Life

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos (199 pages)

In the summer of 1971, Jack Gantos was an aspiring young writer looking for adventure, cash for college tuition, and a way out of a dead-end job. For ten thousand dollars, he recklessly agreed to help sail a boat loaded with hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City. But federal agents were waiting. Gantos was caught and, for his part in the conspiracy, sentenced to serve up to six years in prison.

I am scout

I am Scout: a Biography of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields (246 pages)

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most widely read novels in American literature. Yet one-time author Harper Lee is a mysterious figure who leads a very private life in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, refusing to give interviews or talk about the novel that made her a household name. Lee’s life is as rich as her fiction, from her girlhood as a rebellious tomboy to her days at the University of Alabama and early years as a struggling writer in New York City.

I know why the caged bird sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (289 pages)

Poet Maya Angelou recounts a youth filled with disappointment, frustration, tragedy, and finally hard-won independence. Sent at a young age to live with her grandmother in Arkansas, Angelou learned a great deal from this exceptional woman and the tightly knit black community there. These very lessons carried her throughout the hardships she endured later in life, including a tragic occurrence while visiting her mother in St. Louis and her formative years spent in California - where an unwanted pregnancy changed her life forever.

Into thin air

Into Thin Air : A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer (293 pages)

The author describes his spring 1996 trek to Mt. Everest, an expedition that ended in disaster, claiming the lives of eight climbers, and explains why he survived, in a definitive, firsthand account of the tragedy.

John Lennon

John Lennon : All I Want is the Truth : A Photographic Biography by Elizabeth Partridge (232 pages)

Partridge chronicles the emotional highs and paralyzing lows John Lennon transformed into brilliant, evocative songs. With photos spanning his entire life, this is the unforgettable biography of one of rock's biggest legends.

King of the Mild FrontierKing of the Mild Frontier : An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher (260 pages)

Do You Know:
* A good reason to be phobic about oysters and olives?
* That you can step inside a roaring coal furnace and feel cool?
* That Jesus had an older brother?
* How shutting your mouth can help you avoid brain surgery?
* How to avoid cow-pies during your baptism?
* How to survive in the winter wilderness with only a fishing pole and a sausage?

Chris Crutcher knows the answers to these things and more. And once you have read about Chris Crutcher's life as a dateless, broken-toothed, scabbed-over, God-fearing dweeb, and once you have contemplated his ascension to the buckskin-upholstered throne of the King of the Mild Frontier, you will close this book, close your eyes and hold it to your chest, and say, "I, too, can be an author." Hell, anyone can.


Lionheart : A Journey of the Human Spirit by Jesse Martin with Ed Gannon (253 pages)

On October 31, 1999, Jesse Martin completed one of the last great adventures of the 20th century. At 18 years of age, and after 11 months at sea, he became the youngest person to sail solo, nonstop, and unassisted around the world. This is the story of why Jesse set himself such an astonishing task and how he managed to make his dream come true. A story of courage, loneliness, and danger, it also is an incredible, gripping, true-life adventure.

A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone : Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (229 pages)

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop?  In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.


Maus : A Survivor's Tale : My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman (295 pages - graphic novel)

Spiegelman, a stalwart of the underground comics scene of the 1960s and '70s, interviewed his father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor living outside New York City, about his experiences. The artist then deftly translated that story into a graphic novel. By portraying a true story of the Holocaust in comic form - the Jews are mice, the Germans cats, the Poles pigs, the French frogs, and the Americans dogs - Spiegelman compels the reader to imagine the action, to fill in the blanks that are so often shied away from. Reading Maus, you are forced to examine the Holocaust anew.

No Choirboy

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin (212 pages)

In their own voices - raw and uncensored - inmates sentenced to death as teenagers talk about their lives in prison, and share their thoughts and feelings about how they ended up there.  Susan Kuklin also gets inside the system, exploring capital punishment itself and the intricacies and inequities of criminal justice in the United States. 

Pedro and MePedro and Me : Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned by Judd Winick (187 pages - graphic novel)

Without the third season of MTV's The Real World, set in San Francisco, Pedro Zamora would have lived and died quietly, a Cuban immigrant who became an AIDS educator after his HIV diagnosis at the age of 17. But in 1993, he and seven others were selected for the cast of The Real World, and Pedro's battle with AIDS, his irrepressible good nature, his love affair with Sean Sasser, and his growing friendship with his housemates would become public knowledge. When Pedro succumbed to complications of AIDS in November 1994, news of his death was carried on every major network and made international headlines. Judd Winick, a struggling cartoonist, had also been chosen for that season of The Real World, and became Pedro's roommate and close friend. His cartoon memoir tells the story of their friendship.

PersepolisPersepolis : The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (160 pages - graphic novel)

Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Pitch BlackPitch Black by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton (40 pages - graphic novel)

On the subway, do ever notice that people are always looking, but they only see what they want to? Things can be sitting right in front of them and still they can't see it. That's your guide Anthony speaking. He'll show you how he lives in the tunnels underneath the New York City subway system-that is, if you'll let him. Which is exactly what Youme decided she would do one afternoon when she and Anthony began a conversation in the subway about art.

Radioactive Boy ScoutThe Radioactive Boy Scout: the Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor by Ken Silverstein (209 pages)

David Hahn, a boy scout, wanted to earn his science merit badge. He could have done an experiment with bicarbonate of soda, like most other kids. But he didn't. He built a nuclear reactor in his shed instead. David Hahn's gospel was The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments. While his friends were learning to play baseball or dreaming of owning their first car, David was in the middle of an increasingly hazardous trail of chemical experiments. Moving on from routine explosions that forced his work from his bedroom to the garden shed, David quickly determined to build a nuclear reactor.

She said yesShe Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall by Misty Bernall (140 pages)

In the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy, a story came out about Cassie Bernall, a young woman who allegedly professed her belief in God in the moments before she was shot dead. In She Said Yes, a moving memoir written by Cassie's mother, Misty Bernall, we meet the real Cassie, a typical adolescent who struggles with peer pressure and her relationship with her parents. Once headed down the common teenage path of self-loathing and depression, Cassie turned her life around through her faith and the support of a group of people who helped her find peace and purpose--her youth group at church. Though Cassie was far from the perfect child, She Said Yes tells the story of how Cassie's faith gave her the strength to overcome the obstacles she faced in her young life.

Soul SurferSoul Surfer : A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton with Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh (222 pages)

They say Bethany Hamilton has saltwater in her veins.  How else could one explain the tremendous passion that drives her to surf?  How else could one explain that nothing - not even the loss of her arm in a horrific shark attack - could come between her and the waves? Soul Surfer is a moving account of Bethany's life as ayoung surfer, her recovery in the wake of the shark attack, the adjustments she's made to her unique surfing style, her unprecedented bid for a top showing in the World Surfing Championships, and, most fundamentally, her belief in God.  It is a story of girl power and spiritual grit that shows that the body is no more essential to surfing - perhaps even less so - than the soul.

Thee Little Words

Three little words : a memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Courter (304 pages)

Ashley Rhodes-Courter spent nine years of her life in fourteen different fo

  • Thura's Diary

    Thura's Diary : My Life in Wartime Iraq by Thura Al-Windawi (131 pages)

    Nineteen-year-old Thura al-Windawi kept a diary during the conflict in Iraq, saying that it was her way of controlling the chaos.  The diary, which documents the days leading up to the bombings, the war itself, and the lawless aftermath, puts a personal face on life in Baghdad.

    Trouble Begins at 8

    The Trouble Begins at 8: a Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman (224 pages)

    Abandoning a career as a young steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River, Samuel Clemens took a bumpy stagecoach to the Far West. In the gold and silver fields, he expected to get rich quick. Instead, he got poor fast, digging in the wrong places. His stint as a sagebrush newspaperman led to a duel with pistols. Had he not survived, the world would never have heard of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn or Mark Twain.


    Tweak : Growing Up On Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff (337 pages)

    Nic Sheff was drunk for the first time at age eleven. In the years that followed, he would regularly smoke pot, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. Even so, he felt like he would always be able to quit and put his life together whenever he needed to. It took a violent relapse one summer in California to convince him otherwise. In a voice that is raw and honest, Nic spares no detail in telling us the compelling, heartbreaking, and true story of his relapse and the road to recovery.

    When I was a LoserWhen I was a loser : true stories of (barely) surviving high school by today's top writers edited by John McNally (287 pages)

    In When I Was a Loser, John McNally assembles twenty-five original essays about defining moments of high school loserdom.  These essays perfectly capture what it was like to be in high school: to experience so many things for the first time, to assert independence while desperately trying to fit in, to feel misunderstood and unable to articulate the wild swings between heartbreak, anger, and euphoria.

    When I was a Soldier

    When I was a soldier : a memoir by Valerie Zenatti (235 pages)

    Like all young Israelis, Valerie Zenatti enlisted in the national defense service on her 18th birthday, where for the next two years she endured rigorous training and harsh living conditions, ultimately participating in top-secret missions with the secret service.

    Your Own Sylvia

    Your own, Sylvia : a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill (261 pages)

    On a bleak February day in 1963 a young American poet died by her own hand, and passed into a myth that has since imprinted itself on the hearts and minds of millions. She was and is Sylvia Plath and Your Own, Sylvia is a portrait of her life, told in poems.

    Zlata's diaryZlata's diary : a child's life in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic (200 pages)

    Zlata Filipovic was given a diary shortly before her 11th birthday and began to write in it regularly. The preoccupations of an ordinary little girl include whether or not to join the Madonna fan club, her piano and tennis lessons, her friends and her new skis.  But the distant murmur of war draws closer.  Her father starts to wear military uniform and her friends begin to leave the city.  One day school is closed and the next the bombardments begin.  The pathos and power of this diary come from watching the destruction of a childhood which could be that of anybody's child.