25 Favorite American Memoirs for Kids

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25 Favorite American Memoirs for Kids

Historical

The Sound of Silence by Myron Uhlberg

Myron Uhlberg grew up hearing with two deaf parents throughout the 1930s and 1940s. As a child, Myron had to balance being hearing in a silent home and taking on the role of translator for his parents. When his brother was diagnosed with epilepsy, he found himself acting as his brother’s caretaker. This book was fascinating on so many levels and offers a great perspective on dealing with difficult situations.

Child of the Dream by Sharon Robinson

Sharon Robinson, the daughter of baseball player Jackie Robinson, writes about her experiences during the 1960s as segregation began and racial tension increased. Read as she describes what it was like to be African-American in her neighborhood and to see all she did throughout this historical period. 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline shares her own experience as an African American growing up in the 1960s in this collection of powerful poems. Her perspective on the Civil Rights movement and the way even children were affected by the remnants of Jim Crow throughout this work is something everyone should read. 

March Forward, Girl by Melba Pattillo Beals

Even as a child, Melba noticed that things were different for white folks than they were for her. She noticed the different drinking fountains, the rules of the city bus, and the soda counters that were off limits to people like her. She was told to keep her head down and follow the rules, but Melba knew that she had the courage it took to fight back, and later became one of the famous “Little Rock Nine” who helped pave the way for integrated schools. 

Bad Boy: A Memoir by Walter Dean Myers

In the 40s and 50s when Walter Myers was coming of age in Harlem, he was well-muscled and quick to jump into a fight. When he wasn’t fighting, he was quick to pore over as many books as possible. As time passed, Walter grew less enthused with school and turned more readily to the streets. In time, he learned how to leverage his knowledge and street smarts and became a warrior in the crusade for equal rights for his people. 

Reaching for the Moon by Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson, a math prodigy, flew through school, skipping whole grade levels and studying under a professor. Her life was not without hardship, however, as being Black and a woman caused her to have to prove herself nearly everywhere she went. Her natural aptitude for solving difficult equations eventually landed her a job at NASA, where she helped get the first men on the moon with the Apollo 11 project. 

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

With the Cold War raging between the world powers and the Civil Rights movement being birthed at home, growing up in the 1950s made for some interesting times in which to form an identity. These years became ones of self-discovery for Marilyn Nelson. Her memoir, told in a series of intimate poems, lets readers into her personal story. 

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackman Lowery

Passionate about the fight for justice, Lynda Blackman took to the streets in 1965, joining a crowd of others marching in the voting rights march. Too young to vote at just 15, Lynda recognized the power of standing up for what you believe in and working towards a better future. 

A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary

Beloved creator of the Ramona Quimby series, Beverly Cleary, steps back to tell her own story in this, a memoir about growing up in the Great Depression. From a struggling reader to prolific author, this is a truly inspiring tale of a woman who wouldn’t give up when times were hard. 

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret

When Peg was just 12 years old, she contracted polio and spent several months in the hospital recovering. Her resilience and fortitude in the face of this debilitating illness will both uplift and inspire readers. 

Path to the Stars by Lucinda Dyer

As a fiery Latina immigrant from Mexico growing up in the 60s, Lucinda faced exclusion at school and the expectations of tradition at home. She found an escape and a place to belong in her local Girl Scout troop, which gave her the confidence she needed to later become a rocket scientist at NASA and CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. 

Modern

Gifted Hands: YA Edition by Ben Carson

Ben Carson, a world-renowned neurosurgeon, has saved thousands of lives and impacted our society in so many different ways. He was taught from a young age to believe in himself and never give up. His story is told in a way that the lesson of perseverance is clear to any young reader.

Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton

When she was just a young teenager, surfer Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a shark. The shark bit off her entire left arm, but that didn’t stop Bethany from continuing to  pursue her love and passion for surfing. This story of perseverance and determination is truly inspiring. 

The Warrior’s Heart by Eric Greitans

In this inspiring tale, former Navy Seal Eric lays his story bare, welcoming readers into his journey through joining up, training, and laying his life on the line in locales all around the world. Eric served time in China, Bosnia, and Rwanda, working in various humanitarian missions with a focus on serving others. Along the way he became a man of both compassion and courage. 

El Deafo By Cece Bell

After Cece lost her hearing at a young age, she began wearing a device known as the Phonic Ear, a giant hearing aid strapped to her chest. It helped her to hear, but also created issues for her with bullies and self-esteem. All she really longed for was a genuine friendship, but with the Ear as her only constant companion, she wondered if she would ever find it. Written in an engaging graphic novel format. 

Do You Dream in Color?: Insights From a Girl Without Sight by Laurie Rubin

Laurie was born blind, but her lack of sight has not prevented her from realizing her dream of singing opera for a living or experiencing adventures like downhill skiing. Here she presents her story: of isolation throughout middle school, facing her fears, and finally, to her rising stardom. She maintains that everyone wants to belong and offers hope to those of us that always feel a bit different from the rest. 

Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and my Journey from Homelessness to Harvard by Liz Murray

Born in New York to parents with an addiction issue, Liz Murray eventually landed in a group home as a ward of the state. At age fifteen, she was surviving on the streets, where she stayed until news of her mother’s death reached her. This horrific news was the jump Liz needed to get back to high school, finishing in only two years. Through hard work, scholarships, and a bit of luck, Liz was headed to Harvard. 

Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle

17-year-old Elena is trapped in a vicious cycle of restriction, shame, and mental illness. Her anorexia seems to be completely taking over her life in a shadow nearly big enough to swallow her. Elena and her mother tell her story here, describing the five-year battle that they tackled together, and give other sufferers a reason to hope again. 

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance by Simone Biles

At only four-foot-eight, Simone Biles might not be very big in stature, but she certainly is a giant on the gym mat. After spending a few years in the foster care system, Simone was adopted by her biological grandparents. Soon after, she began training as a gymnast at the age of six and quickly proved she had real talent. Armed with her strong faith in God and the support of her family, she made it all the way to the big leagues. This is her journey; from foster care to Olympic gold.

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

In the span of nine years, Ashley was shuffled in and out of fourteen different foster homes. This is the story of her navigation of her chaotic relationship with her mother, her endurance in spite of abuse, and her ability to leave her past behind and find her voice.

Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books by Gary Paulsen

Fans of Paulsen’s Hatchet series will be thrilled (and a little grossed out) to know that most of the things that happened to Brian were things that really did occur–in the life of the author himself. Here Paulsen lays out the unbelievable, real-life adventures and escapades that led to the making of his popular book series. 

Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith by Gabrielle Douglas

Olympic gymnast Gabi Douglas first charmed the hearts of the world when she appeared on TV screens in 2012, competing in the London Olympic games. Here is her story about the hard work, faith, resilience, and grit that it took to become the proud owner of an Olympic gold medal.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

When Jarrett’s teacher asked him to draw his family, he realized that his was not the typical story. Absentee parents who struggled with addiction landed Jarrett in his grandparent’s home and left him to try and discover who he was amidst the chaos of his family life. 

Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought For Her American Dream by Julissa Arce

When she was very young, Julissa’s parents would disappear for months at a time from their Mexican village, heading north to Texas to work and bring back money to keep the family afloat. One day, they brought Julissa with them, and so began her journey as an undocumented person living in the United States. Julissa graduated high school with honors, continued her success throughout college, and eventually became a Wall Street executive. She speaks candidly about her experience and the fear and stigma that often accompany someone with alien status, providing the chance for us to step into her shoes for a while on the journey to a more compassionate world. 

Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey by Joly Herman

Joly Herman was born with Treacher Collin’s Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes facial abnormalities. His condition made it difficult to eat and breathe properly, and doctors recommended several surgeries to improve the quality of his life. Despite a number of setbacks, Joly continued to fight to live a life he could be proud of, and poked fun at the idea that ‘normal’ really exists after all. 

1 COMMENT

  1. I read A Girl From Yamhill as a kid in the mid-80s and it’s still one of my favorite books! It really stuck with me over the years.

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