Just as there are students that struggle with math but devour books, there are those that naturally grasp STEM skills more easily than reading and writing skills. Every student is allowed their own academic preferences, of course, but it’s vital to develop well-rounded academic capabilities for each of them.
Proficiency in science or math is excellent, but a humanities education is just as important. That’s why we’ve developed this collection of the best books for STEM students that can motivate STEM-inclined students to develop a love of reading. From science fiction classics and modern tales to riveting nonfiction with a STEM focus, this list has inspiring reads for to-be scientists and engineers of any grade level.
Nonfiction Books with a STEM Focus
Many students that struggle to read have issues with losing concentration, skimming whole pages, and not comprehending what they read. If they are given a book about a topic that interests them, they’re more likely to exercise critical thinking as they read and remember the content. So, a solution for science and math lovers with an aversion to reading is to incorporate STEM into reading.
1. Spaceman by Mike Massimino
A middle grade memoir, Spaceman chronicles Mike Massimino’s journey from a seven-year-old watching Apollo 11 land on the moon to his own journey to fix the Hubble Space Telescope as an astronaut himself. Mike grew up in a working-class family, dreaming of becoming an astronaut—with the encouragement of the adults in his life, he made it to Columbia University, then MIT, then NASA.
Naturally, he faced roadblocks with every new step in his journey, but that didn’t deter him from venturing towards his dream. Space lovers and kids with big dreams alike will find clarity, motivation, and a story they can’t put down in Spaceman. As said by Bill Nye in his review of the book (yes, the Science Guy): “Prepare to be inspired”.
2. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
The next novel in our collection is one of the best STEM books for elementary students interested in electricity and mechanics. This memoir from William Kamkwamba chronicles his adventure to bring electricity to his Malawian village. When his family lost all their crops due to a dreadful drought, William began searching for solutions in his local library’s science books. He thought of an idea—creating a windmill to bring electricity (and water) to his home.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, now a Netflix film, has both an original version and a young readers’ edition, the latter of which we recommend for any mini engineers that are always putting things together and taking them apart.
3. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
If you haven’t seen the Oscar-nominated movie adaptation (or, honestly, even if you have), Hidden Figures is a riveting story that captures the mathematical, historical, and intersectional side of the journey to space. As succinctly described by this nonfiction novel’s subtitle: “The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race”.
STEM lovers will devour the novel’s exploration of human computers and the math behind the process of space launches, and they’ll learn about how, before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of female mathematicians calculated the numbers used to launch rockets by hand. Not only this, but students will see how STEM isn’t just “all facts”, completely distinct from ideas discussed in the humanities; in fact, they’ll see how social and historical context always influence and inform scientific exploration, discovery, and developments.
4. Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease by Gail Jarrow
The last of our featured nonfiction books about science is a fascinating history of the medicine and medical practices used during the US Civil War. Due to its more graphic nature, this read is more suitable for older YA readers.
Gail Jarrow chronicles the various techniques and substances used to treat war-caused wounds and illnesses, describing the many dangerous conditions (from parasites to gangrene) that hundreds of thousands of soldiers were susceptible to without treatment. Students with a knack for Biology or an early interest in pursuing a career in medicine will be gripped by Jarrow’s descriptions of how humanity dealt with pests, disease, and infections without today’s modern medicine.
Science Fiction Must-Reads
The science and technology in our everyday lives has limitations, but literature allows us to explore an infinite breadth of possibilities. These science fiction masterpieces (including both modern and classic reads) integrate imagination into our scientific understanding of what’s real—at least one of these riveting novels is sure to motivate a struggling reader who loves STEM subjects.
1. The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm
A New York Times bestseller, The Lion of Mars details the experiences of eleven-year-old Bell, a cat- and cake-lover who was born and lives in a US colony on Mars. When a virus breaks out that infects all the grown-ups, Bell and the other children are left to save them and reveal the truth behind their colony.
Settling on Mars has been a hot topic in popular scientific discourse for years, and this novel explores what that could be like from a child’s point of view. This captivating read creates an immersive and thoughtfully-depicted setting on our neighboring red planet and invites readers to investigate what community and social relationships mean to them. Students can also draw upon their own experience when reading about the colony’s epidemic, developing a personal connection to the novel.
2. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
This Newberry Medal winner is a mesmerizing, middle-grade dive into the sci-fi subgenre of time travel. 6th grader Miranda begins receiving mysterious notes that predict the future after a falling out with her best friend. She considers ignoring the messages, but cannot when they predict that someone will die and Miranda might be able to save them.
A clever must-read for any little scientist looking to explore a new mystery, as described by Publishers Weekly’s review of the novel: “It’s easy to imagine readers studying Miranda’s story… and spending hours pondering the provocative questions it raises.” When You Reach Me is bound to spark a motivation to read for inquisitive minds
3. Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll
On the border of middle grade and YA, Show Us Who You Are is a reminder for young minds to investigate the ethics of any new technology or tech company. This novel dives into the experience of Cora, an autistic 12-year-old, as she discovers dark secrets behind the tech corporation that gives people the chance to talk to their departed loved ones.
McNicoll, autistic herself, conveys the reality of neuro-divergency while using humor and thoughtful care to explore the nuances of grief and identity. STEM lovers will come to this read for the potential of holograms and other forms of emulating real people, and they’ll stay for the heartwarming yet suspenseful story.
4. This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
If the above reads weren’t science fiction-y enough for you, this one may take the cake. This Mortal Coil is an enthralling journey for high school biology and computer science lovers. 17-year-old Catarina is a hacker—she can bypass firewalls, uncover hidden data, and hack genes. Yes, in this dystopian world, humans have implants that allow them to recode their own DNA and change their bodies, and Cat is an expert at gene-hacking. When she learns that her renowned geneticist father dies, she must use her expertise to uncover a hidden message from him that can save her world.
Intrigued yet? Readers love this novel for its thrilling mystery, its cyber-futuristic world, and the way it questions whether nature should be able to be rewritten. The best part: there are two sequels, so this expertly paced, captivating journey keeps going! Even the most reluctant readers are unlikely to resist this “unputdownable” ride.
5. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This final item in our collection of the best books for STEM students to be inspired to read more, this classic is far from boring. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent has an ordinary life, entirely upended one day when all of Earth is destroyed and his alien best friend escorts him into the vast, hostile universe.
This colorful, hyperbolic pop culture classic has won the hearts of science and reading lovers alike for decades. It isn’t afraid to be silly or question what we know about time, physics, and the meaning of life with satire and wit that’ll charm any high schooler looking for a comedic, existential journey.
Improve Your Reading Skills with Piqosity
We hope you’ve found your next library pick in this collection of the best books for STEM students to be motivated to read more. We’ve picked these novels because they’re captivating and easier to read than other science-y books, but it’s understandable if you still feel daunted about concentrating, using critical thinking, and comprehending as you read. That just means you need some more practice for your ELA skills, and Piqosity is here to help!
Along with our ISEE, SAT, and ACT test prep courses, we offer full online English courses—each includes dozens of concept lessons, personalized practice software, and over 100 reading comprehension passages.
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