I always tell my students there are so many types of books. The ones you read on the beach, in the bath, and on long car rides. The ones you read to learn about the world. The ones you read to develop as a person. The ones you read for the beauty of the language.
For those of us who teach English, we are often juggling books for pleasure, books about our craft, books we are re-reading for class, and books we are previewing to recommend to students.
This holiday season, I present a list of worthy options in several of these categories. Put your requests in at the library now so when your school lets out, you can kick back in front of the fire with an incredible book in your hands.
Books for Pleasure
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Kevin
It all starts with a grumpy bookseller, fighting with an agent from a publishing house. Little do you expect the magic that blossoms from that dark scene. This book is a powerful, hopeful story of not only the usual love between people and other people, but between people and books. I drew questioning looks when I laughed out loud at this book at work. Though it has its sad moments, it is never overwhelmed by them.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple
Whatever you might expect from the title of this book, it’s not what you will get. This is a surprising and hilarious journey through the aftermath of one creative genius’s rough patch. As layer upon layer unfolds through a totally unique narrative style, you’ll be drawn further into Bernadette’s wild and twisty journey. The end gives the kind of satisfaction I only wish every book would give me.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
I began reading this because it was the summer reading for my school. I remained glued to the pages at every available moment for three days because it’s one of the best books of the decade. I always tell my students that one of the great powers of literature is that it allows us to empathize with and understand people having different experiences than our own. That by reading we grow as people as well as scholars. This book made me understand the Black Lives Matter movement in a way that no news article ever could. Whatever your background, there is a lot of truth to be found in this book, shared in a sincere and gripping narrative voice.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
If you’re ready to fall hard and fast into an alternate universe then join the game in Ready Player One. I’d rank this right up there with the best scifi I’ve ever read by Orson Scott Card and Isaac Asimov. This book will give you hours of pleasure by the fire, on the plane, or lounging in bed (after breakfast!).
Books of the Craft
Make Writing, by Angela Stockman
This is my most recent find, and already one of my all-time favorites. Make Writing will give you a ton of ideas for incorporating the best principles of the maker movement into your English classroom. Don’t be intimidated by the sweeping changes Stockman describes, simply enjoy shopping through her ideas for ones you can incorporate into what you are already doing. I love her creative approaches and the way she makes room for art and varied learning styles in her philosophy.
The Courage to Teach, by Parker Palmer
If you haven’t already read this, today is the day. As a teacher, you are putting yourself out there for public judgment every single day and it can be so hard. Palmer writes beautifully about the pairing of personal and professional identity in this book. It’s literally balm for the teacher soul. I read it as a first-year teacher and it was almost like being in a support group for teachers.
The Reading Zone, by Nancie Atwell
I ordered this book while teaching abroad, desperate to inspire my students to read more books for fun in English. It inspired me to start an independent reading program which soon became one of the critical pillars of my teaching. If you are at all interested in incorporating free choice reading in your classroom, whether as part of the core curriculum or as an additional component, this book will be a wonderful guide for you, as it has been for me.
Why Read?, by Mark Edmundson
In an era when more and more people are choosing games, online news summaries, e-mail and text over books, Mark Edmundson explores the beauty and power of reading fiction. While it won’t give you specific teaching ideas, this book can help you explain to students why reading matters, and you will probably recognize many of your own defining beliefs as an English teacher in Edmundson’s words.
Books to Preview for our Students (with pleasure!)
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
If you aren’t recommending Rowell to your students yet, it’s time to dive in. This is a surprisingly beautiful look at teenage love, mixing in plenty of the complicated issues of identity and family most teens are struggling with. It’s addictively readable, well-written, and a great first Rowell book to add to your independent reading library.
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
I’ve already gone on a fair bit about this book here on the blog. It’s just so good. Out of maybe forty students I’ve talked to about this book, only one didn’t like it. He said that was only because he “just likes sports books.” The Outsiders explores a teenage constant – social division. It takes a good hard look, through a gripping story that just about everyone can relate to, at the issue of fitting in versus breaking out. If you’re anything like me, you’ll like it just as much as your students.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
If you haven’t read this one yet, I’m so jealous! It’s a perfect novel to place in the hands of a student who enjoys video games more than books. I can still remember one of my favorite Bulgarian students (not that I’d ever have favorites) coming in and telling me he’d decided to adopt the nickname “Ender” after falling in love with this novel. I loved seeing him pouring over the pages during reading time, combat boots crossed in front of him. The story of Ender Wiggin, kid genius, and his lonely struggle to save the earth, is surely one of the best pieces of scifi ever written. And when you’re finished, you can move on to Ender’s Shadow. Which is at least as good, if not better!
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
If you’ve been thinking about getting a few graphic novels for your students, Persepolis is a great one to start with. This memoir about growing up in Iran during the Cultural Revolution brings up a lot of issues relevant to life in the modern world. Satrapi and her family do not fall into step with the new regime, and her story is a powerful one.
What book would you recommend to other teachers this holiday season? Add your favorites to the comments below! Or step over to my Facebook group, Creative High School English, and join in our many conversations about books, teaching strategies, and how to thrive in education today.