Always on the hunt for the next great book for your classroom library? I’m so glad!
Here’s the rundown on some stellar books I’ve read this year that you might want to consider. Instagram is one of my favorite places to share books as I read them, so please come and connect over there if you’d like a steady stream of recs!
#1 Clap when you Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo
This is another great novel in verse by renowned performance poet Elizabeth Acevedo (be sure to check out her others, The Poet X and With the Fire on High). It follow the story of two teenage girls – one in New York and one in the Dominican Republic – as they deal with the repercussions of losing their father. The two girls are sisters, but they’re unaware of each other until the events of the book bring them together. Each has significant challenges and difficulties as they say goodbye to their father, one coping with her mother’s pain and the reality of her father’s double life, the other feeling trapped by lack of money and opportunity, and stalked by a frightening man who wants to entrap her into his business of selling time with the young women in her neighborhood to wealthy foreign visitors.
While the struggles both girls deal with throughout are vivid, intensely rendered in Acevedo’s beautiful language, students will be left with a hopeful ending as they finish the book.
#2 The Marrow Thieves, by Cherie Dimaline
This book entangles sorrow and hope, history and dystopia. It’s set in a world where the earth has gone over the edge of destruction by humanity, civilization has fallen apart, and many people are losing their minds. In a desperate bid to survive, marrow thieves are hunting Canada’s indigenous people for their bone marrow, which is apparently the only thing that will allow non-indigenous people to have dreams again and not go insane.
Dimaline’s novel is heartbreaking, not least because of how much it echoes the real history of indigenous children being separated from their families and brought to boarding schools to be abused and assimilated. The children in the book, each on the run from predatory adults, having experienced catastrophic tragedy and abuse already, come together to form a family in the wilderness, led by a wise older man who teaches them to survive and care for each other.
Eventually, there is some healing. Pieces of families find each other again. Traditions help to bring healing within the community of indigenous refugees, coming together on their own land to fight against those attacking them. The end is hopeful. The story is incredibly important.
But the journey is truly harrowing. I wouldn’t put this in the hands of a younger student without a lot of background and help to discuss and process it. Though without a lot of detail, this book shares stories of gang rape and terrible physical abuse. Students will need help to understand it and to understand the context of the Canadian boarding school system the book echoes.
#3 Ghost, by Jason Reynolds
This is one of my favorite books of the year. It features a middle school boy who has been through a lot – he and his mom had to escape his dad one night when he came after them with a gun. Ghost loves sunflower seeds, has a wry sense of humor, loves his hardworking mom, and is sick of being teased for things he can’t control. One day he sees a track team gathering for practice and makes up his mind to race a kid who seems to think he’s all that. The rest of the story features Ghost’s journey with the team – it’s funny, honest, uplifting, compelling. And the best part is that this book launches a four-book series, so kids who love it can keep right on going.
#4 Concrete Rose, by Angie Thomas
If you loved The Hate U Give, you’ll probably love this prequel, featuring the story of Starr’s Dad in his teenage years. Trying to juggle school, his mom’s expectations, his dad’s legacy, the hierarchy of the gang he joined, his new job, and the needs of his new baby is not easy for seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter. This story shows his journey from carefree teenager through new pressures and expectations and into the beginning of the man he is in The Hate U Give. Though it’s a prequel, I would give it to students after they read The Hate U Give, as knowing the man Maverick becomes really adds a lot of richness to reading about him as a teenager. This book does contain mature content.
#5 Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
When Justyce tries to help his ex-girlfriend one night, a police officer thinks he’s robbing her and handcuffs him. It changes his outlook on his life, his neighborhood, and the world. As the book continues, Justyce confronts issues of racism all around him, from within his group of friends and his school to the larger community. Throughout his frustrations and pain, he writes letters to Martin Luther King, Jr, explaining what he’s going through and seeking wisdom.