This morning I visited my children’s school library here in Bratislava. It made my heart do a little polka (dressed in full lederhosen) to see so many English books in one place. I found a lot of their old favorites – Pony Pals, Artemis Fowl, Ivy & Bean, Lola at the Library.
I wanted to pull them all out and start making book displays immediately.
Honestly, I thought about asking if I could stay for the day. I long to make a Rick Riordan bulletin board with a flame border and help the 5th graders create their own “Top Books of my Elementary School Years” bookmarks for the younger kids. I want to turn the covers out on all my top picks and add review cards for the older kids to tape onto the shelves near their top page-turners.
Having the right books makes such a difference for every reader. I know you know this. When you see a bored student flipping through a boring book, you want to snatch it right out of their hands and give them something AWESOME.
So today, I want to share a visual display of awesome.
If I could put all these books on every high school shelf, I would. Have a browse, and see if there’s something new you’d like to add to your classroom library.
As always with book recommendations, you should preview the book or read the Common Sense media review to make sure it’s right for your classroom.
Recommended: Jason Reynolds
Jason Reynolds is that rare author who is truly in touch with the needs and voice of his audience of young people. While I haven’t read every book he’s written, I’m close.
I’d recommend Ghost for middle grades, Long Way Down for 9th, and All American Boys for 11th/12th. I listened to Stamped on audiobook and found it clear and compelling; it would be a great addition to a set of nonfiction book clubs, or you could use pieces of it in a unit on social justice and antiracism. Ain’t Burned all the Bright is a beautiful collaboration with artist Jason Griffin, a visual diary detailing one boy’s experience with the George Floyd protests in the COVID context – incredibly accessible and perfect for your choice reading shelf or a mentor text for a multigenre project.
Recommended: Nicola Yoon
Nicola Yoon writes such unique stories. None of her books is like anything I’ve ever read before, and that’s saying something. Everything, Everything and The Sun is also a Star are a tie for my favorite, and they both deserve space on your choice reading shelf!
Recommended: Elizabeth Acevedo
Elizabeth Acevedo is a writer and a performance poet, and the two intertwine in really cool ways in The Poet X, still my favorite of her works. It has mature moments, but that’s because it doesn’t shy away from things really happening in many teenage lives. (And did you see all those awards shining on the cover?)
Recommended: Angie Thomas
While I haven’t found a copy of Nic Blake yet, I’ve read all of Angie’s other books and found them all compelling. For me, the very best was On the Come Up, with The Hate U Give a close second and then Concrete Rose as a great extension for kids who love The Hate U Give. I had the pleasure of seeing Angie speak a few years ago, and she makes such a strong connection with her youth audience. She writes out of her experiences as a teenager, and her characters live and breathe in the pages.
Recommended: Gareth Hinds
Honestly, I’m just starting to dive into Gareth Hinds’ work, but I’m so excited about what I’m discovering that I wanted to share it here. I love that he’s bringing graphic novel versions of texts long taught in the canon to our students. Having a few copies of a graphic novel version of one of these while studying it as a core text would open up many fresh activity options in class.
Recommended: Adib Khorram and Becky Albertelli
Now more than ever, we need to be sharing stories of LGBTQ+ characters in class when possible. Of these popular titles, I’ve read and really enjoyed They Both Die at the End, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, and Darius the Great is not Okay, and I would highly recommend them all.
Recommended: Michelle Obama and Trevor Noah
I didn’t read memoirs as a teenager, but they have recently become a beloved genre for me. I think I just didn’t know about them in high school, but your students can get a leg up on me with these.
Memoirs would make for fantastic book clubs, themed displays on your choice reading shelves, or whole class texts. These are some of my top favorites combined with some I hear raves about from fellow educators. My personal favorite on this list – no, I can’t, it’s a tie – would be Becoming and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (there’s a YA version for younger kids!). I have heard from teacher after teacher that students love Noah’s memoir as a full class text!
Recommended: Kwame Alexander and Jason Reynolds
Verse novels are skyrocketing in popularity these days. These are some of the top recs I’ve received in the teaching community to consider. Again, you could easily pull book clubs around verse novels, use them for your First Chapter Friday program with a display in your choice reading library, or pull one that works for your curriculum as a whole class text.
Recommended: Omar Mohamed and Alan Gratz
Both these books are such powerful narratives about the experience of being a refugee, told in wildly different ways. When the Stars are Scattered is a graphic novel about the life of two brothers in a refugee camp. Refugee tells the story of three different young people fleeing from three different conflicts around the world. Both these books could help students understand and empathize more with what is happening in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Venezuela.
Hopefully, you’re excited to dive into some new titles after this visual tour! There are so many more categories I could include here, so I’ll link you here to an incredibly comprehensive list of recs I created last summer if you want to go deeper.
If you need help to fund your books, check out this post: The Dos and Don’ts of Donors Choose.
If you want to set up a classroom library for the first time, check out this post: Setting up your ELA Classroom Library
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