Summer is a time to relax and rejuvenate. For me, it’s a time for family and friends, as well as some neat professional development opportunities. This summer, I did travel quite a bit, which allowed me to do a lot of reading on planes and in cars. I’ve discovered some wonderful books and wanted to share my reading list! I’ve divided it by fiction and professional reading. If you happen across this post and have recommendations based on my list or comments about the books, please do share!
I do believe books can be mirrors and windows. I often seek out windows, hoping to understand an empathize with experiences I have not had, myself. I found some powerful windows and mirrors this summer and I hope you did, too. Books can open our worlds up so much. That’s half the fun.
- House Arrest, by K.A. Holt – This novel in verse tells the story of a young man who is put on house arrest and is court ordered to keep a journal. He has a younger brother with a congenial birth defect that has caused his family to have quite a few struggles, including his father leaving and finances becoming almost impossible. I found the story and voice very compelling and enjoyed it a great deal. I look forward to reading more by K.A. Holt.
- Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, by G. Neri – This graphic nonfiction book tells the story of Yummy, a young man who falls into a gang life in Chicago and makes some choices that lead eventually to his death. The illustrations are excellent and the narrator’s confusion and frustration about the whole situation resonates with feelings we still have today.
- The Skin I’m In, by Sharon Flake – I heard mixed reviews about this novel before being able to read it myself. It’s about a young woman named Maleeka who is constantly picked on at school for her homemade cloths, her good grades, and her exceptionally dark skin. A new teacher comes and Maleeka assumes it will lead to more trouble, but the new teacher surprises her. There is a particularly dark scene, in which two boys attempt to attack Maleeka on the street, but they are unsuccessful in carrying out their full attack. However, I mention it because it is clearly an attempted rape, and Maleeka deals with complicated feelings following the event.
- Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery, by M. Evelina Galang – At the onset of the story, Angel’s father has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Angel’s mother is too beset with her own grief to function, and Angel begins to take more responsibility for caring for her family. Set against the backdrop of the second Philippine People Power Revolution of 2001, this novel delves beautifully into the complexities of a family pulled apart. I could not get over the incredible language, often rereading passages just to experience them for a little bit longer. I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot.
- Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, by John Sonnenblick – Steven is in the band and is an exceptionally percussionist. He has a little brother, Jeffrey, who annoys him a great deal, a girl he has a crush on, and some very supportive parents. Jeffrey suddenly takes ill and Steven’s world is turned upside down. When Jeffrey is diagnosed with cancer, everything changes. This book does a great job showing how challenging it can be to have a sick sibling and how it affects a family. It was certainly a window for me. I really enjoyed it.
- OCDaniel, by Wesley King – Daniel is the backup punter for his middle school football team, which basically means he’s the waterboy. He spends all of practice arranging the cups and hoping no one notices. He has quite a few habits, actually, that he hopes no one notices. He doesn’t want anyone to think he’s crazy, but he just can’t write the number four or flip a light switch only one time. A young woman known best to him as Psycho Sara, however, seems to have seen him in a way no one else has. I loved this book. It has a great mystery that goes side by side with Daniel’s own journey of self-discovery and I thought it was very well told.
- Mexican WhiteBoy, by Matt de la Pena – Danny goes to stay with extended family for the summer. His dad is off on a trip and his mom has moved in with a man he just isn’t thrilled with, so he jumps at the chance to go spend the summer with cousins on his father’s side. There, he plays baseball and starts to really connect with his family, but it takes time for him to begin to feel accepted. Matt de la Pena is an incredible story and I cannot believe it took me so long to pick this book up. It definitely has some language in it, but it’s a well told story about trying to find your place and the power of sports to cross the lines we create for ourselves.
- More Happy Than Not, by Adam Silvera – Aaron’s father committed suicide three months ago, and he’s still taking it day by day. He has a girlfriend he loves and some close friends that he really gets along with. He, too, attempted suicide, but was unsuccessful. He’s trying to move past this, but it’s a daily struggle. He meets a new guy named Thomas, who he begins to develop feelings for in his girlfriend’s absence during a trip. Rather than dealing with this feelings, Aaron wants to have a procedure done to alter his memory and remove his feelings for Thomas. This book, which feels mostly realistic, with a hint of science fiction, tells a powerful story about identity.
- Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story, by Nora Raleigh Baskin – As the title suggests, this is a 9/11 story. It follows the story of several individuals across the country and explores the impact of the attacks on the nation as a whole. It was a quick read, and a good story on the whole.
- See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng – I loved this book so much, I added it to the Family Book Club list for this year. It tells the story of Alex, who loves space. The narration style is that Alex is making recordings on his golden iPod, that he intends to send into space to be discovered by other intelligent life forms. Alex is an independent young man, who takes care of his mother. She has many quiet days and Alex provides for her by preparing meals and going to the grocery store when needed. He gets her set up for a few days and then goes to a convention, where he hopes to send his golden iPod off into space.
- Escaping into the Night, by Dina D. Friedman – Halina lives in a Polish ghetto with her mother and several friends. When Hitler orders the ghetto evacuated, Halina escapes into a secret Jewish camp, where people live underground, struggling to survive, scavenging for food and hiding from the Nazis. This work of historical fiction taught me yet another aspect of life during WWII. It was powerful to me in that, people find ways to survive in the worst of times. I do think this story would appeal to students who are interested in WWII and want to learn more.
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as told by Michael Morpurgo – I have always wanted to read this entire legend, because we teach the first section as part of our 7th grade course of study. It’s easily one of the most engaging stories of the year. The full story is just as engaging! I did discover, however, that Sir Gawain is tempted by a beautiful woman, and so, it is probably for the best that our textbook does not print the whole story. I am interested to read more of Michael Morpurgo’s work – I really love the narration style of this verison.
- All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr – I don’t know that I need to share much about this story, as it has been so popular in recent years. It’s another story set during the WWII time period and this one tells parallel stories of a blind French girl and a German boy. It’s beautiful. The story is beautiful. The writing is beautiful. The way the stories converge is beautiful. I HIGHLY recommend this book. I am adding it to my classroom library. It was a sixth grader that recommended it to me, so I think having it there for students who are interested is ideal. I wanted to copy so many sentences just to remember how wonderful they were.
- Countdown (The Sixties Trilogy #1), by Deborah Wiles – Franny is growing up in 1962 and times are challenging. The country lives in fear of Russian nuclear missiles and Franny’s family is feeling the impact, especially since her father is military. Wiles calls this a documentary novel and it’s the first of it’s kind I’ve encountered, but I hope the idea gains some traction. Included in the story are newspaper clippings, photographs, and speeches from the time period. Wiles captures the fears of the time in tremendous fashion by including all the source material. I thought it was awesome!
- Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy #2), by Deborah Wiles – Similar to Countdown, Revolution tells a story, interspersed with source material from the time period. This time, the story follows the Freedom Summer in Greenwood, Mississippi. Sunny feels like her town is being invaded. Freedom workers are coming in trying to get African Americans registered to vote. The town is panicking. Again, Wiles captures the story in a unique and compelling way with the documentary novel. I loved it.
- A Time to Dance, by Padma Venkatraman – This novel in verse tells the story of Veda, who is a dance prodigy living in India. A terrible car accident leaves her injured beyond her comprehension – her leg is amputated. Veda is determined to dance again, despite her circumstances. It’s an incredibly powerful story about finding yourself again after tragedy strikes. I was very moved by this story and can’t wait to share it with students.
- A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving – This is quite possibly one of the best first lines around: I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. It’s 1953 and two boys, who happen to be best friends, are in the middle of a Little League game when one boy hits a foul boy that hits the other boy’s mother square in the forehead and kills her. The story works both in the past and present for the narrator. It explores both the tragedy of the baseball, but also how Owen (the batter) does not believe in accidents. This story is complex and full good questions. What happens after this foul ball is extraordinary. It took me some time to read, because it is a long book, but I really couldn’t put it down.
- Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, by John Grisham – This series was highly recommended to me by a student last year and now I can see why! Theodore Boone is an engaging narrator and John Grisham is a great storyteller. This book, the first in the series, follows the trial of a highly publicized murder that happens in a relatively small town. Theodore is the child of two lawyers in town and is deeply interested in the trial. He is often approached by classmates about legal matters and gets pulled into the trial proceedings when this happens. The novel was exciting and fascinating. I look forward to recommending it this year.
- All We Have Left, by Wendy Mills – I have told many people that this book is the best I read this summer and while there are several others on this list that I love, I stand by it. All We Have Left tells the story of Alia, a 16 year old Muslim girl, in 2001, as she finds herself in the Twin Towers on the day of the attacks and Jesse, a 16 year old girl in 2016. The two stories converge in a fascinating way. I don’t want to say too much about it because I don’t want to give things away, but this is easily the best story about 9/11 I have read to date. I highly recommend this to anyone!
- Piecing Me Together, by Renee Watson – Jade wants to succeed. Her mother has taught her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way and she tries to do so. She lives in a poor neighborhood and often goes to school hungry, but she does go to a school that she got into because of her good grades and strong work ethic. She dreams of travel and works hard to earn opportunities at school. Her school offers her a chance to join a mentor-ship program for “at-risk” girls, but she realizes quickly that this seems to mean black girls from “bad” neighborhoods. This book is an incredible window into understanding what privilege looks like and what harm can come when we make decisions based on stereotypes. I could not put it down.
- How I Became A Ghost, by Tim Tingle – A Choctaw boy tells the story of his family’s removal from their Mississippi home by way of the Trail of Tears. The story has a good bit of action, though it is a tragic tale. I think the narrator is engaging and that this book would appeal to students seeking tales of survival and nature.
- Belle Chasse, by Suzanne Johnson – This is part of the Sentinels of New Orleans series, by Suzanne Johnson. It’s not a series I would recommend to middle schoolers, but I do highly recommended it to upper high schoolers and adults that enjoy fantasy. DJ is a sentinel of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina rips open the boundary between the natural world and the preternatural world. It release a lot of things, but one of them is Jean Lafitte. In this particular book, war is rising and DJ must choose a side. I LOVE this series. It’s honestly the best surprise when I learn a new installment has come out. It’s an engaging, funny story that I really appreciate.
- Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes – If you know me, you know Katrina stories are near and dear to me, so it’s no surprise I read two back to back. Ninth Ward follows the story of a young woman who simply does not have the means to leave during the storm. I found it engaging and powerful. Thinking about privilege this summer and what it looks like, this story offered me a window into a world where evacuation in the face of a terrible storm was a privilege, not a right, for some of our citizens when Katrina struck. I think it’s an important book.
- Audacity, by Melanie Crowder – This novel in verse tells the story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American History. Clara Lemlich is a hard worker, who cares deeply for those around her. I was deeply moved by her story and in awe of the way she fought for those around her. I can’t wait to share this story with students.
- Soldier, Sister, Fly Home, by Nancy Bo Flood – Tess finds it hard to balance her identity as a Navajo and as an American and is in utter shock when her sister Gaby decides to join the army just weeks after the first Native American to die in combat, a Navajo as well, is killed. Tess struggles to find herself in these circumstances and is challenged with her sister’s charge to care for her horse while she is at war. I loved this book. It’s short and somewhat of an easy read, so while I think it has wide appeal in middle school, I look forward to sharing it particularly with reluctant readers.
- Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper – This book brought the most tears for me this summer. Melody has cerebral palsy and cannot walk or talk, but her mind is incredible. She has a photographic memory and loves to learn. Her speaking board is very limited, though, so communication is a constant battle. She is in a self-contained classroom at school, but when the laws change and Melody is placed in inclusion classes, her world opens up and she longs for more. I adore Sharon Draper and this book is no exception. She is a powerful story teller and this book is incredible. I should have read it years ago!
- The Warden’s Daughter, by Jerry Spinelli – Cammie’s father is the warden. She lives at the prison. While this is endlessly fascinating, it becomes even more so when a very high profile murderer is placed into solitary during her time there. Cammie has not had an easy life. She lost her mother when she was very young and has struggled with her own guilt over the circumstances. She has recently decided that she wants the prisoner who has been assigned to clean their house to be her new mother. The story follows the summer where Cammie really spirals out of control. The story is fantastic. I loved it. I highly recommend.
- Somewhere Among, by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu – Ema is caught between two worlds. Her father is Japanese and her mother is American. She lives in Japan and is fond of her American grandparents. When 9/11 strikes, it adds new strains on her already struggling family. The novel in verse tells the story of a girl trapped between two worlds during the worst of times. It’s a good story.
- Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, by Penny Kittle – I can’t recommend this book enough to teachers. Kittle talks about the importance of reading choice in middle and high school and all the reasons we need to develop stamina in readers of all ages. I love Reading Workshop and it has changed my world. I want that for every teacher. If you’re still teaching whole class novels, this book is worth your attention. If you’ve transitioned to workshop, this book is worth your attention. It’s full of great ideas and explanations.
- In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom, by Kelly Gallagher – This book set me on fire for establishing a writing workshop in my room. I have worked really hard on reading workshop for the last three years and it is far from perfect and while I never quit teaching writing, I have been very aware that I am not giving it the attention it needs. I am looking forward to the challenge and this book gave very practical advice that made me feel like I can do it.
- Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters, by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst – I want every teacher to read this book. Comprehension questions on tests are not what we need to be asking our students. They’re just not. This book describes an approach to reading instruction that I think can help teachers move in an improved direction. I cannot wait to implement some of the ideas in my classroom this year.