When people find out I am an English teacher they say one of two things: “Are you going to correct my grammar?” and “What should I be reading?” This year I can answer the latter quite thoroughly. I’ve been able to read more than usual thanks to two things: a supportive community of book donors allowing for my students to read choice books and my decision to begin class every day with choice reading for 15-20 minutes. It’s not a tough teaching decision-if you get good books into students hands, and give them an opportunity to do so, they will read.
Thankfully I’ve read and conferred right alongside them. Here are ten recommendations, some new, some old, and some re-reads that were even better round two (or twelve). Also, aside from what critics will say, these are in no particular order.
Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo: This book was a window for me (Rudine Sims-Bishop research) because it enlightened me on a culture different from my own-I learned more about the Dominican traditions and language while reading this book by a slam poet. It is written in verse and makes for a quick read. I also have always wanted to be at home on stage, and this was something more like a mirror I shared with the protagonist. If you like quick reads and Romeo & Juliet style love tales, this is for you.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi: Wow. Another window due to culture (Haitian immigrant) but also a mirror due to the Detroit setting. I adored this book! The characters were complex and lovable. The plot was moving. I was riveted with the idea of fantasy and the supernatural/spiritual also playing a strong role in the conflict because it reminded me of Toni Morrison’s work here. If you liked The Hate U Give, you will devour this book.
October Mourning by Leslea Newman: Another book in verse and also a quick re-read for me, but this year marked Matthew Shepard being laid to rest by his family in the Washington National Cathedral, 20 years after his brutal murder in Laramie, Wyoming. As tragic as his story is, it brought national attention to hate crimes, primarily those against the LGBTQ community. I re-read this on the day he was “welcomed home.”
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: Paul and I listened to this driving home from a weekend up north with my parents. We were floored. I listened to it again and decided it had to be taught. When I finally saw the text, another book in verse, I could not believe how beautiful each word was on the pages-some poems were in shapes, some appeared on pages alone, and I knew I had to share it with students. To this day, they are still ruminating about the ending!
Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser: Spoiler-Travis is my friend. That does not detract from this rec in any way since I keep re-reading this novel. Constantly. I love this story. If you appreciate Hemingway’s descriptions/language, have read or watched True Grit, and enjoy adventure stories, this is your book. It is set in northern Michigan and the protagonist is on a journey to find her addict mother, but finds many other “things” that contribute to her coming of age in the middle of a Michigan blizzard. What a read for a warm winter if you long are longing for a real snowstorm like I am!
The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater: I book talked this after it was recommended to me by Jes Mathews and a student who read it in her class. WOW. They know me too well! I love how each chapter is a different genre and readers get all the viewpoints of the same story: how someone was burned alive on a city bus. The facts are stated and no judgement is made…until you, the reader, decide who is at fault and why. If you want to see unconditional love personified, this is your story.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone: My students made me read this. I was completely floored. Now I know why I heard so many gasps when kids were reading this one in class. Chapter 14 really shocks you back into reality. I also loved how this book ended since it wasn’t necessarily a “Hollywood” type resolution. It had work to do. So do we.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: A beautiful re-read in a time of Me Too. I met Anderson years ago after my first daughter was born. I told her that her story had me in awe in college. It came out 20 years ago, but the relevancy and power still exists-all of my children will read this when the time is right. It should be mandatory for freshmen.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain: I keep reading every Bourdain book I own in hopes of reincarnating him or something-it hasn’t worked yet, but I do think this one is by far my favorite. If you are as smitten with the culinary world and travel as I am, and love storytelling in its finest form, any Bourdain book is for you but this one is my Bourdain Bible. He’d cringe at that term, wouldn’t he?
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: My son made a reference to this book the other day while we were traveling and it reminded me yet again how this book is perfect for any age and any gender. I love Noah’s comedy, but with this tale, his memoir, you also get his heart. And it is a beautiful gift.