The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries. —Rene Descartes
The school year hasn’t even started yet and I’m already exhausted. I’m sure many of you can relate. The amount of planning and preparation that’s gone into the new semester has been simply staggering. We’ve compiled resources for in person, blended, and distance learning environments. We’re mapping out plans for students to attend class but remain socially distant. Not to mention running strategies to keep students engaged throughout the process.
All in all, it’s been a tough summer leading up to an even tougher school year. The real kicker is that we have no idea how things might change throughout the year. All this planning may only get us so far. So, it’s reassuring to know that when all else fails, students can still read. I don’t say this to sound cynical or defeatist, quite the opposite. One should never underestimate the advantages of a good book.
What’s on Your Bookshelf?
Books can keep students engaged. They can explain complex problems in a rich, compelling way and help readers develop their social-emotional skills. Best of all, they expand our worldview and encourage us to learn more about the different things and people around us. If you find yourself overwhelmed in the coming fall, allow your students to learn with help from one of these compelling novels:
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Maxwell Kane may appear to be a towering giant, but on the inside he’s really just a young boy with low self-esteem. The son of a convicted criminal, Max lives with his Grandparents and spends most of his time alone. Then Freak comes along. Freak (or Kevin) has Morquio syndrome, wears leg braces, and enjoys pretending to be a robot. The two boys strike up an unlikely friendship and soon learn that together, they’re unstoppable. A member of Scholastic’s Gold line, Freak the Mighty is a timeless tale which explores themes of bullying, disability, and enduring friendship.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album, American Born Chinese is a coming-of-age story about culture, prejudice, and identity. Jin Wang is a Chinese-American boy who wants to fit in with the white students at his new school in the suburbs. It doesn’t help that he has a crush on his classmate Amelia and is constantly fighting negative stereotypes from his peers. However, in his quest to become an “all American boy” Jin soon discovers a valuable part of himself that he never truly understood. Drawing upon imagery from The Journey to the West, readers follow Jin on his own journey of self-discovery.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Though we’ve mentioned this book before in our blog, it’s certainly worth revisiting. The Hate U Give is narrated by 16-year-old Starr Carter, an African American girl who lives in the mostly poor black neighborhood of Garden Heights. When Starr witnesses a white police officer shoot and kill her childhood friend, she suddenly finds herself the face of a nationwide argument over race, justice, and accountability. While the novel has been criticized for its harsh depictions of violence, it nevertheless serves as a valuable tool for students navigating these turbulent times. Ultimately, The Hate U Give is a powerful story of racial identity and the power of protests.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Another familiar entry, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a touching story of two boys trying to find their way in a strange world. Aristotle and Dante appear to have nothing in common. Aristotle (Ari) is moody, withdrawn, and shouldering the weight of his brother’s absence. Dante, by contrast, is friendly, social, and always ready to speak his mind. As their friendship matures however, both boys learn to navigate the waters of love, family, and trauma, ultimately discovering who they are together.
The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan
Who says reading can’t be fun? The Percy Jackson series has been capturing the imaginations of young readers for years and it’s not hard to see why. Percy, a young teenager with dyslexia, thought his life was weird enough before he was attacked by ancient monsters. Whisked away to the mysterious Camp Half-Blood, Percy discovers that all the figures of Greek mythology are actually real and living in America today. But why are they targeting him, and what’s waiting for him at the end of his quest? Get your students hooked on reading with this fantastic YA series!