books, Literacy, Reading

A Few Favorite Books from Our Classroom for Teens Who Say They Can’t Find a Great Book

One of the many benefits there is from being an educator who reads a lot is that I get to create many different reading lists in my head. From the child that asks me to find another book just like the one they just read, to the colleague who needs some books to take their mind off of bigger things, to the child who tells me that they have never liked a single book, there are lists in my head with ideas. These lists grow as I read, study what our kids are reading, and also get to know our readers better.

One of my most used list from my head is for the last group of kids, the kids that come to us saying that all books are boring. That all books they have tried are only okay or not worth their time. Who read a book only because they have to or fake read hoping we won’t notice. Those books are in high demand.

There are a few trends with many of the books that help kids find value in reading again. Many are free-verse or novels in verse, many have mature topics discussed throughout, many are shorter. In fact, I would say that the world needs even more of these books – books with mature, complex storylines that are around 200-250 pages, especially those written by #OwnVoices authors.

So which books make the list at the moment for our readers? Here are a few suggestions…

I have loved book talking Torrey Maldonado’s Tight to my students because you can see them get interested quickly once I share the book. After all, how many of my students can relate to the idea of trying to navigate demands from friendships without losing yourself.

I rejoiced loudly at the news that Nic Stone wrote a middle grade novel. Students love both Dear Martin and Jackpot but for some of my students they need a little more accessible language, which Nic so seamlessly delivers in this Clean Getaway, her new middle-grade novel without sacrificing the complexity of the story.

Another book that has been replaced multiple times is The Rose that Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur. I love when students discover this book because they so often check with me to see if this is “The Tupac” or some other guy.

I book talked Standing Strong by Gary Robinson last week and it had an immediate wait list. I can’t wait to see what the students think once they have read it.

Free-verse continues to reign supreme for many of our students and this new addition Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai has been gaining attention since I book-talked it a month ago.

I cannot wait to book talk Manning Up by Bee Walsh this week. It has a few common patterns that seems to do well in our classroom; it’s free verse, it is action packed, it is more mature, and it is about sports.

We have continued our discussions about influences, bias, and what causes us to do what we do throughout the year and so I book talked The Wave by Todd Strasser and the book has furiously made the rounds. It’s short, accessible, and a riveting read as we see just how frightfully easy it is to manipulate others.

I have lost of how many kids have read Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee.

Yummy – The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and illustrated by Randy DuBurke

I have replaced Yummy more times than I can count because it is one of those books where once I book talk, I tend to not see it again. One kid book talked it repeatedly as he tried to convince other us its rightful place in their reading lives.

One of our newer additions to must-read books has been Warcross by Marie Lu. This book is featured in our dystopian book club work and is a book that kids love for its fast pace and mystery.

If there is a book that defines our time together it is this masterpiece by Jason Reynolds. Long Way Down continues to be one of our most worn-out, passed around, talked about books more than a year after its release. I have lost count of how many readers have asked for books just like this after they finish its pages.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman is the second most read book series in our classroom, and for the kids who are not quite ready to decode its many pages, the audio version beckons. With its complicated plot lines, incredible world building, and suspense, I am in awe of the talent that is Neal Shusterman and how he never underestimates our readers.

Eleven by Tom Rogers about 9/11 is a book that I book talk on the anniversary of the attacks and I see it passed from child to child. The kids I teach now were born after the attacks and long for books that can help them understand what happens. With its dual narrators, the book is fast paced yet accessible for many.

Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines is one of the more mature books in our classroom, but without fail it is one of the most read series we have. With its focus on football, small town, tragedy, and relationships, it pulls readers in from many walks of life.

Also more mature, the poetry collection The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace is one that especially many of my 7th graders who have not found value in reading gravitate toward. I book talk it individually as well as to the class.

I have seen The Bad Guys series by Aaron Blabey dismissed more times than I can count by adults who deem it too easy for our readers, and yet, this series has single handedly transformed at least three readers’ lives in our classroom over the years. Why someone would dismiss a great series that a child wants to read continues to baffle me.

The Crossover – Graphic Novel Adaptation by Kwame Alexander and Dawud Anyabwile Even if a child has read The Crossover (which is also on this list), they still get so excited to see the graphic novel adaptation.

Handed Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren to one of my hockey players and she could not put it down.  Her word of mouth recommendation means that it is flying through the classroom, and kids who told me they hate reading are devouring it.

Image result for hey kiddo

Kids cannot believe that this is a graphic novel.  With its unflinching look at how addiction shaped his life and his talents, Hey, Kiddo by Jarret J. Krosoczka is flying through the room.

“Mrs. Ripp, I only want to read books like this one…” so said one of my most resistant readers this year, and it happens every year.  Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pies is one of those books I can count on to be a great reading experience for almost every child I hand it to.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone is one of those books that takes you by the heart and then twists it painfully.  Unyielding in its honesty, this book stays with you long after the last page.

What happens when the alpha bully at a middle school hits his head and forgets everything about himself?  I think so many of my students can connect with Gordon Korman’s Restart for many different reasons.  It is fast-paced and Chases’ dilemma makes you want to read on; will he go back to how he was?

Also by Jason Reynolds, Miles Morales – Spiderman is the first full-length novel that features the comic book character Miles Morales as Spiderman.  Need I say more?

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt has hands-down been the biggest game changer for a lot of my readers.  I have 7 copies circulating and none of them sit on the shelf for more than a day.  We have it on Audible as well for students who prefer to listen to their books.

 Rhyme Schemer also by K.A. Holt is about a bully who becomes the victim.  I love how students relate to this story and often see this passed from kid to kid.

Who would think that our most resistant readers start to fall in love with reading through free verse?  What Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover has done for our reading life cannot be underestimated.  I have already had to replace my copies of this book this year and students are eagerly awaiting Booked on it’s arrival date of April 5th.

Reality Boy by A.S.King may have a very angry protagonist but I think the anger and “realness” of the books is what draws readers to it.  This is another book that is often recommended from student to student.

Another free verse book, this one is House Arrest by K.A. Holt has been making the rounds as well.  The discussions in class that this book leads to are powerful for many students.

When a resistant reader recommended this book to me I knew it had staying power in our classroom.  Carl Deuker’s Gym Candy is not your typical sports book and I think that is why it has been so popular with many resistant readers.  It is a little bit raw and a little bit unresolved, a perfect choice for many of my more picky readers.

Another Jason Reynolds book, Ghost is book one in the Track series and left my students wanting to read the next book, Patina, right away.  Easily accessible langueg with a relatable character who does not have the easiest life, this was a book many kids declared as a favorite.  

Boost by Kathy Mackel was book talked last week and has not been in my classroom since, quickly passing hands from student to student.

For the first time ever, I used We Were Liars by e.lockhart (Emily Jenkins’ pen name for her YA books) and I was not disappointed.  It was clear that my group of readers quickly became absorbed as they begged for just one more minute of reading time.

It can come as no surprise that Monster by Walter Dean Meyers is a book many readers gravitate to.  I have loved the reflections and thoughtful dialogue that this book creates but even more so how many students have recommended to each other.

What are your must adds/must-reads that you pull out for the kids who say they can’t find a great book?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

4 thoughts on “A Few Favorite Books from Our Classroom for Teens Who Say They Can’t Find a Great Book”

  1. Blended by Sharon Draper is one I read to my LA class and when I shared with my Lit classes it immediately had a long list of kids waiting for my copy. My LA kids say it’s one of their favorites.

  2. Crank by Ellen Hopkins – This novel-in-verse is raw and less text on each page makes for a successful read.
    First Part Last by Angela Johnson – Hand this to (usually) girls and they will trust you to recommend books in the future. Both are older but still stand the test of time.

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