conferences, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

Who Wants to Read it Next?

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As they sit and read, every day for ten or fifteen minutes as we get ready for the day, I sit next to a student and ask them a seemingly simple question; What are you working on as a reader? As we discuss their reading life, their habits, and their goals, I always end with another question. One that seems to give many of our students’ pause, “How can we support you?” This question shouldn’t be a hard one, after all, these kids are surrounded by adults who are here to help them grow and yet for many, it takes them a moment to realize what they need, or even what they can ask for.

But one answer comes up again and again. Recommend me books. Book recommendations! Keep doing those book talks. The little talks that we do as a community almost every single day are making one of the largest differences.

I can recommend books to our students because most of the books I read are meant to be read by children. While I sometimes do stare longingly at some of my Danish crime stories that I haven’t yet read, I know that one of the biggest gifts I can give our students is a passport into the library, both the one in our classroom and the one that sits in the middle of our school. And that happens through a book talk, demystifying all of the books staring at them and making them look like journeys waiting to happen rather than insurmountable mountains.

By recommending books I have read, by other adults in the building recommending books, by students recommending books in our 30-second book talks, we are laying the foundation for a community that discusses their reading life openly. We are strengthening the notion that reading is something we all need. Something we all believe in as a way to build community. We are chipping away at the notion that some middle schoolers carry that reading is not cool or a waste of time. Instead through every recommendation, through every book held high over our heads, through every title suggested, we are laying the foundation for a readerly life. One that will hopefully expand beyond our years together, beyond this building.

And it is making a difference. Kids model the way we talk about books. Kids write down titles and then speak books to one another. Their to-be-read lists grow sometimes to delightfully impossible lengths.

So when a child reminds me once again that what they need from me is more book recommendations, it is a task I will gladly carry out. And one that I will gladly share with others. After all, they need as many books in their life as possible. They need as many book people as in their life as possible. They need as many happy reading moments as possible. And all of this can start with a simple book recommendation, a short book talk, and then another question; who wants to read it next?

To see what I am reading and recommending, follow me on Instagram

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.    

being me, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Book Quantity and the Damage It Can (Sometimes) Do

Note: This post is a personal reflection with more questions than answers. In no way is this post meant to be used as a way to to argue for lowering expectations for kids when it comes to increasing reading quantity. The research shows us again and again that access to great books and the time to read them in both supported and unsupported ways is what creates reading success. Both of these are also privileges and not something that all kids, still, despite the numerous years of research have access to as Donalyn Miller reminded me of. What this post is meant to highlight and discuss is when we teach kids who have access to books and set incredibly high goals that then destroy their reading experience. That change their reading experience into one that chases only books as a point, a notch, or a number, rather than helps support their development as readers who experience books.

Today our students did a midyear reading goal reflection, a quick check to see whether or not their reading goal for the year should change. A quick check for them to take the pulse of their own reading life. It is always interesting to listen in as kids discover that they are either reading a lot more than they thought or need to step it up a bit to make their challenge goal of reading at least 25 books in 7th grade. For some 25 books is not a big deal, for others it is a mountain that they are steadily climbing, slowly putting one foot in front of the other as they find yet another book to hook them to a readerly life. They know there is no punishment for not meeting their goal. They know it is meant as a motivator for them to increase their reading. It has taken several years and different iterations for us to reach a reading challenge that seems to be successful for nearly all. And today, was a day to check in on that challenge.

As I meander by the students, a girl asks me how I am doing with my reading goal; 105 books? They like to check in now and then to see if I am staying on track, even if it is just to marvel at the goal itself. 105 books?! Who in the world can read that many books? She is trying to keep up with me but she is only at 30. I quickly tell her that one of the things I am also working on is slowing down when I read and yet the look she offers me tells me of her disbelief. After all, if my goal is to slow down then how come I am trying to read so many books?

Today, that look really hit me. I usually shrug it off, it is not the first time a student stares at me in disbelief, but today amidst the slowness of the day it gave me pause. Why is my goal so high? Why am I trying to read so many books? I don’t need to impress anyone. I am not in competition with anyone. Sure I love to recommend books but I am not the only one capable of doing so. What started as 80 books a year five years ago only keeps growing and to what end? Why the need for the high number, when 70 or even 50 would suffice?

And so I sit tonight realizing the danger of my own reading goal. Of setting it as a quantity one rather than one that calls for me to challenge myself. With this goal of 105 chapter books for the school year, I am falling into the same old habits as our students do when we focus on speed versus quality; picking shorter books, skimming texts, forcing myself to read even though my heart is not in it. With the increase in quantity comes a seemingly decrease in enjoyment. Reading is now a task in order to reach my goal, rather than something I do to relax. My to-be-read bookshelf is now work waiting for me to complete rather than adventures beckoning me to join them.

I see this happen with students too who for some reason believe that high quantities of books mean that they are automatically stronger readers. For some of my kids who set goals of hundreds of books in a year who seem to be missing most of what they are reading. Now, don’t get me wrong, research, of course, shows the positive correlation between reading large quantities of texts and being a better reader, but at what point for some kids and even for some adults does it become detrimental rather than good? At what point does the hurried race after too high of a goal in order to impress encourage students to skim read, to skip pages, to develop poor reading habits rather than lose themselves in the experience? Instead of setting a goal that challenges them in a new way? How do we balance the need for students to read more, which many need, but also to read well?

There is a balance, of course, that sometimes gets lost in the school shuffle where kids’ reading lives are made into contests through public book challenge displays, leaderboards, and reading scores. Where it often matters more how much you read versus what you read and what you get out of it. Where students are celebrated for reading quickly, even if they didn’t fully get the chance to actually appreciate what they read. Yes, quantity, and increasing quantity and access to great reading material matters for all of us, but so does slowing down, savoring text, and actually enjoying the experience. This is how we help students become or remain the types of people who cannot wait to read for fun. Where is the balance?

So today as the students did their midyear goals, I changed my own. I don’t want to read 105 books this year. I want to read 80. 80 amazing books that I cannot wait to finish. 80 books that I cannot wait to share. 80 books that allow me to fall back in love with reading and see it for the great gift it is, not for the job it has become. And who knows, perhaps I will read more, but I am allowing myself to slow down. To sit with the books. And I cannot wait.

PS: It is not too late to join the winter book club study for Passionate Readers – it starts this Sunday. Come join the conversation with hundreds of other educators as we try to create reading experiences for all of the kids we have. Also, I am currently planning my summer speaking schedule, see this page for more information if you would like me to help reach your vision for creating a school experience where students are empowered and engaged.

parents, Reading

Parents: Creating Joyful Reading Routines at Home

We sit together with a book between us carefully piecing the words together. Sometimes they come haltingly. Sometimes they flow. Learning to read is hard work, but loving to read is not, not right now, not for most of our kids. We are a household of readers, all on a separate journey. All growing, exploring and learning, some more quickly than others. I am one of several bookworms in our household with books wherever we go, with a to-be-read pile bigger than we have hours in the day. We are a household of readers, and yet, even for us, in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we haven’t done much reading lately. Not planned anyway, I know we cannot be alone.

So how do we keep reading front and center, even when life gets really busy? How do we try to create joyful reading experiences at home? It turns out, that many of the same things we do in our classrooms to create passionate readers also work at home.

Flood your home with books if possible. To be readers we need things to read. There has been a lot of research on the harmful effects of students living in book deserts and what the unintended consequences are when kids don’t have access to books. This is why book ownership is so important, kids who own books are 15 times more likely to read above the level they are expected to be at according to the National Literacy Trust. And more importantly, it sets the tone; reading is valued at home, reading is something we believe in by spending our money or procuring reading material somehow. However, this is also an equity issue, it is easy for someone to say; buy books for your kids, but if you don’t have disposable income, then that can become a challenge. Yet, finding books and other reading material for kids to have where they live is vital in creating readers. So if you have the money; buy books and other reading materials. If you do not, reach out to your child’s school, visit a little free library if possible, visit a public library if possible, or get connected with a book charity. Here in Madison, we have the Madison Reading Project whose mission is to get books in the hands of kids – what do you have where you live? (A great book to read on book access and how it helps students become readers is the book Game Changer – Book Access for All Kids by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp).

Leave reading materials everywhere. We have books everywhere at our house, which is a privilege in itself. Books are in our kitchen, bathroom, living rooms, cars, and, of course, bedrooms. But not just books, magazines, newspapers and other fun things to read. Lately, we have been loving MAD magazine which I grew up on in Denmark. Our kids gravitate toward the books, picture books and everything else because they are visible. So if you can leave books wherever your kids are: the car, the bathroom, the living room, their rooms.   If you do not have access to a lot of books ask their school for help, scour garage sales, or visit the library if possible.

Sneak in more reading. Because we remind our kids to bring books in the car, to family gatherings, to appointments, grocery shopping, and yes, even sometimes to lunch, we sneak in a lot of reading. Our kids don’t sit on iPads or phones on a regular basis, they sit with books. In fact, this has been one of aha moments, every time we pull out our phone to check Reddit (#ThereWasAnAttempt) or other social media, we could be pulling out a book. I am often asked how I read so much in a year, this is one of the ways. While we love sitting down for long chunks of time to read, there is a lot of value in the minutes that can be snuck in, and those minutes add up.

Create a reading routine.  One of the biggest things I discuss with those at home is to find a routine for reading and not leaving it to chance.  Is it that everybody reads before getting out of bed? Is it the last thing that happens at the end of the day? Find a time, space, and then make it an expectation. We have the kids read after school with us when I get home, on the weekends we have them read before TV. This isn’t because it is a punishment but because it shows importance. Create a drop-everything-and-read time and then abide by your own decisions and join in with your own books, because we know that children who see adults read, read more themselves, thanks Stephen Krashen.

Read yourself. This is an often missed step where we, adults, claim that we do not have time to read. I cannot tell you how many parents have sheepishly admitted that they do not read themselves and then wonder how they can best help their own kids become readers. My advice always; read with your kids. Go on your own quest to find incredible books. Abandon books that don’t work. Set yourself up to have incredible reading experiences just like you would hope your kid(s) would. Be a reading role model because kids need to see what real adult reading looks like. Read in front of them. While Brandon, my husband, has been a slow convert to reading for pleasure, he has been very deliberate in sharing his reading journey with our kids. I think it is incredibly powerful for kids to see their parents or caregivers start to embrace reading for pleasure finally as adults.

Visit places where books are present.  Build visits into the library, bookstores or even friends’ houses where there are books visible into your reading lives.  Seeing books within reach often entices reading and there is something about the promise of a brand-new crisp book that cannot help but be exciting.  And browse online as well. What are people sharing on the #BookADay thread? Which books are being shared on Instagram under hashtags like the one I use (#pernillerecommends)?

Give books. Despite the abundance of books that our kids already have we still give books at Christmas and birthdays. We make it a big deal; which book do you wish for? What is the one special book you would love right now? We go to the bookstore so they can browse and then we secretly buy them the book only to be wrapped and handed as a gift. We also have book giving traditions in our family, on lille juleaften (Little Christmas Eve) we host our family at our house for aebleskiver and instead of a nameplate, each guest is gifted with a brand-new book handpicked for them. And yes, even I get books. This year I was lucke enough to get Becoming and Art Matters (Signed by Neil Gaiman – argh!) as well as a few others.

Build excitement through book shopping. Go book shopping with your kids at your local bookstore, browse the displays at the library, look up the bestseller lists to see what is hot in literature right now, order from the book catalog that comes home (i get as excited as the kids).  Countdown the days together for that sequel or an amazing new book to be released, order it if you can or go to the bookstore on its release date. Build excitement for the act of reading together much like you would the release of a movie. If you need ideas for release dates, see Mr. Schu’s calendar of book releases.

Have your own to-be-read list.  I get super excited when new books show up or when we go to a bookstore together and my kids know that my to-be-read pile (or bookshelf because let’s be honest here…) is a neverending quest of great reading experiences waiting to happen. They see how big it gets, they see how I have piles in different places, I discuss how I pick a book at times if it comes up and I encourage them to have their own. What will they be reading next?

Embrace audiobooks.  We do a lot of driving as I travel to speak and as we visit others, so audiobooks from the local library are a constant companion. The kids select the text or we do when we know a book may be a great discussion for our family. This is also a great way to start conversations about social justice topics, such as when we listened to George by Alex Gino and we discussed gender identity, yes, even with our youngest.  Overall, audiobooks cut down on our kids arguing, creates conversation, and become a part of our reading memories.

Embrace real choice.  So your child wants to read the same book all the time?  Ok. So your child wants to read super “easy” books all the time?  Ok. So your child wants to read only one type of book all the time?  Ok. Reading at home is for great reading experiences, for having fun with your reading, for keeping the joy of reading alive.  We can recommend, we can purchase, we can entice, but I would never force certain texts on kids. I have seen too many kids stop their reading or fake it because of forced choice, usually through the eagerness of parents to share their favorite classic texts with their kids. While I love the sentiment of that, I am not always sure it is done well and can end up doing more harm than good. Perhaps, our focus instead should be to discover new classics instead such as The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo or The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

Be invested and interested.  Ask genuine questions about their reading experiences.  Share your own. Embrace your reading slumps together and do something about them together.  Ask questions about what they plan on reading, whether they like the book or not, or what made them pick that book.  Keep it light but keep it constant.

Keep it joyful.  When kids come home from school, they are often tired and ready to do everything but read. I get it, after being at a conference all day or even teaching, reading is pretty far from my mind as well. We often lose readers at home because we see it as one more thing to do, rather than an experience waiting to happen. So keep it light, keep it fun.  Don’t assign journal prompts or summaries to go with it. Don’t make it homework, but instead revel in the joyful experience that reading a great book can be. Read aloud to your kids, even if they are older, this is one of the things many students report they miss the most with their parents. Celebrate new books, celebrate finishing books, celebrate abandoning books.

Fight for your child’s rights as a reader. While this will inevitably be a whole other post one of these days, I think it is vital, that we as parents/caregivers know what is happening to our children in their reading instruction at school. What are they making kids DO as readers? And what is that work DOING to your child as a reader? I can tell you that there are not many swords I care to fall on as “that” parent but reading logs and computerized programs to teach kids reading are two such swords. I have seen the damage done, and I refuse to sit idly by while decisions implemented at school harm our children’s reading lives, So know what their instruction looks like and what they are expected to do. Become an advocate for change if you need to or become an advocate for those who are using best practices, they often need our support as well. Don’t just trust schools to make the best instructional decisions, this is not always the case.

There is so much we can do to support our children as readers, and while it may seem like a lot of work, it isn’t. It is a chance for us to sit down with our kids, with something to read, and to create memories. But it starts with routines. With decisions that will support and not hinder. And with being readers ourselves.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Book Clubs, Reading, Student-Led

Partner Feedback Groups – A Tip for Better Book Clubs

In room 235D, we have been immersed in our dystopian book clubs.  These past two weeks kids have been quietly reading, and loving, their self-chosen texts, using strategies that they have been taught previously, as well as the ones introduced each day, to gain a deeper understanding of the text.  Navigating these books as they try to figure out how they will discuss what they have uncovered, how they will prepare for their own student-led discussions.    Every day, these kids and their thoughts are reaching new heights.  Each day, we get to sit and listen to them discuss without dictated questions, without packets, without us constantly holding their hand.  It is a brilliant thing to see.  

While we have loved seeing the growth in student discussions every year, we wanted to give students another chance to learn from each other and to also be exposed to great conversations.  Enter my brilliant colleague, Reidun, who came up with the following idea and template.  Introducing the partner feedback groups.

The idea is simple:  Students are matched up with a partner group.  Every time the group discusses, the partner group gives feedback to them using the following form.

The sheet is printed and handed to each student

We introduced this tool individually with each discussion group rather than as a group fishbowl.  This was for time’s sake and also helped everyone ask questions and ward off confusion.  While all kids give feedback, not all groups are matched, only because some groups have expressed anxiety over the extra audience and we wanted to respect that.  we are hoping that in the spring when we do our next round of book groups, all groups will be ready to be matched.

Each child is assigned the same person to follow and they take turns coaching each other.  They are not evaluating, but merely paying attention to what is actually happening in the conversation.  It works quite easily.  Let’s say Sam is evaluating Marcus.  Every time Marcus adds to the conversation, depending on what is said, she gives him a tally mark.  So if Markus brings up a new idea to discuss – i.e. the main character fits the villain archetype – she would put a tally in the “Brought up a new idea” box.  She could also write “Villain archetype” under specific example.  She categorizes everything Markus says in order to give him feedback at the end.

Once the discussion is over, they usually last between 10 and 15 minutes, I ask the discussion group, “What went well?”  After they reflect on this, then I ask them, “What do you need to work on? ”  They reflect on that and then it is their partner’s turn to give them feedback.  In our example of Sam and Marcus, she may let him know that while he did well in bringing up new ideas and also responding to other people, he didn’t use a lot of text evidence to back up his thinking.  This is then something he can work on for the following discussion.  After each feedback partner has gone, they are dismissed so that I can speak privately with their group about their actual evaluation.

What we have noticed since implementing this last week is the keen observational skills of our students.  They notice things that we miss and also have been providing spot-on coaching tips.  Just today a student stated how impressed she was with the growth of the member since the last discussion and all of the things she noticed they had worked on.  This tool is offering our students a way to give each other feedback that is constructive and without judgment.  They are merely stating their observations, not offering up a grade.  

In the long run, we hope this help students become better givers of valid and productive feedback.  For many years we have been stuck in a rut when it comes to kids helping each other grow more pointedly.  They often say that things are great when really they need work or simply don’t know what to say.  This little tool has helped them focus on what the tangible skills are and how they can be improved while also providing them with models of effective discussions.  An added bonus has been the excitement over each other’s books as well, and how some kids now want to read the books that other groups are reading.

So there you have, a small idea, shared by a great friend and colleague that has been making a difference in our book club discussions.  To see what else w do to make our book clubs better, go here.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, Literacy, picture books, Reading

Our Mock Caldecott List 2019

After winter break, we welcome our students back with one of our favorite units of the year; our Mock Caldecott unit.  And while I have blogged about the process before, I see this as a great opportunity for students to not only immerse themselves in incredible works of art but also to think about how to read complex imagery while building community.  But to do this incredible work, we need to have the books whose images will draw us on, hopefully, mesmerize us, move us, and make us invested when the awards are broadcast live on Monday, January 28th.

Here is my lesson plan for the unit

In no particular order, here are the books (I think) our students will judge this year.

Limitless: 24 Remarkable American Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts by Leah Tinari (Author, Illustrator)

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales 

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Drawn Together by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat 

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin 

What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? By Chris Barton and illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Katherine Roy

The Prince and the Dressmaker by [Wang, Jen]

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Heartbeat by Evan Turk

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

What Can A Citizen Do by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris

Image result for the day you begin

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Thank you, Omu! by Oge Mora

What If…by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato

Possible Additions that I am Still Pondering:

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Love by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Loren Long

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell and Corinna Luyken

being a teacher, Book Clubs, books, Reading

Great Books for Dystopian Book Clubs

We kicked off our dystopian book clubs this week and the students are pretty excited.  This genre of books is my favorite, and the favorites of many students, and yet there are also some who have never experienced it.  For the past month, we have been actively searching for the titles we would offer up to kids, needing as many perspectives as we could find, as well as text challenges.   One thing we ran into early on was the seemingly lack of inclusive dystopian science fiction, not because it is isn’t out there but because on list after list it didn’t seem to be highlighted.   So this list is our starting point, we will be continuing our curating of finding more inclusive books that are not centered around a white main character.   And if you have suggestions, please share them in the comments!  (And yes, some of these are borderline dystopian, but we are navigating that with the students).

The Marrow Thieves

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (Author)

Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden—but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (The Tribe #1)

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

They’re known as Firestarters. Boomers. Skychangers. The government calls them Illegals — children with inexplicable abilities — and detains them in menacing facilities so that society is kept out of harm’s way. Ashala Wolf and her Tribe of fellow Illegals have taken refuge in the Firstwood, a forest eerily conscious of its inhabitants, where they do their best to survive and where they are free to practice their abilities. But when Ashala is compelled to venture outside her territory, she is betrayed by a friend and captured by an enemy. Injured and vulnerable, with her own Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to a machine that will pull secrets from her mind. It’s only a matter of time before the machine ferrets out the location of the Tribe. Her betrayer, Justin Connor, is ever-present, saving her life when she wishes to die and watching her every move. Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?

The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

One choice can transform you. Beatrice Prior’s society is divided into five factions—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice must choose between staying with her Abnegation family and transferring factions. Her choice will shock her community and herself. But the newly christened Tris also has a secret, one she’s determined to keep hidden, because in this world, what makes you different makes you dangerous.

MiNRS by Kevin Sylvester – 3rd year on this list!

A boy and his friends must find a way to survive in the mining tunnels after their new space colony is attacked in this gritty action-adventure novel, which School Library Journal called “a solid survival story.”

In space. Underground. And out of time.

Christopher Nichols and his family live on a new planet, Perses, as colonists of Melming Mining’s Great Mission to save the earth. Dozens of families like Christopher’s have relocated, too, like his best friend Elena Rosales.

A communications blackout with Earth hits, and all of Perses is on its own for three months. It’s okay, though, because the colonists have prepared, stockpiling food and resources to survive. But they never prepared for an attack.

Landers, as the attackers are called, obliterate the colony to steal the metal and raw ore. Now in a race against time, Christopher, along with a small group of survivors, are forced into the maze of mining tunnels. The kids run. They hide. But can they survive?

Ender’s game by Orson Scott Card

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut–young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Matched by Ally Condie

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

 

Legend (Legend, #1)

Legend by Marie Lu

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

In a future where the Population Police enforce the law limiting a family to only two children, Luke, an illegal third child, has lived all his twelve years in isolation and fear on his family’s farm in this start to the Shadow Children series from Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.

Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.

Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows — does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford not to?

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

From Amazon:

If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.
 
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.
 
Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.
 
Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.
 
Everything is going to change.
 
Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.
 
Remember. Survive. Run.

 

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to flicker. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. She and her friend Doon must race to figure out the clues before the lights go out on Ember forever!

Icebreaker by Lian Tanner

Twelve-year-old Petrel is an outcast, living on an ancient icebreaker that has been following the same ocean course for three hundred years. The ship’s crew has forgotten its original purpose and has broken into three warring tribes. Everyone has a tribe except Petrel, whose parents were thrown overboard for alleged crimes. She has survived by living in the dark corners of the ship, and speaking to no one except two large rats, Mister Smoke and Mrs. Slink.

When a boy is discovered on a frozen iceberg, the crew is immediately on alert. Petrel hides him on board, hoping he’ll be her friend. What she doesn’t know is that the ship guards a secret, held down deep in its belly, and the boy has been sent to seek and destroy it.

Imposters by Scott Westerfield

Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . two edges of the same knife. But Frey’s very existence is a secret.

Frey is Rafi’s twin sister—and her body double. Their powerful father has many enemies, and the world has grown dangerous as the old order falls apart. So while Rafi was raised to be the perfect daughter, Frey has been taught to kill. Her only purpose is to protect her sister, to sacrifice herself for Rafi if she must.

When her father sends Frey in Rafi’s place as collateral in a precarious deal, she becomes the perfect impostor—as poised and charming as her sister. But Col, the son of a rival leader, is getting close enough to spot the killer inside her. As the deal starts to crumble, Frey must decide if she can trust him with the truth . . . and if she can risk becoming her own person.

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald’s still would be open.

High school sophomore Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when an asteroid knocks the moon closer to Earth, like “one marble hits another.” The result is catastrophic. How can her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis are wiping out the coasts, earthquakes are rocking the continents, and volcanic ash is blocking out the sun? As August turns dark and wintery in northeastern Pennsylvania, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.

Told in a year’s worth of journal entries, this heart-pounding story chronicles Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all—hope—in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world. An extraordinary series debut!

Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

What would you be willing to risk for a lifetime of fortune?

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

One touch is all it takes. One touch, and Juliette Ferrars can leave a fully grown man gasping for air. One touch, and she can kill.

No one knows why Juliette has such incredible power. It feels like a curse, a burden that one person alone could never bear. But The Reestablishment sees it as a gift, sees her as an opportunity. An opportunity for a deadly weapon.

Juliette has never fought for herself before. But when she’s reunited with the one person who ever cared about her, she finds a strength she never knew she had.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape a rigid caste system, live in a palace, and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her, and competing for a crown she doesn’t want.

Then America meets Prince Maxon—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

It’s graduation day for sixteen-year-old Malencia Vale, and the entire Five Lakes Colony (the former Great Lakes) is celebrating. All Cia can think about—hope for—is whether she’ll be chosen for The Testing, a United Commonwealth program that selects the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization. When Cia is chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmarish half-memories of The Testing. Armed with his dire warnings (”Cia, trust no one”), she bravely heads off to Tosu City, far away from friends and family, perhaps forever. Danger, romance—and sheer terror—await.

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world—and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever.

 

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

In America after the Second Civil War, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies came to an agreement: The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, a parent may choose to retroactively get rid of a child through a process called “unwinding.” Unwinding ensures that the child’s life doesn’t “technically” end by transplanting all the organs in the child’s body to various recipients. Now a common and accepted practice in society, troublesome or unwanted teens are able to easily be unwound.

Want by Cindy Pon

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

Warcross by Marie Lu

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Freakling by Lana Krumwiede

In twelve-year-old Taemon’s city, everyone has a power called psi — the ability to move and manipulate objects with their minds. When Taemon loses his psi in a traumatic accident, he must hide his lack of power by any means possible. But a humiliating incident at a sports tournament exposes his disability, and Taemon is exiled to the powerless colony. The “dud farm” is not what Taemon expected, though: people are kind and open, and they actually seem to enjoy using their hands to work and play and even comfort their children. Taemon adjusts to his new life quickly, making friends and finding unconditional acceptance. But gradually he discovers that for all its openness, there are mysteries at the colony, too — dangerous secrets that would give unchecked power to psi wielders if discovered. When Taemon unwittingly leaks one of these secrets, will he have the courage to repair the damage — even if it means returning to the city and facing the very people who exiled him?

Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town of inventors struggling to recover from World War III. But adventurous Hope is terrible at inventing. She would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath, the deadly band of air that surrounds the town.

When bandits invade White Rock to steal its greatest invention—priceless antibiotics—the town is left with a heartbreaking choice: hand over the medicine and die from disease, or die fighting the bandits. Help lies in a neighboring town, but the bandits count everyone fourteen and older each hour. Now Hope and her friends Aaren and Brock are only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath.

For once, the daring and rebelliousness that usually get Hope into trouble might just save them all.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land.

But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide: save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh

EAST ASIA, 2199. After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the academy’s ranks. Abandoned as a child in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands–as a soldier of the Republic, or a rebel of the people.

 

Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti 

A collection of dystopian short stories featuring diverse main characters and by authors of color.  We are using this for short stories and mentor texts.

A more comprehensive list of fantasy and science fiction books that feature protagonists of color can be found here.

Lee and Low also has this post, it is from 2013 though.

Please share more book ideas!