Recommended Reads in 2014

ReLeah has read:






The Art of Secrets by James Klise. I LOVE this book! Let me count the ways: 1. It’s a terrific mystery about a suspected hate crime that unravels from many different points of view. 2. Its characters are realistic and interesting. 3. It contains a variety of types of texts: newspaper articles, text messages, overheard conversations, police reports. NPR loves it too. 4. Hear an interview with the author at 5. It’s not about vampires, a dystopian world where kids have to kill each other, or two kids dying of cancer.





The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. Laurie Halse Anderson has done it again! This time she takes on the issue of a father’s PTSD after he returns from Iraq. His daughter, Hayley, tries to care for him, but as he increasingly turns to drugs and alcohol, she is unable to keep him safe—or sane. Interspersed throughout the novel is the father’s poignant voice, such as in this passage from page 301: “Odysseus had twenty years to shed his battle skin. My grandfather left the battlefield in France and rode home in a ship that crawled across the ocean slowly so he could catch his breath. I get on a plane in hell and get off, hours later, at home. I try to ignore Death, but she’s got her arm around my waist, waiting to poison everything I touch.” It’s a powerful, gut-wrenching read, but well worth the angst.







Lost Love: A True Story of Passion, Murder and Justice in Old New York by George Cooper. This is not a YA novel but one that could be used in social studies and ELA classroom, especially in light of Common Core Standards. It’s a fascinating, true love story set during the Civil War. Cooper has interwoven primary documents within a narrative that is difficult to put down. I gained a new understanding of how little freedom all women enjoyed during the mid-1800s and the persecution strong women suffered as they tried to gain control of their lives. This book will make history come alive for students and will be great for sparking inquiry projects.








Nelson Mandela: Words and Paintings by Kadir Nelson. This beautiful picture book for all ages is a wonderful introduction to the life and work of Nelson Mandela–and to the concept of apartheid. I also recommend Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the award-winning film about Mandela’s amazing courage and dedication to freedom.








Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. A British female secret agent during World War II is an unusual main character for a YA novel, but Wein has created a protagonist who is so riveting, so beautiful, so clever, so well-read, and so brave that the reader has trouble believing she is real. Maybe she isn’t? In any case, this is an example of challenging, engaging text, the type of novel that will increase your high school students’ literacy and thinking skills. I was mesmerized but had to work for the pleasure of figuring out exactly what was going on.







Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. I can’t imagine anyone not loving this book simply because of the wildly wonderful characters Eleanor and Park. Eleanor is bullied because of the way she dresses, her flamboyant style, and her refusal to kowtow to those who make fun of her.   Park admires Eleanor for all of the right reasons, but does he have the courage to be friends with someone so. . .um. . .different? As he comes to know Eleanor better, Park discovers an incredible person no one else really sees. And the rest, as you will see, is history. And be sure to direct your students to an interview with the author about censorship and love, because of course this wonderful book was challenged (but returned to the shelves—YAAY! ):






This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome. Here’s another picture book that can be used with all ages and the theme is universal as well. For three generations, a rope that a little girl’s grandmother found under a tree in South Carolina is passed down until it becomes a part of her family’s history—and a reminder of how many African Americans left the South for a better life in the North. I would use this short book in ELA classes to show students how symbolism works to support meaning. And after teachers read the book aloud, students can write about something in their family that is similar to the rope in Woodson’s beautiful narrative.






Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport. This is a book of hope amid all of the heartbreak of the Holocaust. I can’t think about the unspeakable events that happened during World War II without falling into a repetitive cycle that begins and ends with a failure to understand. Doreen Rappaport’s  meticulously researched accounts of everyday people who refused to accept the inevitable give me a measure of comfort. The book should be a key resource in any middle or high school unit dealing with the Holocaust.







Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. I just love this book! It’s clever, well-written (in verse) and taught me much about the Vietnamese culture. The ten-year old protagonist must leave her home in Vietnam during the war to live in Alabama, and it is there that she embarks on her real journey. If you have been looking for the perfect text to teach students about perspective, you’ve just found it. Take the time to read this wonderful book aloud to kids of any age. it will stay with them (and you) forever.







Endangered by Eliot Schrefer. Okay, I know I’m a sucker for animal stories, but this is the best one I’ve read in a very long time. A young girl, Sophie, visits her mother in the Congo where she directs a bonobo reserve. Where her mother is off on a trip, a bloody uprising occurs and Sophie must make a heart-wrenching decision about whether to leave a bonobo she has rescued in order to save herself. This book will lend itself to deep discussion and can be used in interdisciplinary units, especially science, social studies, and English.







Divergent by Veronica Roth. If your students loved Hunger Games and Uglies, they’ll be crazy for this book. In Roth’s dystopian society, all sixteen-year olds must select a community (faction) where they will spend the rest of their lives based on their natural gifts and interests. But what happens if their choice turns out to be a wrong one? Get ready for an adventure and love story all in one. This well-written book will keep your kids turning pages. Divergent was enough for me but I’m betting most readers will also end up reading Roth’s sequel, Insurgent. And guess what? When I recommended this book to the teachers at Barrington High School, they told me Veronica Roth was a recent graduate of the school. Hats off to her English teachers!






Son by Lois Lowry. How could this book possibly live up to the hype? This conclusion to one of the most beloved young adult novels of all time, The Giver, is good, really good, but I’m predicting it won’t endure as a classic. It was fun to find out what had happened to Jonas, for example, and the baby he had saved on that snowy night years earlier, but other aspects of the book were less satisfying, such as the not so subtle battle between good and evil. No matter. Lois Lowery is incomparable and if she writes it, it’s worth reading.






The House Held Up by Trees by (Pulitzer Prize winner and Poet Laureate) Ted Kooser; illustrated by Jon Klassen. This lyrical picture book “evokes time’s inexorable passage” and leaves readers with a rather sad wistfulness. As the wife of and environmentalist, I especially appreciate that nature won in the end. Use this book to scaffold all sorts of literacy skills as you show your students how poetry can be both accessible and enjoyable.








Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. This book is a Ground Hog Day for teens. Samantha, the popular main character must repeat one day of her live seven times, and each time she learns something important about herself and others. But is it too late? This is definitely a book that should be on classroom library shelves. It’s a thoughtful read.








How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg and Kevin O’Malley. If you want kids to believe that reading is fun, then show them this book. The writing is delightful, the stories incredible (but true), and the illustrations engaging. Science comes to life as the author describes how nineteen historical figures (from Edgar A. Poe to Henry VIII to Napoleon) came to their ignoble ends. Now this is informational text I can heartily recommend for even the most reluctant reader.


book love





Book Love by Penny Kittle. This is my latest favorite professional book. You can make fun of Penny’s squishy title all you like, but this is a love story, and I think every English teacher on the planet should read it. Pardon me while I rant a bit, but if we lose the love of reading while courting the Common Core Standards, we’ve lost it all –  and so have our kids. If you don’t have time to read the entire book, at least read “How Standardized Measures Fail Us,” pgs. 137-140. And check out the photo of real kids reading real books and looking like they are having the time of their lives.



In 2012, ReLeah read:






Smashed by Lisa Luedeke (publication date is August, 2012) is fantastic!  This book will engage students from the very first page and will also make a great literature circle choice.  Once students read the book they can engage in a webquest about topics presented in the novel: drunk driving, parental responsibilities, athletic scholarships, girls’ sports, and, tragically, teenage rape.  The characters are so well developed that you will forget they aren’t real.  You’ll want to use the book as a mentor text to show students how to write really good dialogue too.






John Green has done it again with his new, #1 New York Times Bestseller, The Fault in Our Stars.  This is a hopeful, funny, insightful novel about a girl who not only must face her cancer diagnosis but also must deal with the fact that she has fallen in love with the least likely guy in the world.  TIME Magazine described this book as “Damn near genius.”  Yep, that’s John Green.








I hate to say it, but  I didn’t like Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s The Future of Us as much as I did Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. The plot is certainly original: two teens are somehow able to log into their Facebook pages fifteen years in the future.  What’s more, each action they take in the present influences what happens in the future.  I also like the way the chapters are told from each character’s perspective, but it just didn’t have the punch of Thirteen Reasons. I will be interested in finding out what students think . . .







Ship Breaker by Paulo Bacigalupi, a National Book Award winner,  is now out in paperback! This novel is action-packed with two strong, admirable main characters who defy the stereotypes in YA fiction. Contemporary societal issues define this novel (fossil fuels have been used up and the seas have drowned coastal cities), but there are also conflicts between rich and poor, male and female, human and beast—and, of course, a bit of teenage love thrown in.  I can’t imagine any kid not loving this novel almost as much as they loved Hunger Games







Lauren Myracle was told she won the National Book Award for Shine and then told it was. . . oops,  a mistake.  The real mistake is that they didn’t give it to her.  This book is beautiful, heartbreaking, and honest on so many levels that I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  We talk about bullying, buy “programs” that will make the topic fit nicely into the curriculum, and bemoan the fact that kids just don’t get it.  Forget all that and just have your kids read this book. It’s about how a gay character in Shine gets beaten up and left for dead – and how his best friend deals with her own guilt over the incident while tenaciously trying to find out who did it.   It is impossible for readers not to do some soul-searching of their own while reading this gripping novel.

Family Romanov






The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade)

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children



Rain Reign




The award commemorates the work of educator Charlotte Huck and her focus on the importance of bringing books and children together in significant ways. Huck organized the first course in children’s literature at Ohio State University, building a nationally respected program. She was the author of five editions of the classic textbook Children’s Literature in the Elementary School.

NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children


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