Required Reading: 11 Authors Share the Books They Want Taught in Schools

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Every lifelong reader knows that the books you read as a child have the ability to mold you into the person you’ll become as an adult. In the hands of a teacher, a book can be a powerful tool in shaping a reader’s understanding of themselves and the world around them. To celebrate the start of a new school year, Bookish asked 11 authors to share the one book they’d most like to see in classrooms.

The Youngest Marcher

The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson & Vanessa Brantley-Newton should be taught in schools, as it focuses on children who accomplished a powerful victory in the fight for civil rights in America. It is a story I was not even aware of. Kids should know that they have a loud voice and that they can use it to erase injustice and elicit change. The change can be any size—it might be to petition their school to grow a garden—but it can come to fruition with passionate advocates. Children can make good things happen and they should be aware of their strength.” —Tara Lazar, author of 7 Ate 9

Wonder

“I think middle schools should require students to read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a story about a ten-year-old boy born with severe facial deformities who braves going to school for the first time. Wonder teaches kids about acceptance and kindness toward others at a time they are forming their adult personas. The message of judging someone by their inner character and not their looks is deftly delivered in a compelling way that will endure in their minds long after they have finished the book.” —Alane Adams, author of The Raven God

I Am Malala

“I would love to see I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai on every student’s reading list. This girl from Pakistan’s Swat Valley was 15 when the Taliban shot her for insisting education is ‘neither Eastern nor Western, it is human,’ and 16 when she co-wrote this book. Her chronicle of war and perseverance is riveting; her bravery rivals that of any fictional hero. In the end, it is inspiring to see how one girl taking a stand can change hearts, minds, and possibly the world.” —Kes Trester, author of A Dangerous Year

Why Am I Me?

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls, asks a series of simply-posed questions (‘Why am I me…and not you?’) designed to spark curiosity and invite further questions, big and small, about identity and human connection. Its open-ended exploration of individuality and universality makes it the perfect book for starting conversations with students about empathy, community, and compassion. The vibrant and appealing artwork (a mixture of paint, colored pencil, and collage) entices readers to flip through the book’s pages again and again, finding new details about the world and themselves on each reread.” —Anica Mrose Rissi, author of The Teacher’s Pet

Save Me a Seat

“I recommend Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. Told in alternating voices, this story is about an Indian boy and Caucasian boy who bond when facing a bully at school. It’s important for kids reach out to make friends across lines of race and culture. Immersing themselves in a world of characters who are like them in some ways but come from a different culture, kids learn they can make friends with anyone. Once they do so, they won’t see such people as outsiders.” —Dori Jones Yangauthor of The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball

We Were Here

“Author Matt de la Peña’s exceptional YA novel, We Were Here, is a perfect fit for educators who want to encourage journal writing in their classes or who simply want to nurture a love of reading amongst their students. We Were Here is a riveting, fast-paced tale told through the journal entries of Miguel Castañeda, a mixed-race adolescent Latino being detained for a crime at a group home near Stockton, California. Befriending two of his former antagonists at the home, Miguel undertakes with them a wild adventure packed with pathos, realism, and self-discovery. It’s quite a romp and hard to put down, which is always a good quality in a book, especially one targeted at teens.” —David Barclay Moore, author of The Stars Beneath Our Feet

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

“Mrs. Frisby will do anything to protect her family. Brave, practical, and cool under pressure, she’s a momma bear in the body of a mouse. The rats of NIMH, meanwhile, live under the rosebush, ghettoised by their foreign lifestyle. Do we trust these immigrants with their strange ways? Yes, because Mrs. Frisby smashes that stereotype. The rats are an oppressed minority, persecuted by scientists at NIMH, and want nothing more than freedom. Feminism, tolerance, animal rights: This book is an introduction to the ideas of equality that develop in a darker direction in another must-read allegory—George Orwell’s Animal Farm.” —Jo Furniss, author of All the Little Children

The Lie Tree

“My pick is Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree, which is set in Victorian England (with a fantastical twist), and won the 2015 Costa Book Award. In it, Faith and her family move to a rocky island, because her father—a clergyman and natural scientist—is in trouble for having lied about a fossil discovery. That sets into motion a variety of wonderful clashes. We see a world in change—religion vs science, feminism, etc. This novel is full of fascinating themes, which would make it great not just for literature class, but for a class that synthesizes literature with history or science.” —Tina Connolly, author of the Seriously Wicked series

Showa

“My pick is a manga (Japanese comic): volumes. 1 & 2 of Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa, a history/memoir of what got Japan into WWII. Mizuki shows blow-by-blow the short-term self-interested decisions Japan’s political leaders made which pushed the nation toward war, and caused fearmongering and militarism to saturate Japanese culture, from newspapers to children’s games. In America today, with talk of crisis all around us, Showa is a brilliant way for young people to learn how small political decisions add up to big changes, and how boring-sounding issues like grain prices or health policy shape larger cultural currents, sometimes deadly ones.” —Ada Palmer, author of the Terra Ignota series

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“I was sixteen when I read Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. We had been assigned many great works in American Cultures, a class designed to teach us philosophy from an American literary perspective. But from the first page, Zen was different. It was something you could pick up and spend the day with, tucked into a nook in the house unaware of whether it was sunny or storming outside. Pirsig’s premise, the conflict between the rational and the romantic, is so ensconced in the captivating journey of father and son riding across country on the back of a motorcycle that the reader is almost unaware of it. While the book left me with the yearning to fully experience the untamed western states without the separation of a glass window, it also led me to understand a bit of myself and the struggle for balance we all face.” —Ismée Williams, author of Water in May

The Passion of Artemisia

“One of my favorite authors, Susan Vreeland, recently passed away. As homage to her work and her gift for beautifully humanizing history and art, I suggest that a work of hers be taught to older teen students. This seems particularly fitting as she was a high school English teacher for 30 years. My favorite: The Passion of Artemisia, about our first major female artist, Artemisia Gentileschi, an early Baroque painter (1593-1656), who was the first woman to be admitted into the Accademia delle Arte del Disegno in Florence, and the first woman we know of to make a living by her brush. The real-life Artemisia’s journey to artistic success was rife with obstacles. Sexually assaulted by her painting tutor, she survived being tortured by court officials with thumbscrews (in an effort to make her ‘tell the truth’) when she gave testimony against her attacker. But rather than retreat into domestic anonymity as advised, she went on to create some of the most haunting and inspiring portraits of biblical and historical femaleheroines, caught in dramatic, large scale scenes, such as her Judith Slaying Holofernes. Vreeland’s novel is a story of individual ascendancy despite overwhelming societal odds and personal trauma, an innately feminist tale. It seems particularly important in today’s political milieu in which a president can brag on grabbing a woman’s genitalia without reprisal, and when even elected congresswomen are subject to being shushed by their male colleagues. And along the way, teen readers will also learn about the Medici and late-Renaissance Florence and Rome, a vitally important era in western history.” —L. M. Elliott, author of Suspect Red

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2 thoughts on “Required Reading: 11 Authors Share the Books They Want Taught in Schools

  1. I Am Malala was such an inspiring book and the movie was wonderful! I loaned the movie to my son’s 3rd grade teacher and although she felt it was a bit too violent and controversial for her students, she enjoyed watching the movie for herself. It would be nice if schools (at a certain grade level) were able to read this very inspiring and touching story of Malala.

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