The first batch of five books is what you’d expect from this topic – they’re for the most part contemporary ‘issues’ books, with a mystery or magnetic main character at their core to carry the action. Of course, Ness’ title is borderline fantasy, but it fits the grouping. The second five books would make for an extremely interesting, non-traditional unit on WWII. A few are set in Europe, some at home in America, and there’s even a first-person nonfiction narrative (an alternative to Anne Frank?).
Top Ten Books That Should Be Required Reading
1. The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle – A bit of a contemporary mystery that confronts stereotypes, asks questions about what ‘normal’ behavior looks like, and when it is okay to step into a situation you know nothing about.
2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier – My sister (who teaches 9th grade English) recommended this title for a thematic study of social interaction, integrity, and coming of age.
3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – Another great book that asks its readers to parse cultural identity, racism, death and poverty. It’s also darkly funny and intensely human.
4. Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach – Parental neglect, coming of age, family issues and a weird, wonderful narrator come together to make this title a fantastic read for anyone.
5. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – Grief, terminal illness, violence, moving on and growing up are all themes of this beautifully written and illustrated novel. Bonus: it’s short!
6. The Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger – On the face of things, this is a book about baseball and growing up in the city. Underneath it’s a portrait of family life during a pivotal point in world history, and the war touches home in interesting ways.
7. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Wein wrote an emotion-wringing gem of a novel that portrayed the work of women pilots during the Second World War. Not only is it gripping, much of the derring-do is based on actual accounts.
8. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen – Yolen wrote another famous WWII classroom book, The Devil’s Arithmetic, but this lesser-known one will appeal to fans of fantasy and fairy tale, too, while telling an equally chilling tale.
9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I still haven’t read this title, but I’ve heard unfailingly good things about it, and Zusak is a master storyteller. I know he’d do the material proud, in an unconventional and unforgettable way.
10. Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America by Joan Wehlen Morrison, edited by Susan Signe Morrison – This selection of entries from Joan Wehlen Morrison’s adolescent and young adult diary is a window into the American home front during WWII. Joan’s voice is clear, questioning, bright, and immediate. I wish I’d read this in school!
What books would you add to a classroom curriculum?