We are more than halfway through January and (depending where you are) days are short, skies are grey, and temperatures are low. All of this combines to make it the perfect time of year to curl up inside with a blanket and a good book. We spoke with middle school teachers to compile five of their most highly recommended books.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Marcus Zusak crafts a masterful story as, through the eyes of Death personified, he introduces us to the Book Thief—Liesel Meminger, a young German girl. Outside her home the Nazi party rises, but Liesel finds solace and a love of books while learning to read through the kind teachings of her foster father. Sharing her stolen books, Liesel forges bonds with her neighbors and with Max, the Jewish man taking refuge in her family’s basement. Through the eyes of Death and the experiences of Liesel we see Nazi Germany without any sugar-coating. This is a beautiful, moving, at times difficult, and, for many, life-changing book.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury:
In Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel, we are introduced to a future where firemen start rather than put out fires. In this world our protagonist, fireman Guy Montag, is tasked with burning the most dangerous and illegal thing of all – books. After years of a regimented routine and following orders without question Guy meets a neighbor who opens his eyes with stories of a past where people lived without fear and found joy in books. With the knowledge that a different world existed, Guy becomes increasingly curious and questioning, ultimately putting his life in danger.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas:
Regarded as one of the most powerful, timely, and necessary novels of our time, The Hate U Give is a National Book Award Longlist, New York Times Bestseller, and Coretta Scott King Honor Book.
There are two versions of Starr Carter: one the fancy prep school girl who speaks carefully, plays basketball, and gets good grades; the other a resident of a poor neighborhood who works at her dad’s shop. The balance between these two worlds shatters when she is the sole witness to police shooting her childhood friend Khalil. In the aftermath the neighborhood rises up in protest while Starr grapples with losing her friend, finding her place in the world, and raising her voice to tell the story of what happened that night.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie:
Sherman Alexie draws on his own experiences growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation to tell the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist. Determined to take control of his future, Junior chooses to leave the reservation and go to the all-white high school in nearby Reardan. Through his writings, cartoons, and sketches we follow Junior as he navigates life at a new school as well as back on the reservation. Equally humorous and insightful, this book will leave you in deep contemplation and make you laugh aloud.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland:
The Civil War, social justice, and the zombie apocalypse may seem an unlikely combination, but Justina Ireland blends all of these elements to create a thought-provoking and engaging novel. When men begin to rise from the dead and leave Civil War battlefields, the War halts and the nation changes forever. Under the Native and Negro Education Act, children are required to enroll in combat schools and study how to fight the dead. Jane McKeene, a young African-American woman, pursues life as an attendant at Miss Preston’s School of Combat. At the school, she trains in weaponry and etiquette to protect and serve wealthy white women, until she begins investigating the disappearances of families in surrounding towns and is suddenly caught in a dark conspiracy. Through a blending of genre and a strongly written protagonist, Ireland grabs readers’ attention, keeps them on the edge of their seats, and explores themes of racial discrimination, equality, ignorance, and freedom.