Choice Reading (and Writing), An Interview with The Literary Maven
We all want our writers to be readers. Reading and writing go hand in hand. But how to hook our students on books? For some, reading is a chore, or something they manage to avoid with a little help from their friends.
Enter, Brynn Allison. On her website, The Literary Maven, she writes book reviews of the types of books we can all use to help our students fall in love with reading. In posts like 8 Fantasy & Dystopia Titles to Recommend to Your Secondary Students and 9 Historical Fiction Titles to Recommend to Your High School Students, she shares wonderful round-ups of her book reviews that will help us as teachers to build an effective teaching library.
I invited Brynn to be a guest on my podcast this month so I could talk to her about ten of her very favorite books to recommend to students. If you are just starting out with choice reading, or looking for a boost for your library, you have to check out these great titles. You can either listen to our interview on the podcast player below to hear the deep dive into each book, or read on for her ten top titles. If you decide to listen, be sure to scroll down when you're done and check out some great ideas for choice reading writing assignments.
Forged by Fire (Trilogy), by Sharon M. Draper
If you're going to add only one of these books to your reading library, this just might be it. It's Brynn's top recommendation. With its amazing first chapter that was originally written to stand alone as a short story, you can hook readers instantly. Read it aloud and put it on your shelf, then watch how quickly your struggling readers (and all the rest of your students) line up for it.
Great for: Everyone!
On the Come Up, by Hannah Weyer
In this novel, a young woman gets pregnant. This is the story of how she deals with it. Though she makes mistakes, she also makes good choices. She's strong and driven, a real and honest protagonist that makes a good role model for students who may be facing difficult realities and struggling with their own choices. You can read Brynn's full review here.
Great for: Young women who could use a strong and realistic role model. This also makes a great next read for students who have fallen for The Hate U Give
Life as We Knew It (Series), by Susan Beth Pfeffer
If the moon got out of whack, what might happen? This post-apocalyptic series follows life on earth in a fairly realistic scenario, following along as characters deal with the way the world is changing. You can read Brynn's full review here.
Great for: Keeping students reading, since they can move on to the next in the series after the first book.
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Series), by Patrick Ness
Also set in the ever-popular post-apocalyptic world, this novel follows the story of Todd, who grows up in a town with only men. Then one day he finds a girl, Viola, and together they start a revolution. You can read Brynn's full review here.
Great for: Another solid series, giving students a lot to love once they get hooked on the first book.
Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles Series), by Marissa Meyer
This intriguing twist on a popular fairy tale is full of surprises. Who would have expected to find futuristic features like androids and life on the moon in a retelling of Cinderella? You can read Brynn's full review here.
Great for: These books are long and big. And there are a lot of them. Share a bit in class and then see who is ready for months of joyful reading.
Scrawl, by Mark Schulman
Students can easily identify with the protagonist in Scrawl. He's a kid that at first comes off as a bully, but turns out not to be. He is hilarious and honest about what his school experience is like, as he writes the narrative from detention. You can read Brynn's full review here.
Great for: Students feeling a bit anti-school.
The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore
In this memoir, we follow the lives of two men born in the same city, blocks apart, with the same names. One becomes an author while the other ends up in prison. Tracing the small differences between them sheds light on how their paths diverge. You can read Brynn's full review here.
Great for: Students interested in non-fiction.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
Profanity alert. If your school won't allow you to share a book with adult language in it, steer clear. But if your students can handle it, this is a great read. Here again is a relatable narrator. He loathes high school and is full of commentary on high school social groups. You can read Brynn's full review here.
Great for: Students feeling disaffected by school social life.
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
The Crossover is a tale told in verse. Help students see it's really no different than any other book with a quick read-aloud. The story follows two brothers through their basketball season, exploring their relationship with their dad along the way. You can read Brynn's full review here.
Great for: Athletes. Alexander has written several other books in the same style, including one about soccer and one about music, so it will be easy to recommend another similar title to students who get hooked.
Girl, Stolen, by April Henry
When Griffin steals her car, he has no idea Cheyenne is in the backseat. Much less that she has pneumonia and is blind. When he realizes what he's done, it's too late to let her go because his father wants to hold her for ransom. This unique story is full of action, keeping readers on their toes throughout. Henry alternates the narration between Cheyenne and Griffin, giving very different perspectives on the situation. You can read Brynn's full review here.
Great for: Action-lovers. Once this book gets rolling, the drama stays strong.
Hold Still, by Nina LaCour
This book takes an honest, unromanticized look at issues of depression and suicide. The narrator's best friend has just killed herself, and she is left feeling guilty and full of memories. Sections from her friend's journal are interspersed with her narration. You can read Brynn's full review here.
Great for: Students who may be dealing with these types of issues, or whose friends and family are. Fans of books like All the Bright Places and Challenger Deep will probably like this title as well.
Time to go book shopping! I hope you found some titles here that you can't wait to share with your students.
Writing Options to go with your Choice Reading Library
Building a free choice reading library can dramatically increase your students' buy-in when it comes to reading. Here are a few ideas for writing assignments you can use along with your free choice reading program.
Take a two-week break from your whole class curriculum and have students read a choice book. This gets them exploring your library for the first time and talking to you about what they like. At the end, have each student write a book review and then put them up on a class reading blog (see an example from one of my classes here). This way every student can view the reviews when it comes to choosing their next book. Your program can then go on independently, as students read their choice books at the same time as you continue your class curriculum. Perhaps you ask them to read and review one book per grading period.
At the end of the term, ask students to create a project showcasing their book that they can share with their class (and perhaps younger student guests) at a book festival. Give them a list of possible projects, such as:
- a series of emails between two the main characters, exploring their opinions and feelings about what is going on
- an interview between a modern talk show host and the main character
- a set of posters to use in advertising the book in bookstores and libraries, along with a page of explanation about how the posters highlight important themes, ideas and characters in the book
- a graphic novel version of a critical scene in the book, along with a page of explanation connecting the artistic choices to an interpretation of the text
- a newspaper covering the action of the book, including a headline news piece, an opinion piece about an issue featured in the text, several images, a political cartoon relating to the text, etc.
Invite students to write letters you will eventually send to the authors of their books. Ask them to write about what they liked and connected to in the book, and to include questions the books sparked in them. After they share their letters with their classmates and turn them into you for a grade, have them clean up any final issues and send them. They just might hear back.
Whatever writing option you choose to keep track of your students' independent reading, encouraging them to find the books they will truly love is a great gift you can give them as their teacher.
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