Top 10 Authors My Students Read Everything By – by Shana Karnes
Every year around October, I find a few students in my 11th-grade classroom whose to-read lists are depressingly barren. Despite the fact that by that time I’ve booktalked nearly 100 books, I begin to despair when I can’t help them fill that list and make a reading plan.
And then, every year, I find a magical solution–introduce that student to an author they love, and BAM!–full to-read list.
Suddenly, a student who hates reading has a long TBR page, a favorite author, and a new identity as a READER.
Here are ten authors whose books my students demand to read ALL of their books.
Quick’s BOY21, an amazing story about basketball, the mafia, post-traumatic stress, space, friendship, and loyalty hooks my students immediately. Next, they’re enthralled by page one of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, which opens with a gun lying next to the protagonist’s breakfast. Breathless, they then try out Sorta Like a Rockstar, whose hopelessly-optimistic-despite-being-homeless protagonist wins their love and respect. Next, they move up to Silver Linings Playbook, which they feel accomplished when finishing, because it was made into an Oscar-winning movie and all that. Finally, they pick up The Good Luck of Right Now and can finally trace all of Quick’s signature themes–the lurking bane of mental illness, the redeeming power of love and friendship, the symbolic hope of sports, and the vista of his hometown, Philadelphia
Crank is addictive for students for many reasons–they find themselves tearing through a 500-page book in only a few hours, it’s about drugs and sex and ripped-up families, and the story’s all told through poetry. They are surprised at themselves for liking it so much–but come back asking for its sequel, Glass. They’re furious with the narrator’s continually bad choices when they return it, but then they go for Impulse, which takes on the topic of suicide; Burned, which confronts religious morality, sexual desire, and abuse; or Identical, whose twin narrators struggle independently before finding salvation in one another. Fallout, Tricks, Tilt, Triangles, Smoke, and Rumble fly off the shelves with nary a booktalk or recommendation, because Hopkins’ signature style is enough to hook readers–a single-word title, a thick spine, and tantalizing tales told in masterful verse.
Surprisingly, John Grisham has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in my classroom. Students’ fancies are caught by the average-Joe protagonists, reliable plot structure, and detailed writing style signature to Grisham. They often begin with The Racketeer, which has several scenes set in our town, and keeps the reader rooting for a wrongfully-jailed lawyer who’s been set up. Then, they move to the most frayed and tattered titles–A Time to Kill, The Firm, or The Pelican Brief–all of which have movie adaptations and play to themes of injustice, conspiracy, and a hero triumphing over it all. Next, they explore more tales about lawyers, judges, and paralegals in The Client, The Street Lawyer, The Brethren, The Runaway Jury, and more. Finally, still-hungry readers tackle Grisham’s lesser-known but still high-quality works–A Painted House, Skipping Christmas, Bleachers, or Playing for Pizza.
A. S. King
It’s a sad but true reality that many of our students have known violence in their short lives, which is perhaps why A.S. King’s Reality Boy is so popular. Many of my students identify with its story of anger issues, and then they move on to Everybody Sees the Ants, which blends the Vietnam era with an all-too-common tale of bullying. After that, they pick up Please Ignore Vera Dietz, which shocks them into deep thoughts about death, secrets, and unrequited love. They triumphantly finish their A.S. King saga with Ask the Passengers and Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, which masterfully confront issues of suicide, sexuality, and social conformity.
Thanks to the combination a film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars and his own naturally nerdy brilliance, John Green is one of the most popular authors in my classroom. Students often begin with the viral TFiOS (about two cancer-ridden star-crossed teen lovers, in case you live under a rock), and then I steer them toward Looking for Alaska, Green’s debut and a Printz winner about impulse, quirkiness, love, and death. It’s after that that they become tried-and-true fans and will read An Abundance of Katherines, whose bizarre math angle cracks them up, and Paper Towns, which continues the former’s theme of journeys as a means to self-discovery. Then, they move to Will Grayson, Will Grayson–which opens many of my more close-minded readers to themes of struggles with sexuality.
Chris Crutcher is a teenage boy reader’s dream. He writes short novels about powerful topics that always include themes about sports, bullying, and redemption. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is the most popular gateway book, taking on issues of domestic violence, self-esteem issues, and suicide. Whale Talk is next, dealing with bullying, the pressure of adult expectations, and success against overwhelming odds. Deadline is enthralling on its own–the tale of a high school senior diagnosed with terminal cancer–and after tearing through that they grab Period 8, then try to modify our school schedule with a safe-space lunch period of our own. Ironman, Stotan!, and Angry Management enthrall and delight the kids as well.
While Rainbow Rowell is a relatively new author–her first book was published in 2011–she has quickly become popular in my classroom. Eleanor and Park catches the attention of boy and girl readers alike with its 80s tale of star-crossed love against the backdrop of comics and a Walkman. Next, Fangirl gets student lovers of fanfiction excited, and Attachments (about an email culture many students are clueless about) and Landline (cluing teens into the unique terror of calling a crush’s landline and having their parents answer!) gain readers as well, despite being billed as adult fiction.
Thanks to a talented 10th-grade teacher of Into the Wild, about a young man who seeks to live off the land in Alaska, my juniors often come to me with an existing love for nonfiction master Jon Krakauer. I introduce them to my personal favorite of his books, Into Thin Air, the tale of an ill-fated journey up Mt. Everest, and then they’re off, enthralled by Under the Banner of Heaven, which takes on religious violence, and Where Men Win Glory, about football player-turned soldier Pat Tillman. Three Cups of Deceit and Eiger Dreams have their fans, too.
Ahhh, Rick, you mythological dork of a man. Students who begin their Riordan journey with The Lightning Thief find themselves falling in love with Greek myths over the course of five novels about the Olympians. Then, they fall in love with Roman mythology over the course of the follow-up Heroes of Olympus series, starting with The Lost Hero. Riordan’s skillful blend of humor and historical detail draws them in, and then they try the Kane Chronicles (a trilogy about Egyptian mythology). They’re currently eagerly awaiting Riordan’s rumored series about Norse mythology.
Winger’s cover–a prep-school kid sporting a bloody nose–draws teens in immediately, and after they’ve finished that heartrending tale of sports, love, bullying, and tragedy, they are hungry for more Andrew Smith. They pick up 100 Sideways Miles and Grasshopper Jungle next, whose covers also catch their eyes, and whose plots address the power of teamwork, the confusion of sexuality, and the frailty of life and love. Finally, they’re excited to discover The Marbury Lens, book one of a series that blends Smith’s signature themes with dystopian tropes.
Shana Karnes currently teaches eleventh grade English in Morgantown, West Virginia. She adores reading, writing, cooking, especially while hanging out with her husband and their two adorable cats. Visit Shana’s blog at threeteacherstalk.com, find her on Twitter at @litreader, or talk books on at GoodReads at www.goodreads.com/mrskarnes.