Top Ten Books My Students Use to Question, Discover, Wonder, and Wish by Alison Daniels
It’s a Friday morning. I sit down with my 6th graders, floating from group to group, getting lost in their conversations. The barrier between teacher voice and student voice disappears until we are just a table of readers. As a table of readers, each of us possessing agency, we discover and rediscover, we see and are seen, we listen and hear, we agree and disagree with one another, with the characters, with the author, and finally we wonder and wish. I get lost in their honesty and 50 minutes passes much too soon, but not so quickly that I don’t have the opportunity to relish, once again, how choice has transformed the reading lives of my students.
It was three years ago that I first introduced Book Club into my classroom. I borrowed the idea from Erin Ault, a fellow teacher, and reshaped it to fit my students, my classroom, and myself. I started small using just one class as a test subject. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I wanted authentic reading moments in my classroom. I struggled through that first year with balance and the calendar, so I refined during the second year until I arrived at this moment – the third year.
I’m still tinkering, and I imagine that will always be the case, but truthfully I’m no longer the owner of this experience. I’m not sure I ever was. I am supplier, observer, and participant, but my students are the true engineers. What I introduced they have transformed into something bigger and better. They are the true architects of book club and every year I look on with pride, a little maniacal glee, and eager curiosity about the choices they’ll make.
Are they rabid for realistic fiction? Are they goofy for graphics? Are they dystopian darlings? Are they mad for mystery? Are they a little of this and a little of that? My alliteration aside, I truly marvel at the culture in a classroom where choice reigns. Over these three years, my students have been able to expand their world and mine, so without further ado here are the Top Ten Books My Students Use to Question, Discover, Wonder, and Wish.
March trilogy by John Lewis
In the currently charged political climate students are more aware of past and present history. Lewis’ eyewitness account of the Civil Rights Movement leaves my students stunned, moved, inspired, and wide awake. I cannot keep this powerful graphic novel trilogy on my shelves.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
One of my sixth graders put it best when he declared, “He made utopia dystopian! That’s . . . that’s . . . crazy. . amazing! How awesome!” Simply put, Neal Shusterman is crazy amazing. Scythe uses two teen protagonists to take its readers on a dark and funny journey into humanity’s core. It asks and possibly answers what we become when the living is easy.
The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
What do you get when you pair one highly observant and clever girl with one who has the strength and skill to hunt the vampire? Not to mention a guy who has more secrets than truth, a well meaning mentor, and a happy go lucky boy who is always down for the cause? Well, twenty years ago you got Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but now you get Gleason’s The Clockwork Scarab. My students love the premise of Sherlock Holmes’ niece and Bram Stoker’s sister taking down evil in steampunk London. The added dash of Egyptian mythology deepens the mystery and the appeal.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Who world builds better than Leigh Bardugo? According to one student, the answer is “. . . absolutely no one ever!” Six of Crows is full of action, adventure, magic, and romance. It features a dangerous heist, impossible odds, a diverse cast, and multiple points of view. It does everything it needs to captivate a reader including leaving them wanting more and needing answers. On a wholly superficial note – it looks gorgeous sitting on a shelf, especially when paired with its sequel, Crooked Kingdom.
The Raina Telgemeier Collection
If I allowed it, my students would probably build a shrine to Raina Telgemeier. One of the first changes this year’s group of students made to Book Club was to dub this the Raina Telgemeier collection and declare that all four books should be read during a single cycle because “you can’t only read one of them and be okay with yourself.” I agree. Read them all and marvel at how deftly Telgemeier weaves together stories and themes that speak to everyone. I call her masterful. My students just call her a master.
Loving v. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell
The conversation usually begins with a student asking, “How can love be against the law?” My students love this true story told in verse. They aren’t just drawn to this story of love in verse, but the beauty of the book itself. The book doesn’t attempt to paint a perfect picture of love. Instead it respects its readers, no matter their age. It is another powerful glimpse into the importance of the Civil Rights Movement and about how a few people can change the world.
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
My students go into this novel knowing it’s about a football player, his team, and his coach. Most of them have never heard of Jim Thorpe, and just a few have heard of Pop Warner. This amazing story isn’t just about Jim Thorpe, Pop Warner, and the unbreakable spirit of an underdog team. Sheinkin goes deep into America’s past and offers his readers a history of football and the horrific treatment of Native Americans and their culture.
Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano
Holding Smoke captivates my students. Maybe it’s the mention of mystery. Maybe it’s the murder. Maybe it’s the astral projection. Maybe it’s the setting. Our protagonist Smoke has been convicted of two murders and is serving time in a juvenile prison. His story is about what it means to be broken, literally and figuratively. It’s also a story about finding who or what tethers you to this world. This is a book that will at times, as a teacher friend says, “make your heart hurt,” but it will also take you on an adventure. You know how you want the story to end, but this novel is light on reassurances.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Faith Sunderly is the protagonist of Hardinge’s fantastical and mysterious novel about how the person you present and the person you truly are can be your greatest strength, as well as your undoing. This novel is part murder mystery and all girl power. My students love trying to imitate Hardinge’s “imagistic” passages. This is a book where they admire the story and the craft.
Don’t Get Caught by Kurt Dinan
“There has to be a sequel! It ended with like a. . . boom . . . challenge.” This is high and accurate praise for a novel that is hysterical, mildly devastating, and so very clever. This is the story of what happens when the victims of a viscous prank strikes back, or so they think. Nothing in this story is as it seems, so get ready for a ride.
Alison Daniels is a 6th grade English teacher at Thomas Viaduct Middle School in Hanover, MD. At an early age she discovered that reading is powerful magic. She is always spreading the word by talking about reading, encouraging others to read, and sharing what she is reading with everyone. In the classroom she aims to help every student discover if not a love then a like of reading. She also spends her time knitting, Netflixing, and denying the existence of digital photography by adding to her manual camera collection. Her Twitter is mostly lame and almost nonexistent, but you can certainly follow her there @ms_adaniels.