Top Ten Books with Rural and Small Town Settings by Elaine Fultz
My school is in the country. I hear a rooster crow every morning when I walk from my car to the building. For many of my students, a trip to the nearest city is rare and intimidating while a ride around a field on a tractor or ATV is a daily pastime.
As their school librarian, I am dedicated to supplying my students as many diverse experiences through literature as I can. I proudly display #wehavediversebooks swag from the ALA conferences and preach the gospel of providing those crucial windows for all young readers, and especially geographically isolated ones.
But what about the mirrors?
I recently recommended Louis Bayard’s Lucky Strikes to a student because I thought she would appreciate the family, the action, and the humor. When she returned it, she reported that she did love it, but she surprised me with the reason. “I haven’t seen many teen books about growing up in the country like us, so I really really liked that.” Her statement jolted and encouraged me to think about, again, just how many YA and middle grade books are populated by upper or middle class suburban white kids. I’ve been working to offer those windows to diversity for my students, but I needed this reminder that they need their mirrors, too. Here are some great MG and teen titles with rural or small town settings.
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
A trio of friends is about to graduate from high school. They live in rural Tennessee, but their ambitions stretch beyond the traditions and gossip of their families and peers. Hilarious, wise, and heartbreaking, this reads like a southern-fried John Green novel.
free verse by Sarah Dooley
Sasha has lost everyone she loved and has to start over with a foster mother and unexpected relatives in a poor coal mining town. Gorgeous writing illuminates this gritty place as Sasha discovers poetry and the possibility of a future beyond Caboose, West Virginia.
Lucky Strikes by Louis Bayard
Amelia and her siblings are orphans trying to run a small town gas station/auto repair shop during the Depression in Virginia. A peculiar mystery man and a gas company bigshot villain bring humor and action to this historical fiction thriller.
Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz
Fiona, a.k.a. Fig, is raised by a mentally ill mother in rural Kansas, and Fig’s own sanity is in question as her mother’s behaviors progressively worsen. Fig is an extraordinary and thought-provoking literary teen novel.
Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost
Siblings Faith and Peter and their Uncle Arthur mourn the loss of Aunt Lucy while continuing the tradition of making applesauce when the first apple falls on their farm. This easy-to-read middle grade verse novel is sweet and appealing (I couldn’t resist).
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
When Cameron is outed as a lesbian, her ultra-conservative relatives send her to a religious conversion therapy camp. The rural Montana setting adds significance to the ultimate message of finding community and affirmation in an unlikely place.
as brave as you by Jason Reynolds
Two Brooklyn brothers experience culture shock and unravel family secrets when they spend a summer month with their grandparents in the Virginia countryside. Readers will smell, feel and see (or not see) everything these boys do from shoveling dog poop and firing a gun to knowing how dark night can be in the country.
Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King
Obe’s family’s farm has been shrinking for generations due to financial woes and the rise of McMansions. As Obe roams the land and cleans up around the construction sites, he discovers a new species that could save, or further damage, the environment. This is a very discussable middle grade novel with excellent role models for compassion, both child and adult.
Rain Reign by Ann M Martin
Rose lives in rural New York with her volatile father and beloved dog, Rain. Rose is a person with Asperger syndrome, and she utilizes patterns and routines for comfort. When Rain is lost in a fearsome thunderstorm, Rose must make uncomfortable decisions. Both touching and tragic, Rain Reign offers readers an opportunity for unique and lasting empathy.
Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock
Sarah and Ruby Lee have been best friends when Sarah visits her grandparents’ North Carolina farm. Their interracial friendship changes when Sarah must stay to live in the country and go to the local school where the battle over integration is raging. Set in 1969, this is a memorable and accessible story of a small victory over racism.
Elaine Fultz is District Media Specialist for Madison Local Schools in Ohio and was a member of the 2017 Newbery committee.