10 Summer Book Recommendations for Teachers, by Teachers

Everybody loves to give teachers their ideas for a great summer reading list. But what happens when teachers themselves do the choosing?

Now that we’re deep into July, I asked my teacher friends to tell me about their favorite reads so far, whether education-related or not, and grouped them by category. Of these books, one was written by a current teacher and three others were penned by teachers-turned-full-time-writers.

Young Adult Novels For Your Students, And For You

Plenty of my friends are middle and high school English teachers looking for great student reads. At the same time, more than half of young adult novels are purchased by adults, not teens, reading for pleasure. Whether they’re blockbusters offering a view of other worlds, like "The Hunger Games" and the "Harry Potter" series, or less-well-known novels helping us see today’s world in a new light, young adult novels have much to offer, both in joy of reading and expanded perspectives.

In "Blended," Sharon Draper, who was named Teacher of the Year way back in 1997, shows us the world through the eyes of 11-year-old Isabella, a competitive pianist who spends alternate weeks with her White mother and her Black father. A noose in a school locker and a terrifying encounter between Isabella and a police officer deepen the examination of racism in today’s society.

Given the recent rally where crowds chanted “Send Her Back,” referring to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), "Internment’s" near-future dystopia feels all-too-possible. Samira Ahmed, a former high school English teacher (disclosure: we went to graduate school and learned to teach together), takes us into an America where Islamophobia has taken over. Her heroine, Layla, a young Muslim girl with a Jewish boyfriend, is forced into an internment camp with her family and thousands of other families like them. Though the forces of bigotry and hate are on full display, Layla’s courage and that of a few others keeps hope alive.

"The Poet X"
In "The Poet X," Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel, teenage Xiomara Batista conceals her poetry from her strict Catholic mother. But when she’s invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she faces a dilemma: stay silent and continue to let her fists do the talking, or share her voice and risk discovery.

Memoirs To Make Your Head Spin

There has been plenty of buzz about "Educated," Tara Westover’s astonishing recounting of her upbringing in a survivalist Mormon family in southeast Idaho. Her mentally ill father pulls his eldest three children out of school and never sends the younger four, including Westover. Despite unrelenting abuse from her father and an older brother, Westover studies in secret and wins acceptance to Brigham Young University, where she encounters the modern world for the first time. An English teacher friend and I, both memoir fans, compare it to Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir, The Glass Castle, for the shocking family dynamics told in an unadorned style that belies the level of artistry in the telling.

Plenty of readers assert that Kiese Laymon’s "Heavy" should be required reading for everyone in the United States at this moment in history. The layers of history, family, violence, addiction and love run deep in his writing. If there’s nothing that speaks to you in this book, you must not be human. It bears reading, and re-reading. No spoilers here.

"There Will Be No Miracles Here"
Perhaps the most remarkable elements of Casey Gerald’s "There Will Be No Miracles Here" are the brute-force honesty and surprising humility shown by a guy who launched MBAs Across America in his 20s, then put it out of business, on purpose. “I have to make myself obsolete,” he told New York Magazine. It’s an unusual stance for a memoirist. Read it for his no-holds-barred struggle with faith and doubt.

Don’t Skip the Books About School! 

"Not Light But Fire"
If you read one book on teaching this summer, make it "Not Light But Fire" by Matthew Kay, a founding English teacher at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy. And yes, he’s still teaching and also leading the Philly Slam League. If you know you need to be leading deeper conversations on race in your classroom, but you don’t know how to do it, Kay wants to be your guide. His book is full of classroom vignettes and thought-provoking ideas that will get your planning juices flowing.

Although "Biased" examines racial conditioning and unconscious preferences as they affect many areas of life, Jennifer Eberhardt’s exploration of the ways bias enters our lives connects with both her own school experiences and those of her children. A whole chapter is devoted to education, and includes a powerful story of how Eberhardt helped her oldest son advocate for himself and change a White school administrator’s understanding of how rules about hair were enforced in a racially biased manner.

"Ghosts in the Schoolyard"
In "Ghosts in the Schoolyard," Eve Ewing, who taught science at the now-closed Pershing West middle school in Chicago before going on to earn a doctorate and enter academia, takes a deep yet accessible dive into the history and sociology of Chicago’s 2013 school closings, especially as they affected the historically Black, rapidly gentrifying Bronzeville neighborhood.

"Make-or-Break Year"
And for a book that masterfully weaves students’ struggles and triumphs into a larger examination of how school and system-level change can be made, check out Emily Krone Phillips’ "The Make-or-Break Year."

Which books would you add to this list?

Maureen Kelleher
Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Director at Future Ed. She was formerly Editorial Partner at Ed Post and is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an ...

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