All-Time Favorite Reads
Which books have impacted me greatly? Quite a few…however, there are some noteworthy books that truly have changed me as a person, reader, thinker, or writer. These are books that we all should have bookmarks in. 🙂
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
One of the best things about this book is that I pick up something new with each read. Isn’t that an amazing feat? The fluidity of the prose, the heart of the novel, and the injustice it tackles will be forever etched in my mind. There’s nothing quite like the following:
“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow…When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out…”
And even though so many people think that Nelle Harper Lee is Scout, I actually think she is Boo–so resistant to the fame she achieved. This story is so close to her own heart and experience that another successful novel was unlikely. It will be interesting to see how Go Set a Watchman plays out this summer.
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
Having taught this novel for seven years at the middle level and for over a decade at the collegiate level, I have come to believe that this book is near perfection. The most amazing thing about it is that every time we discuss this book in class, someone brings up a question I have never heard of or contemplated before. This simple text provides amazing depth at levels that range from upper elementary to adult. Although many people who read the book may remember certain scenes or the ending, the book should be heralded for making the simple complex. As Lowry notes, “…each time a child opens a book, he pushes open the gate that separates him from Elsewhere. It gives him choices, it gives him freedom. Those are magnificent, wonderfully unsafe things.” Magnificent indeed.
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Readers get to the heart of Melinda on the very first page of the novel: “It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.” And so we meet Melinda Sordino (Did you know a synonym for this work is mute?) of Halse Anderson’s classic YA novel, Speak. Laurie makes it clear that this is a novel not about rape–it’s about isolation and depression. These are obviously feelings that everyone has felt before, but what makes this novel so special is that we cheer for Melinda along her journey. And when she finally gets the courage to speak, we feel the need to roar on her behalf. If you haven’t heard Laurie’s poem “Listen” (compiled from verbal and written responses about the book that were shared with her), you really need to hear some of the reactions to her amazing book:
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
I rarely cry when I read books. In fact, there are only two novels when I was brought to tears by a text, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of them. The chapter that focuses on “What it means to be poor” knocked by socks off due to its poignant simplicity. Vacillating between laughter and tears, my heart was broken numerous times only to be fixed in subsequent pages. Alexie is truly a master of storytelling, and Junior’s story about navigating the Indian and white worlds is a tale you never want to forget.
- Night by Elie Wiesel
The horrors in this book are something that are forever etched in my mind. The power of story can teach so many things, and this novel recalls so succinctly recalls some of the atrocities that were committed in our world’s history. This book offers us all a glimpse of the monstrous events that happened, even though many of us will never truly know what it was like. The lessons learned from reading the novel, however, are things that will also always stay with me. Simply put, this is a must read for the human race–everyone should read it.
- Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Did you expect this one? Maybe. But the reason for the ranking may not be what you are thinking. Yes–I love Harry, Hermoine, and Ron. Hagrid and Dumbledore too. What I find remarkable about the book, though, is how it transcended generations: Grandparents took grandkids to the bookstore, groups of friends read the books together, and everyone talked about the films. The theme of good versus evil never gets old, and the vibrancy of the prose captured everyone’s hearts and imagination. It’s amazing the impact the Harry Potter series has had on the field of children’s literature, and the HP earthquake tremors also shook the field of Young Adult Literature. Publishing options for fantastical worlds were extended, partially due to the hunger for more experiences like this one.
J.K. Rowling’s story is also inspiring, and one of the quotes on her web site is something that we should all follow: “…I believe in hard work and luck, and that the first often leads to the second.” Agreed!
- Sold by Patricia McCormick
Patricia McCormick is a researcher, and her journalism background clearly impacts the novels she has written. Cut, Purple Heart, and Never Fall Down all demonstrate her investigative skills, and the verse novel Sold is a story compiled from her research as well. McCormick chose the format of the verse novel because “vignettes seemed to be the right way to tell a story that is inherently so fractured—if not shattering. I also think the ‘white space’ between vignettes calls on the reader to engage his or her imagination in the story-telling process to fill in the blanks.”
This is the kind of book that you must take breaks from in order for you to absorb the shocks from the tale. This is the kind of book that changes the field of Young Adult Literature and its publishing industry. And his is the kind of book that changes you—for the better. Even though problems seem far away, it is important to realize that these problems exist today. We must read novels like this so we can take a critical look at the world today and know—in our hearts and souls—that together, we all can make the world a better place for everyone.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
“Here is a small fact: You are going to die.” And so begins The Book Thief, a World War II tale that focuses on Liesel, who begins stealing books when her brother is buried (she snatches a copy of The Gravedigger’s Handbook). Even though she can’t read or write, she holds tightly onto the book as she travels to her new home with a foster family. Combined with Max’s story (a Jewish man the foster family hides in the basement) as well as the narrator’s grim take on the happenings during the era, the power of words is a mighty theme for a time period when Hitler’s hateful words and propaganda persuade a nation to fall under his spell. The beautiful writing and haunting insights make this a book that you’ll want to purloin yourself.
- Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky
This book is amazing. It captures the heart and spirit of teens trying to find their way in the world. Charlie is a quiet teen (a wallflower, if you will) who spends his time mainly observing the world.It’s important to note that there actually are a few perks to being a wallflower: “…You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.” Enter Sam and her half-brother, Patrick, who liven Charlie’s life. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, parties, and school dances are all things that Charlie starts to participate in.
As the book proceeds, we learn about Sam’s troubled background and Patrick’s doomed relationship. Charlie’s situation is pieced together as the letters come to a close, and it seems as if he is finally prepared to start fully living his life: “Even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there”.
This is one of the most stolen books from public and school libraries. The reason why it is so desired is clear to me, for the characters and readers seem to unite for a time, “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
- Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Every once in awhile, I read a book that I wish I had read when I was a tween/teen. This is one of those books. The lessons learned about how to treat others and to view things from other people’s perspectives is a life-long skill that all kids should know: After all, “Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”
Auggie isn’t just a kid with facial abnormalities—Auggie is a catalyst for change. He encourages everyone to see themselves and others differently, and he encourages kindess: “If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place.” Indeed it would. Read the book and you can discover for yourself how Auggie really is a wonder.
- The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a strip mall. He has lived there for 9,876 days. He counted. He hasn’t always lived there, though. He “…was born in a place humans call central Africa, in a dense rain forest so beautiful, no crayons could ever do it justice.” For a time, he lived in a home and was dressed and treated like a baby. When he grew too large for a domestic house, however, was was transferred to the new domain (Ivan doesn’t like the word cage), and he—along with his elephant friend Stella—became attractions at the mall. The days are okay and time passes with his friends and his artwork. As he notes, “With enough time, you can get used to almost anything.” But when a new baby elephant named Ruby appears, Ivan realizes that this life isn’t one he wants for her. He just doesn’t know how to fix the problem.
The mesmerizing book can be read at a multitude of levels, and its depth is really quite remarkable. It’s amazing how Applegate is able to infuse so many lessons about humanity into this simple novel about a gorilla in a mall. (The real Ivan lived nearly 30 years in a mall in Washington and was eventually transferred to an Atlanta zoo after protests finally developed. He died in 2012, the same year this book was published.) Ivan will touch your heart and inspire your spirit. His lessons are ones you will hold onto for the rest of your life: “Growing up gorilla is just like any other kind of growing up. You make mistakes. You play. You learn. You do it all over again.”
- Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Walter Dean Myers is a master storyteller, and this book is another of his amazing novels. Written mostly as a screenplay (with a few other genres, notably journal entries thrown in), this breakthrough in style helped push the boundaries of what was expected in a Young Adult Literature book. Through watching the actions in the novel, we travel the journey along with Steve and, along with him, contemplate whether or not he is a monster. The book received the Printz Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, the Edgar Award, and was also named as a National Book Award honor book.
Even more striking than the book is Walter himself. Upon Walter’s death in 2014, Chris Crutcher noted that “because of Walter Dean Myers and a few who exist in his rare air, YA lit will never need a savior. Walter’s stories view the world through the eyes of struggling kids and adults of every age and race and because of that, empower us.” Thank you, Walter, for your legacy of creating readers and crafting stories that are written beautifully in the language of their time.
- Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
If I were to recommend one book that you read by Chris Crutcher, this is the one. TJ is one of those protagonists you would love to meet—he’s bright, athletic, and sarcastic. He’s multi-ethnic and adopted (“Big Deal; so was Superman”). Perhaps it’s this combination that empowers him to make a difference in the lives of six swimmers, who end up forming a swim team—the Magnificent Seven–in order to obtain the prized letter for a high school letter jacket. The motley crew ends up doing much more than that, however. Through their forged relationships, they work together to make a change in their world.
I love that Crutcher packs so much in to this novel—it’s almost as if it’s like Ragu’ spaghetti (“it’s all in there”). Issues about bigotry, racism, domestic and child abuse, gun violence, and more are included. This is a book where Crutcher is truly a master at his craft, and it’s a novel that no one should miss.
- Outliers by Malcom Gladwell
Yep–10.000 hours. That’s what it takes to become truly great at something. Beyond this figure, there are obvious lessons learned for multitudes of professions and activities. Whether you are Bill Gates, the Beatles, or Michael Jordan, those 10,000 hours matter. So keep that in mind as you go towards your life and perhaps career goals and remember that hard work, dedication, and practice are keys to success.
- Mockingbird by Charles Shields
This book will offer additional insight on the creation of the To Kill a Mockingbird, so I would recommend reading that text before your reading or re-reading of TKAM. Shields, a former high school English teacher, researched and wrote the novel after being asked so many times by his students during their reading of TKAM if Harper Lee was Scout. After reading this novel, you will not only be knowledgeable about Nelle Harper Lee’s background and life, but you will have a firm sense of questions you may have about the book as well: the absence of a mother figure, the strong lawyer father, the lively neighbor boy, the concept of inequality and injustice during the era, and whether or not Lee would be capable of writing a book like this. The answer is pretty simple to this last question…this novel is so close to her own experience that no one else (even a neighbor boy like Truman) could have written the brilliant work of literature that is To Kill a Mockingbird.