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Ah, summer.

The days are long and the possibilities endless. It’s the perfect time to recuperate from a long school year, and look forward to the possibilities and opportunities the new year will afford.

It’s also time to relax a little.

And what better way to relax than with a great book? I’ve compiled a list of fifteen books I think are “must reads” for teachers–secondary teachers especially.


Fiction – of the YA Lit Variety

Winger by Andrew Smith – This is hands down one of my favorite books ever written. It has also turned many of my reluctant readers around this past school year. The book is about Ryan Dean, a fourteen-year-old junior at a super prestigious private school who is in love with his best friend, Annie a 17-year-old junior. Ryan Dean’s internal dialogue alone will have you falling on the floor laughing, while other parts will have you near tears. One of his buddies in the book is gay and Ryan Dean seems to be one of the few who doesn’t care. If the ending does not wreck you, I am afraid you might not be human.

Butter by Erin Jade Lange – Butter is a senior who is morbidly obese–over 400 pounds. One night he decides he is going to take control of the gossip that is out there about him and starts a website where he claims that he will eat himself to death on New Year’s Eve. He had no idea what reaction to expect, but becoming one of the most popular kids in school was definitely not it. The quick-witted Butter will make you laugh, but his life–and plan to end it–will break your heart.

Carrie by Stephen King — I liken King’s first novel to the original bully book. The story is weird and twisted because well, it’s Stephen King. Who else would have a mind that could create a high school girl with telekinetic powers with a psycho-fundamentalist Christian mother who never taught her daughter about the birds and the bees? The entire book is told in a multi-genre format: newspaper clippings, psychology journals, letters, diary entries, court documents, etc. If you haven’t read this classic, I suggest doing so. It’s a good reminder about how the lives of our students go on outside of our classrooms.

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – Theodore Finch and Violet Markey really have nothing in common other than the fact that they find each other on top of the school’s bell tower contemplating jumping on the same day. Violet is counting the days until graduation when she can leave the small Indiana town where her sister died in a car crash the winter before. Finch is struggling to find a reason each day to not kill himself. This book takes a hard look at how grief and mental illness affect teenagers.



Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen – Although first published twenty years ago, this book is still shocking readers by debunking much of what they were taught from US history books. It’s a call to truth in education.

The People’s History of the United States of America by Howard Zinn — This is another book that sheds new light on what has been frequently taught as factual history. In his book, Zinn has collected first hand accounts of those who experienced this history.

The World is Flat by Thomas L Friedman – Friedman guides the reader through the history of the twenty-first century globalization. It’s main thesis is that the world is becoming more of a level playing field for competitors. Divisions like geography and history are becoming obsolete due to our continual access to being connected. It also looks at activism, entrepreneurship, and  privacy in today’s “flat” world.



Book Love by Penny Kittle – If you are at all interested in how to create and use a classroom library to promote reading as not just a skill, but as a life-long activity, this is a must-read. Kittle’s research-based, and student-tested methods explain how and why Reader’s Workshop is the most effective way to teach literacy. Kittle focuses on high school, however all of her activities and ideas can easily be manipulated to fit for younger students.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller – I always recommend this book along with Kittle’s Book Love because Miller focuses on the middle school age group–particularly sixth grade. Miller promotes choice in reading for students via her classroom library and creating life-long readers rather than test takers.

Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller – I don’t usually put two books by the same author on a recommended reading, however this continues the conversation Miller began in The Book Whisperer and I believe they go together. This book gives five habits of life-long readers and strategies and advice for promoting and assessing those habits.

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher – Gallagher argues that schools are the ones killing kids’ love of reading, and identifies what we are doing wrong and then provides strategies and techniques for reversing the damage done. This one is a must read for ALL disciplines, not just ELA, as it gives strategies that are cross-curricular.

Rethinking Homework by Cathy Vatterott – This book changed my attitude about assigning homework. Vatterott examines the history of homework, why it has become ineffective, and what teachers can do that is more educationally sound for their students.


For the Writers

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – This is my number one suggestion for anyone who is a writer and/or teaches writers. Lamott hilariously and honestly discusses her process of writing including the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. I go back to my old dog-eared copy frequently when I want to be inspired or when I need to work through some things with my own students.

On Writing by Stephen King – Not only does King give candid advice for writing, but he weaves his own writing memoir in and out of the advice. He talks about having a place to write, how he wrote Carrie, and even his views on certain mechanics of language. It’s an invaluable resource.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg – Goldberg believes that writing practice is like zen meditation. This book is inspiring, and also gives great ideas for prompts, as well as backing the researched-based idea that writers should write every single day.

What are you reading this summer?

P.S. Some of these links are affiliates. Help us pay our teacher writers!

Katie Sluiter is currently an 8th English teacher in West Michigan. She has taught middle school,...

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