The link below is to an article that looks at why the New York Times Bestsellers List is ‘the’ list.
At this time of year, “best of” lists abound, vying for our attention. But teachers and parents committed to principles of social justice are generally left searching for something more than the usual top 10 list of best-of books.
We hope the reads we give are not just entertaining but also educational.
I’ve previously written on children’s literature and presented book lists for critical thinkers on The Conversation Canada. The authors I listed lead to a treasure trove — for example, S.K. Ali’s Love from A to Z — but what follows is a new list of recommendations. They are books published from September 2019 that I hope will both entice readers and foster critical thinking.
This book list is not exhaustive and I present it more as suggestions — ones that may warrant further research. Teachers and parents will want to look up any trigger warnings.
Also, I recommend adults read books along with younger readers: it’s vital to meaningful conversations. I think adult readers may be pleasantly surprised by the rich and important storytelling happening in the young adult literary world.
All-American Muslim Girl, by Nadine Jolie Courtney, defies what you think you might know about female Muslim representation in an American context.
Allie Abraham is the main character whose born-Muslim father dislikes that she’s becoming more spiritual. The family has just moved to a small town, a microcosm of a nation where Islamophobia has become normalized. Allie falls for the son of Jack Henderson, the county’s “shock jock” behind the spread of hatred.
It’s a quiet but complex story about the search for identity and learning to find your own way. Allie is a likable character whose moral compass is wholesome and whose struggles to sift through opposing influences read as authentic and heart-warming. There’s an education and historical element to be found here on Circassian Muslims.
The Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys. Since reading Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea, probably one of my most recommended historical YA novels, I’ve been on the lookout for her work. In her latest, Sepetys takes readers to Spain in the 1950’s under the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Beyond giving us a look into the sorrow-filled aftermath of civil war, there are lessons here for those dealing with questions of privilege and the responsibilities to do something positive with that privilege.
Daniel Matheson is the protagonist photographer and son of an American oil tycoon who falls in love with Ana, the hotel maid and daughter of parents killed and imprisoned by the regime. She needs to keep silent in a country that relies on controlling people by fear. But Ana finds herself confiding in Daniel and Daniel begins to look beyond what he thinks he sees on the surface.
The best historical novels say something about contemporary times as well and Sepetys doesn’t disappoint. Readers will find parallels that speak to our silences regarding blatant injustices happening today.
SLAY, by Brittney Morris, is one I’d been hearing about for a long time before its September release. People called it a mash-up of The Hate U Give, and Ready Player One with a Black Panther-esque gaming world at its core.
Kiera Johnson is pretty much the only Black girl into STEM at her mostly white school. Beneath her honours persona, she’s hiding a secret life as the developer of an online game called SLAY. The game is supposed to be a safe-space for hundreds of thousands of Black gamers but when a teen is murdered in real life over a dispute in the game world, the game is exposed to accusations and threats.
Kiera fights to protect the world she created on several fronts. Although this is a novel that defies what stereotypes of Black girlhood may look like, it is also a super-inspiring read about the power of aligning your dreams with making the world a better, more inclusive space.
The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett, has already been optioned for film and been compared to The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale. It does not have an obvious diversity element built into it but it does have its strengths for critical readers.
It’s a dystopian story about Tierney James who lives in a patriarchal, puritanical society that sends girls in their 16th year out to “release their magic” into the wild. The belief is that girls on the cusp of womanhood have an energy that, unless expended, would bring the moral degeneration of their community. In the author’s note at the end, Liggett tells the story of how she was inspired to tell this story because of “the things we do to young girls.”
This book isn’t for the faint of heart. The prose is elegant and captivating, but the world is cruel and disturbing. The book was hard to read at times despite its female empowerment message. Accordingly, for this recommendation, I’d stress the necessity of reviewing the trigger warnings.
It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories, edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman, is for readers who prefer shorter stories rather than one long tale. Some are funny, others are sad, but all, in one way or another, address what growing up Jewish meant to the writer.
Bursting with diverse and intersectional representations (there’s queer and disabled reps here too, for instance), this anthology, much like All-American Muslim Girl, demonstrates that people of marginalized faiths aren’t a monolith and defy the stereotypes around them.
This book would be great for young Jewish readers, certainly for the chance to see themselves reflected in the books they read, but I see the benefit for non-Jewish readers as well. As children’s literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop explains, books can be as windows, mirrors and sliding doors. Bishop wrote:
Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.
An Australian summer can be a holiday by the beach, recovering from exams, or anticipating the next stage of schooling. The summer break can also offer a wonderful opportunity to catch up on some reading.
Award-winning author and illustrator Shaun Tan wrote the
lessons we learn from […] stories are best applied to a similar study of life in general […] At its most successful, fiction offers us devices for interpreting reality.
(If you aren’t familiar with Tan’s work, look out for The Arrival, Cicada and Tales from the Inner City, among others).
Research from New Zealand suggests young adults like to read books which make them laugh, “let them use their imagination, have a mystery or problem to solve, have characters they wish they could be like”.
Based on this, here are some recommendations your teen could read this summer.
For teens in years 10-12
Living on Hope Street (2017)
Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton said:
When I was a young adult I cherished those books that took me seriously, that acknowledged the world was a complicated and often troubled place.
Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren does just that. Hope Street is a fictional Australian street with a diverse population.
This diversity is replicated in the book’s multiple-voice narrative structure.
The voices are initially separate but come together in a way that reflects the development of the community.
The characters range in age from school children to a Vietnam war veteran and include a refugee family. Hope Street has messages of tolerance, love, courage, friendship and the importance of family.
The Things That Will Not Stand (2018)
Novels invite the reader to imagine themselves as the characters and understand other people’s situations.
In The Things That Will Not Stand, by Michael Gerard Bauer, two teenagers, Sebastian and Tolly, attend a university open day together.
They meet a girl who is not quite what she seems but who so intrigues Sebastian, he stays on long after Tolly has gone home and the open day activities have finished, just so he can see her again.
There are some very funny scenes throughout the book, usually involving Tolly.
The action takes place on just one day, a day which both boys will remember for ever.
This book will particularly appeal to readers at the upper levels of secondary school, inviting them to imagine themselves in the place of the characters.
All the Crooked Saints (2017)
Maggie Stiefvater sets this book in a remote Colorado town, Bicho Raro, where a most unusual family lives – a family that appears to perform miracles. Into this tiny town comes Pete, whose application to join the army has been rejected and he is seeking to come to terms with that disappointment by hitchhiking.
He has been picked up by Tony, a DJ trying to escape fame and heading to Bicho Raro because he has heard about the family that can perform miracles.
Their visit changes both of them for the better. There is a lot here for older teenage readers as the book involves romance and humour, and has touches of magic and fantasy.
Stiefvaster also explores concepts of good and bad and the importance of knowing ourselves.
Words in Deep Blue (2016)
This novel by Cath Crowley is largely set in the delightfully-named secondhand bookshop, Howling Books.
It is a paean of praise to books, the important part they can play in our lives and helping us come to terms with grief.
This is also a celebration of words and friendship, with characters older readers will relate to.
For teens in years 7-9
Dragonfly Song (2016)
Ancient Crete is the setting for Wendy Orr’s Dragonfly Song. The book tells of those chosen to be the tribute to the Bull King (he chooses a tribute every year).
The outcast girl, called No-Name by everyone, seizes the opportunity to become one of the tributes, a task she knows to be demanding and often dangerous. She will have to brave the bloody bull dances in his royal court.
Will she actually survive the test?
The book is inspired by the legend of the Minotaur. It is thoroughly researched, lyrically written and invites readers to imagine themselves in No-name’s place.
His Name was Walter (2018)
A group of students and their teacher, separated from the others on a school excursion, find an odd-looking book in a deserted house. Emily Rodda beautifully uses the device of a story within a story in His Name Was Walter.
What happens next is mysterious and intriguing as past and present combine. The ending is both poignant and satisfying.
Imagine finding yourself stranded in an unknown wilderness without a mobile phone. This is exactly what happens to Brian in Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet.
It’s a kind of modern Robinson Crusoe story, first published in 1986 before the proliferation of mobile phones.
In this adventure, Brian has to be inventive and resilient to survive. The book is the first in a series of five. One review suggested, for many readers, Hatchet was “the first school-assigned book they fell in love with”.
How to Bee (2017)
How would life be without bees? How would the pollination of plants, so essential to life on earth, happen?
This intriguing story, by Bren MacDibble, explores that idea and sets up a scenario where children do the pollinating – but only the bravest and quickest.
Penny longs to be one of these, but can she, especially when it looks as though she might be taken away from the life she has known?
The link below is to an article that takes a look at books of the last decade that should be read more – at least in the opinion of the article’s writer.
The link below is to an article that considers some of the best science fiction and fantasy reads from the 2010s.
The link below is to another article looking at the best books of 2019.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at books on trees.
The link below is to an article that considers the best books of 2019 for adults, according to the New York Public Library.
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The link below is to a listing of 100 infographic tools and resources.
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The link below is to an article that takes a look at 50 of the best writing websites of 2019.
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