The holidays are upon us, but don’t despair! It’s not too late to find that perfect gift for an ELA colleague–or even yourself.
To help with your quest, our bloggers have put together an easy holiday-shopping list full of award winners. Now go get them!
If You’re Looking for Picture Books
With the holidays coming, teaching curriculum in any cohesive fashion can be challenging–at best. That’s why taking a break with a Mock Caldecott unit is the perfect way to have some really meaningful conversations about books, while exposing kids to some of the best picture books of the year. I did this last year and it was amazing. The kids really got into it and even my reluctant readers engaged because this was about the pictures, not the reading. (Sort of.) There are so many resources out there once you start to Google: book trailers, videos about the making of the books.
Some standouts from last year that I would give as gifts:
Shy, by Deborah Freedman
It Is Not Time for Sleeping, by Lisa Graff; illustrated by Lauren Castillo
The Airport Book, by Lisa Brown
The Night Gardener, by The Fan Brothers
They All Saw A Cat, by Brendan Wenzel
If You’d Like Page-Turning Nonfiction that Deftly Tackles Social Issues
I’m not even finished reading The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater, and I can’t wait to give it away. As each chapter passes, I see more and more power and potential in this engrossing nonfiction narrative, and I want to get it into the hands of students and teachers everywhere. Whether you give it to teens or teachers, there are a lot of reasons to put this book under the tree this year:
- Its mentor text opportunities are endless. If nothing else, check out that first chapter. If that doesn’t model an engrossing strategy for hooking readers, I don’t know what will.
- It tells stories of those whose voices often go unheard–because #representationmatters.
- It honors the complex nature of social issues, and respects its audience’s ability to wrestle with them. It’s too easy to treat social issues as black and white and ignore the gray areas, in favor of teaching teens a lesson. One of the things I love most about the YA lit that’s been coming out lately is that it honors the gray areas. Slater respects her teen audience enough to let them grapple with multiple perspectives and difficult questions.
- It uses the power of story to make an argument, allowing readers to explore issues that they now feel connected to.
And if You’d Like a Page-Turning YA Novel That Deftly Tackles Social Issues
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is the beautiful story of Starr, an African-American teen who’s caught between two communities: the community where she lives and the community where she goes to school. When I read the novel, I knew that it would be my first book talk of the school year, because I could see many of my students in Angie Thomas’ characters.
When I shared the book with a class, I explained how the title was inspired by Tupac. Later when I saw a student from the class, she asked to borrow the book. I can never turn down a student who’s asking to borrow a book–even if it is a crisp new hardcover edition. Even though I made her promise to return it, I had a quiet feeling that it just wasn’t my book anymore.
My premonition was right. Recently, she withdrew from our school. But something tells me that the book is right where it belongs–with someone who may read it and see herself, her friends, and her family in the book. The Hate U Give was not my book to keep, but to give.
– Lauren Nizol
A Novel that Can do Double Duty in a History Unit about Katrina
Regulars on this blog are probably betting all the money in their bank accounts that I’m going to suggest a graphic novel (just kidding–what teacher has money saved up in a bank account?!). I’m going to branch out in a new direction, though, and recommend a tough but beautiful read by Jesmyn Ward called Salvage the Bones. It’s gorgeously written and tells a compelling story of a poor African American family struggling to prepare for the devastation that readers know Hurricane Katrina is going to visit upon their home and community in mere days.
The book is a tragic masterpiece, whose dramatic irony relies on our awareness of the storm, stacked against the doubt expressed by many of the story’s characters. But I also love sharing it with my classroom readers because of its beautifully rendered portrayals of the adolescent perspectives. It’s definitely a book for more advanced teen readers, but that’s exactly why I thought to highlight it here: I’m often so devoted to finding the next gripping story for my reluctant readers that I completely neglect to challenge (or even engage!) with my eager ones. This book offers readers not only a diversifying worldview, but a context that is at once modern and foreign to them; we don’t realize sometimes that events like Katrina that feel modern to us are somewhat distant (and meaningless!) to our current HS students.
And if you were REALLY betting on me to give the gift of graphic novel recommendations, check out Ta-Nehisi Coates’ reimagining of Black Panther ASAP. Happy Holidays!
– Mike Ziegler