presidential spouse to have her own career and public life.
Haskins, Jim. One More River to Cross. New York: Scholastic, 1992. This book includes stories of twelve African
Americans who overcame obstacles despite racial discrimination.
Haskins, Jim. Winnie Mandela: Life of Struggle. New York: Putman, 1988. This story describes the wife of a Civil
rights leader in South Africa and how she herself became an activist.
Giblin, James Cross. Charles A. Lindbergh). NY: Clarion Books, 2007. The life of American aviator Charles Lingbergh. Very well done.
Keller, Bill. Tree Shakes: The Story of Nelson Mandela. NY: Kingfisher, 2008. The story of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s famed freedom fighter.
Morrisette, Mikki. Nancy Kerrigan: Heart of a Champion. New York: Bantam Books, 1994. This is the story of
Nancy Kerrigan and her route to the 1994 Olympics.
Shields, Charles J. I am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee. NY: Henry Holt and Company, 2008. Wonderful look at the life of the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Taylor, Theodore. The Flight of Jesse Leroy Brown. NY: Avon Books. This is the story of Jesse Leroy Brown, the first black man to enter the Navy’s Air Training School and also, the first black to fly a Navy fighter and make a carrier landing.
Contemporary Life and Problems
Coming of Age
Anderson, Laurie Halse. Catalyst. Penguin, 2002. Chemistry whiz Kate has her heart set on MIT; she’s got the grades, the determination, the desperation to leave her minister father and irritating brother. And she’s so sure of her choice that she only applies to MIT, lying to friends and family about what she might do IF MIT doesn’t take her. Moving through large portions of her life on autopilot, Kate is forced to stop and look around her when her father brings Teri Litch—Kate’s nemesis—and her little brother to stay with them after their house burns. In finally looking at Teri’s situation, Kate begins to realize that her fixation on MIT is not nearly as important as actually having to live one’s life. High School.
Anderson, Laurie Halse. Prom. NY: Viking, 2005. Ashley Hannigan is one of those “normal” students who probably won’t go to college, probably will get married young, probably won’t move further than five miles from her parents’ home. But when she’s forced to take over prom planning when the teacher in charge embezzles the money collected AND her best friend Nalisha is injured in another prom-related activity, Ashley starts to realize that there may be more to her future than even she planned. A hilarious story of senior year and the ordeal of moving beyond high school. High School.
Anderson, Laurie Halse. Twisted. NY: Viking, 2007. When Tyler planned a “stunt” at the end of his junior year of high school, he couldn’t have known how it would impact his senior year, especially if he got caught. When that happens, he’s put on probation helping the school janitors and develops—physically—through the work. Eventually noticed by THE Bethany Milbury, Tyler thinks his life has changed. But when pictures of a nearly naked Bethany show up on-line, Tyler is accused. Can he prove his innocence to Bethany, his parents, and his schoolmates, or will Tyler look for another way out of his dilemma? High School.
Bell, William. Death Wind. NY: Orca Book Publishers, 2002. Allie is dealing with a lot: she’s just broken up with her boyfriend, found out she might be pregnant, brought home a failing report. On top of that, she feels responsible for the constant bickering between her parents. Her solution: take off with skater friend Jazz and tour the skateboard circuit. But when a tornado hits her hometown, Allie knows that she has to go back to find out what has happened to her parents; in doing so, Allie finds herself. A quick read for reluctant middle and lower high school students.
Brashares, Ann. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. NY: Delacorte Press. Tibby, Carmen, Lena, and Bridget are the best of friends. This summer, though, will be the first they won’t be spending together. However, the pants that Carmen found at a second-hand store become the symbol of their friendship when the girls decide that the pants—which fit each one of them even though they have very different body types—will travel to and with each girl during the summer. A fabulous read for teen-age girls.
Brian, Kate. The V Club. NY: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2004. After a reclusive woman dies and leaves money to Ardsmore High School for scholarships for students who “exemplify purity of soul, spirit, and body,” the rush is one to qualify. Kai, Mandy, Debbie, and Eva create the V club, a club for virgins (the assumed caveat of the scholarship). But each girl finds that the expectations of the club impact them in different ways, and their friendships are challenged in ways none could expect. Strong early high school read.
Broach, Elise. Desert Crossing. NY: Henry Holt, 2006. Lucy, her brother Jamie, and Jamie’s friend Kit are driving through New Mexico to Phoenix for spring break when they run something over in the road. Accused of running over a girl whose body is found along the road, the teens are dazed and then determined to find out what really happened, especially Lucy. An interesting story of the impact of a random act. High school.
Caletti, Deb. The Fortunes of Indigo Skye. 2008.NY: Simon and Schuster, 2008. Indigo has a good job, a devoted boyfriend, and a wonderful family. And she hasn’t taken a lot of time to dwell on the fact that her family doesn’t have much and that college is probably a non-issue unless something amazing happens. Something does, in the form of a 2.5 million dollar tip from a customer who has taken Indigo’s advice about enjoying your work and having time to get a life. Indigo lavishes her newfound wealth on herself and her family and friends, but with the realization that she is beginning to change because of her windfall, she also realizes that she’s going to have to figure out a way to deal with all of this money in a way that doesn’t compromise her identity and her principles. Great high school read.
Cohn, Rachel. Pop Princess. Simon and Schuster, 2004. Wonder Blake loves to sing, but never imagined it would come. So it’s a huge surprise to her that Tig, her dead sister’s former musical manager, thinks that she has the potential to become the pop singer her sister Lucky never got to be. A demo tape later, Wonder finds herself signed, singing, and making videos. But as fame comes to her, Wonder starts to question the trappings of success, and it is in her hard look at the pop life that Wonder comes to truly understand herself and her aspirations for herself.
Coleman, Michael. On the Run. Dutton Children’s Books, 2005. Luke is a thief by genetic disposition, or so he thinks until he’s caught. Given the benefit of the doubt by the girl he inadvertently saves from the other group of thieves that were working the same car he was, he finds that there is more “to him” than he thought when he becomes Jodi’s running partner. Jodi is blind and must have a running partner so that she can compete in races, etc. As Luke develops a relationship with Jodi, he begins to realize that not everything in his life is all black and white, and this allows him to reconceptualize his future. A strong read for middle and lower high school.
Cooney, Caroline. The Voice on the Radio. New York: Delacorte Press, 1997. In this third installation of the Janie
series, Janie must face the betrayal of boyfriend Reeve as he tells her amazing story on his campus radio station. Can Janie ever forgive him…does she even want to? Middle school.
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. New York: Dell Publishing, 1974. Jerry Renault decides to defy the system by
refusing to sell chocolates for the school; his heroism earns him the wrath of Archie, the leader of the Vigils. The classic read for high school students.
Crutcher, Chris. Chinese Handcuffs. New York: Greenwillow, 1989. Jennifer and Dillon, intense athletes, help each
other fight the pain of their personal lives as they search to discover their own identities. But this is not an easy quest, especially after Dillon finds out that Jennifer is being sexually molested by her own father. A fabulous high school read.
Davis, Terry. If Rock and Roll Were a Machine. New York: Bantam, 1992. A rock-and-roller and a motorcyclist,
Bert tries to speed through life, but his English teacher tries to help him search for his real goals. High school.
Fletcher, Christine. Tallulah Falls. NY: Bloomsbury, 2006. When Tallulah gets a phone call from her friend Maeve asking Tallulah to bring her her journals, Tallulah jumps into action—even though she lives in Portland and Maeve is staying with friends in Orlando. But Tallulah is dumped by her would-be boyfriend and traveling partner in Tennessee, and when Maeve finds a dying dog by an interstate underpass, her life takes a turn for the better. Befriended by the local vet and his staff, Tallulah finds a purpose to her life that she hadn’t known before. This is a great book for many reasons, but its focus on bipolar issues is offered in a way that may help teens understand what some of their friends are going through. High School.
Fogelin, Adrian. The Real Question. Atlanta, Peachtree, 2006. Fisher Brown is a straight-A student whose father, a school guidance counselor, has his son’s future all planned out. But when Fisher goes with new neighbor Lonnie to re-roof Lonnie’s girlfriend’s house, Fisher begins to question the rigid life he has been living. Befriending Sissy and her young son Charlie, Fisher begins to understand his own family dynamic and what drives his father to expect so much of his son. Solid high school read.
Fritz, April Young. Praying at the Sweetwater Motel. NY: Hyperion Books, 2003. Sarah Jane’s father has been beating on her mother for the better part of five years, but when he hits Sarah Jane, her mother decides she has had enough. Stealing away in the night, Sarah Jane, her sister Alice, and her mother drive to Ohio, where they find a temporary sanctuary at the Sweetwater Motel. But Sarah Jane soon finds that she resents her label as “motel girl” and she misses everything that is familiar about home. But when she calls home to talk to her dad, she creates a situation that could undermine everything her mother has tried to accomplish. A solid middle school read.
Gallo, Don, ed. On the Fringe. (2001). NY: PenguinPutnam. Fabulous collection of short stories about kids on the “fringe”, kids who don’t make the popular groups, kids ostracized because of poverty, sexual identity, etc. Of special import are the short stories by Ron Koertge (popular girl who finds that she isn’t so different than those kids on the edges), Jack Gantos (student who talks about being on Prozac), and Chris Crutcher (the original storyline from Whale Talk about a student who brings a gun to school and kills three classmates before being brought done by the narrator of the story and his brother TJ and then how everyone deals with the murders). A strong collection. High school.
Hautman, Pete. No Limit and All-In. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2005, 2007. The story of Denn Doyle, teenaged gambler, follows him from his hometown gambling exploits to Las Vegas in book two. Ancillary characters are a strong factor in understanding Denn and his gambling habit. The high points as well as the low points of his life are followed in two fast-paced, generally exciting reads. High school.
Ingold, Jeanette. The Big Burn. (2002). NY: Harcourt Brace. During the summer of 1910, Montana and Idaho face one of the largest sets of forest burns ever to hit the state. The fire sets the background for the stories of three teens, Lizbeth, Jarrett, and Seth, who together and separately, each play a part in bringing the fire to a close. Lizbeth, who loves the family farmstead, hopes to keep her aunt from taking both of them back east. Jarrett, who finds his father impossible to live with, goes in search of a job with the firefighters and is reunited with the brother who left home years ago after a falling out with their father. And Seth, a member of the all-black 25th Infantry, hopes that his stint in the army will give him something that many black men around the turn of the century were looking for: respect. Remarkable story for middle and high school readers.
Kluger, Steve. My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park. NY: Dial, 2008. One of my favorite books of 2008, this follows the lives of three young people who are feeling their way through friendships, family issues, sexual orientation concerns, death, and foster issues. Each has to deal with different issues in his or her own way, but as the three stories intertwine, the reader ends up with a great group of characters and side plots involving Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins), baseball at Fenway Park, and love. A wonderful read for middle and high school.
Korman, Gordon. Jake, Reinvented. Hyperion Books, 2003. This homage to The Great Gatsby works, mainly because Korman stays true to his 21st century characters even as he remains loyal to Fitzgerald’s text. The story is told through the eyes of Rick, who introduces us to the mysterious Jake Garrett, football long snapper extraordinaire and snappy dresser. While it becomes obvious that Jake could have any girl he wants, he only wants Didi, the beautiful and vacuous girlfriend of F. Scott Fitzgerald High School’s quarterback, Todd Buckley. Great high school read, especially as an introduction to Gatsby.
Law, Ingrid. Savvy. NY: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2008. Everyone in Mibs’ family gets their “savvy” (secret talent or power) when they turn 13. One of Mibs’ brothers can cause hurricanes while the other can create electricity. But shortly before Mibs’ birthday, her father is injured in a car accident and lies in a coma in a hospital in Salina, KS. Mibs is sure that her soon-to-appear talent can help her father come back to the living, but in order to have any impact on him, she has to get to Salina. With the help of Will (the preacher’s son) and his irritating sister and a number of other amusing characters along the way, Mibs makes her way to Salina. But will her talent really help her father, or she setting herself up for disappointment? Elementary and middle school readers.
Lockhart, E. The Disreputable History of Frank Landau-Banks. NY: Hyperion, 2008. The book follows two years in the life of the title character. In the beginning, she’s a quiet debater whom no one notices; but one summer and a new school year later, Frankie has “blossomed” and is the girl every boy wants to be with. Choosing Matthew, or letting Matthew choose her, allows Frankie access to the Loyal Order of the Basset Hound a secret male-only society at their school. Access makes her realize that she’s the natural leader of the group, but to accomplish that, she’s going to have to use stealth, the Internet, and her amazing cunning. But if she takes over, what will she lose? An interesting story of gender impact. High school.
Lyga, Barry. Fanboy and Goth Girl. NY: Houghton Mifflin for Children, 2006. Donnie thinks his life just doesn’t cut it: he has a LIST of people who he thinks have done him wrong and he adds to it on a regular basis, he’s sure that he’s unattractive to girls, and his mother is having a baby with his “step-fascist.” But when Donnie meets Kyra, who is much angrier than he’s ever imagined being, Donnie begins to look more carefully at his life and how he would like it to be, and begins to realize that he must put his anger in perspective. High School.
Mack, Tracy. Drawing Lessons. NY: Scholastic, 2000. Rory, like her father, is an artist, a painter of great ability. But when she finds her father kissing one of his models and he subsequently leaves Rory and her mother, Rory turns her back on her painting. In doing so, however, Rory begins to realize that she’s lost a bit of herself. A solid middle school read about coming to terms with separation and divorce.
Moriarty, Jaclyn. The Year of Secret Assignments. NY: Scholastic, 2004. When the Ashbury High English 10 class is asked to write to pen pals at Brookfield, no one even imagines the sparks that will fly between Lydia, Emily, and Cassie and their respective male pen pals. For students who like Rennison’s Angus, Thongs, and Full-frontal Snogging, this one will definitely be a winner. Early high school.
Madigan, L.K. Flash Burnout. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2009. Blake feels happiest in life when he’s taking photographs, but when a class project pushes him to move outside his comfort zone, he is shocked to find out that the homeless woman he took a picture of is actually his friend Melissa’s drug-addicted mother. Caught between Melissa’s need for a friend and his girlfriend’s needs and wants, Blake begins to question his choices. How do you keep a friendship your girlfriend isn’t comfortable with…and maybe means more than it should? High school.
Mass, Wendy. Leap Day. NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2004. Josie is a leap-year baby, and this story chronicles the day of her 4th birthday (16 years old) and the impact it has on her, her family, and her friends. The story is interesting in the way in which Mass switches from Josie chapters to “other” chapters where we get the thoughts and what happens to the characters into which she comes into contact. Great middle/lower high school read.
Morgenroth, Kate. Jude. NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Children. 2004. Jude, the son of a drug dealer, finds his life upended when his father is killed and he finds out that the mother he thought had died is actually the district attorney in the city to which they have recently moved. They begin an uneasy relationship that is damaged when Jude is accused by his stepfather of selling a classmate heroin. Sent to jail, the innocent Jude must figure out why he has been set up to take this particular fall, and the answers to his questions lead him to truths very difficult to handle. Definitely a strong read, but for upper high school.
Murphy, Rita. Night Flying. NY: Delacorte, 2000. Georgia, like all of the women in her family, is a flyer, literally. But flying is something taken seriously by all of the Hansen women, especially Grandmother, who rules Georgia, her mother, and her aunts with an iron reserve that none can penetrate. But on the eve of Georgia’s 16th birthday, her aunt Carmen returns home, Carmen, who has been outcast from the family for years because of some rule she has broken. And it is with Carmen’s return that Georgia must decide the king of woman she will be in the future and whose rules she will follow. An excellent middle, high school read.
Nolan, Han. Born Blue. NY: Harcourt, 2001. Born Janie but rechristened, by herself, as Leshaya, this is a girl who has had everything stacked against her and in trying to drag herself out of the muck that is her life, makes some pretty severe mistakes along the way. But thanks to her amazing voice, Leshaya, who is white, may actually have the means to make a better life for herself…if she can come to terms with her heroin-addicted mother, her cruel foster parents, the African-American family who would like to foster her in a positive way, and the talented songwriter, Paul, who might actually provide the means for Leshaya’s professional success. A high school read.
Norris, Shana. Something to Blog About. NY: Amulet Books, 2008. Libby Fawcett can’t seem to catch a break. From setting her hair on fire in chemistry to the bullying she experiences at the hands of Angel Rivera, Libby is sure that her luck will never turn. In an attempt to control some aspects of her life, she begins a private blog delineating her fears, her crush on Seth, things going on at school. But when her mom starts dating Angel’s dad, more trouble comes for Libby when Angel finds the blog and sends it out to the world. Middle school.
Okimoto, Jean Davies. The Eclipse of Moonbeam Dawson. New York: Tor, 1997. Moonbeam Dawson just wants to be normal. But it’s not easy when you have a first name like he does, a mother who moves from commune to commune, and a biracial background. How Moonbeam handles his problems, especially his name, is only part of what makes this a delightful coming-of-age story. Middle/high school.
Paterson, Katherine. Jacob Have I Loved. New York: Crowell, 1980. A teen girl fights back when she feels her twin sister has deprived her of schools, friends, and parents. A truly wonderful book that will “follow” the reader long after the last page of the book. It’s a classic for upper elementary and middle school.
Peck, Richard. Remembering the Good Times. New York: Dell, 1987. The frustrations of a group of gifted high school students in an apathetic but affluent community lead to tragedy when one of the trio decides to kill himself. The two who are left behind must struggle with their own sense of self and how to move past the suicide.
Rapp, Adam. The Buffalo Tree.(1999.)NY: HarperCollins. Sura, a juvie with an attitude, is shipped to Hamstock Detention Center where he is forced to explore the depths of his own spirit amid violence and degradation. This is a tough book, authentic in voice, but not my choice for students 9th grade and younger.
Sonnenblick, Jordan. Notes from the Midnight Driver. NY: Scholastic Press, 2006. Alex gets drunk, steals his mother’s car, and decapitates the lawn gnome in his neighbor’s yard. As “punishment,” Alex is sentenced to work at an old folks’ home with the terminally irascible Solomon Lewis. But as Alex and Sol get to know each other, Alex also begins to understand some of his own actions and his new and quite uncomfortable feelings for his best friend, Laurie. This book is filled with humor and gentle emotion as Alex learns to appreciate Sol and his personal history. Middle/high school.
Sonnenblick, Jordan. Zen and the Art of Faking It.. NY: Scholastic Press, 2007. After San’s father is sent to prison for bilking people and companies out of large sums of money, San and his mother move to Pennsylvania and San is faced with having to fit in at a new school. A chance conversation about Zen Buddhism turns San into the new Zen master of his school; this causes him to gain the attention of Woody, the cool girl in his class as well as her overprotective brother. Can San keep the façade going and keep Woody as his friend? Great story about personal identity and fitting in in school. Middle school.
Spinelli, Jerry. Stargirl. NY: Scholastic, 2002. Stargirl Caraway comes to Mica High School and changes life for everyone, especially Leo, the boy she eventually falls in love with. Happy to be an individual, Stargirl, self-named because “Susan” simply didn’t fit her anymore, entertains her peers with ukulele music, birthday cards, and little notions that have everyone questioning their commonplace lives. But when she begins cheering for the opposite teams—to make them feel better when they’re losing—Stargirl becomes an outcast, and Leo, who has to decide between her and the safety of his high school friendships, finds that life in the headlights of Stargirl’s fading popularity, is not what he had in mind when he began dating her.
Spinelli, Jerry. Love,Stargirl. NY: Scholastic, 2007. Stargirl Caraway has left Mica High School and Leo and as this book starts, is dealing with her depression at Leo’s inability to live up to her expectations. Stargirl writes letters to Leo (ones that she is not sure she will ever send) as a way of working through her emotions, but it is not until she is forcefully befriended by 5-year-old Dootsie that she begins to come to terms with her own sorrows. Her connection to Dootsie leads to other friendships with reclusive Betty Lou, widowed Charlie, feisty Alvina, and petty thief Perry. Not as strong as Stargirl, but still, a strong novel. Middle/high school.
Standiford, Natalie. How to Say Goodbye in Robot. NY: Scholastic Press, 2009. Bea is new in town and hasn’t had the greatest luck making friends—unless you count Jonah, who seems to be friendless on purpose and not very welcoming in general. But Jonah turns Bea on to a late night radio show and Bea finds insight into herself, Jonah, and others as she becomes involved in the lives of a number of people from different stages and walks of life. Great humor throughout. High School.
Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. NY: Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. This Newbury winner follows one year in the life of twelve-year-old Miranda and her best friend, Sal, as they navigate life in their neighborhood as well as the issues all of us face as we move towards adulthood. Miranda has to find new friends when Sal seems to turn away from her after he’s beaten up in a neighborhood alley. And Miranda gets strange letters from someone who seems to be watching her and knowing things that are too personal to her life. How Miranda responds to these events makes for a heart-warming story of growing up and dealing with friends and family.
Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey’s Song. New York: Fawcett Juniper, 1982. In this sequel to Homecoming, the Tillerman children learn that they will have to cope with a strong-minded grandmother if they truly want the family they have been searching for. A wonderful middle school book.
Voigt, Cynthia. Homecoming. New York: Fawcett Juniper, 1981. When their mentally ill mother leaves them, the four
Tillerman children decide to walk to their grandmother’s house, a long journey to another state. Beautiful must read for upper elementary and middle school.
Wolff, Virginia Euwer. Make Lemonade, True Believer, This Full House. New York: Scholastic, 1993, 2000, 2009. Over the course of this novel-in-verse trilogy, LaVaughn learns about life and love as babysits for an unwed 17-year-old mother named Jolly who already has two children. LaVaughn’s mom is worried about what her daughter may learn from the unpredictable Jolly, but LaVaughn simply finds herself more committed to making good choices. As the trilogy continues, LaVaughn falls in love, understands the importance of her education, and finally gets the opportunity to be part of a “Women in Science” program that could well be her ticket to college. Along the way, LaVaughn continues to deal with the idea of what makes a good decision. A strong trilogy, sure to be a favorite with female readers. Middle/High School.
Zarr, Sara. Sweethearts. NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008. Jennifer and Cameron were the elementary outcasts who had only each other to depend upon for support. When Cameron disappears one night with his family, Jennifer is left along. A few years later, Jennifer has recreated herself into Jenna and has the expected high school boyfriend; she’s popular and smart and seems to have everything going for her. But when Cameron turns up—Jennifer thought he had been killed—and reenters her life, not only does Jenna have to deal with old fears and memories, she also has to decide if she can continue on as Jenna. High school.
Zindel, Paul. The Pigman. New York: Bantam Books, Inc., 1968. A teen boy and girl trade off writing chapters as
they describe their adventures with Mr. Pignatti, whom they nickname The Pigman. An adolescent classic.