Students might not enrich their minds inside a classroom over summer break, but that doesn’t mean enrichment can’t be found in one of the original 24-7 tools for learning: books.
Be it on a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or the printed page, books keep students’ minds stimulated, encourage creativity and innovation, and allow for higher-order thinking.
The trick is to find books that not only provide educational value through themes such as self-discovery, culture, social mores, feminism, and political activism, but also to find books that inspire students to keep reading.
With the help of school library listings and literary awards, eSchool News compiled this list of 10 books (listed in alphabetical order) for high school summer reading.
Author: Pat Schmatz
Why it’s important: Focuses on the importantance of literacy, as well as having teachers as mentors and taking an interest in learning, all while overcoming personal obstacles.
Summary: Travis is missing his old home in the country, and he’s missing his old hound, Rosco. Now there’s just the cramped place he shares with his well-meaning but alcoholic grandpa, a new school, and the dreaded routine of passing when he’s called on to read out loud. But that’s before Travis meets Mr. McQueen, who doesn’t take “pass” for an answer–a rare teacher whose savvy persistence has Travis slowly unlocking a book on the natural world. And it’s before Travis is noticed by Velveeta, a girl whose wry banter and colorful scarves belie some hard secrets of her own.
Awards/Notes: 2012 Notable Children’s Book
2. The Color Purple
Author: Alice Walker
Why it’s important: Focuses on feminist issues, specifically black female life and rights in the 1930s in the southern U.S., and addresses numerous issues including the characters’ exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel was also praised for its eloquent use of the black English vernacular.
Summary: The Color Purple is the story of two sisters—one a missionary to Africa and the other a child wife living in the South—who remain loyal to one another across time, distance, and silence.
Awards/Notes: 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; the National Book Award for Fiction.
3. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Author: Philip K. Dick
Why it’s important: Explores topics such as war, technology’s effect on society, and what it means to be ‘human.’
Summary: By 2021, the World War had killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remained coveted any living creature, and for people who couldn’t afford one, companies built incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep…they even built humans. Emigrées to Mars received androids so sophisticated it was impossible to tell them from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans could wreak, the government banned them from Earth. But when androids didn’t want to be identified, they just blended in. Rick Deckard was an officially sanctioned bounty hunter whose job was to find rogue androids, and to retire them. But cornered, androids tended to fight back, with deadly results.
Awards/Notes: 1968 Nebula Award nominee; 1998 Locus Poll Award for All-Time Best SF Novel before 1990. Inspired the film Blade Runner.
4. Ender’s Game
Author: Orson Scott Card
Why it’s important: Explores topics such as war, societal pressures and expectations, self-discovery and responsibility, connection to family, and personal psychological hurdles.
Summary: In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut–young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training. Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.
Awards/Notes: Winner of the 1986 Hugo Award and the 1985 Nebula Award.
5. From the Barrio to the Board Room, or Mi Barrio
Author: Robert Renteria
Why it’s important: The book promotes hard work, dedication, and education as the secrets to success. That context, says Renteria, is inspiring kids to do more around the house, try harder at school, question if they’re hanging out with the right crowds, believe in themselves, and reach for higher goals. It is also inspiring adults to open their own businesses, go back to school, and give back to others.
Summary (From the Barrio…): Several years ago, a young man approached Renteria and wanted to know the secret to getting himself a “phat” ride like Robert’s new Mercedes. When Robert told him the secret was hard work, the boy listened. At that moment, Robert realized that countless children, teenagers, and adults are walking around—lost in a culture of darkness—and he needed to do something about it. (Mi Barrio): A comic book version of From the Barrio to the Board Room.
Awards/Notes: Released in February 2008, the book has been endorsed by mayors and state representatives, used by universities, high schools, middle schools, youth prisons, jails, juvenile justice centers, battered women’s shelters, foster homes, and social services and youth groups.
6. The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Why it’s important: Discusses themes such as reality television and its impact on American culture, youth culture, self-discovery, and society’s social mores.
Summary: Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used to be the U.S. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat’s sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.
Awards/Notes: Since its initial release, the novel has been translated into 26 languages and rights of production have been sold in 38 countries. The book received mostly positive feedback from major reviewers and authors and is now a major motion picture.
7. House Rules
Author: Jodi Picoult
Why it’s important: Focuses on what it means to be different in our society and gives insight into Asperger’s and others who are on the Autism Spectrum.
Summary: Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself to others, and like many children with Asperger’s, Jacob has an obsessive focus on one subject–in his case, forensic analysis. He’s always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do–and he’s usually right. But then one day his tutor is found dead, and the police come to question him. Reluctance to make eye contact, stimulatory tics and twitches, inappropriate gestures, all these can look a lot like guilt. Suddenly, Jacob finds himself accused of murder.
Awards/Notes: Nominated for the 2012 Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Award; winner of the German Reader’s Choice award “Leserpreis 2011” for Audiobook.
8. Jane Eyre, accompanied by Wide Sargasso Sea
Author (Jane Eyre): Charlotte Brontë (Wide Sargasso Sea): Jean Rhys
Why it’s important (Jane Eyre): Contains elements of social criticism, with a strong sense of morality at its core, but is nonetheless a novel many consider ahead of its time given the individualistic character of Jane and the novel’s exploration of sexuality, religion, and proto-feminism. (Wide Sargasso Sea): Rhys’s novel re-imagines Brontë’s devilish madwoman in the attic. As with many post-colonial works, the novel deals largely with the themes of racial inequality and the harshness of displacement and assimilation.
Summary (Jane Eyre): Follows the emotions and experiences of eponymous Jane Eyre, her growth to adulthood, and her love for Mr. Rochester, the byronic master of Thornfield Hall. (Wide Sargasso Sea): The novel acts as a prequel to Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It is the story of Antoinette Cosway (known as Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre), a white Creole heiress, from the time of her youth in the Caribbean to her unhappy marriage with Rochester and relocation to England. Cosway is caught in an oppressive patriarchal society in which she belongs neither to the white Europeans nor the black Jamaicans.
Awards/Notes (Jane Eyre): Has inspired numerous adaptations, musicals and films; reviewed and studied by numerous scholars and currently included in many school curricula. (Wide Sargasso Sea): Winner of the WH Smith Literary Award in 1967; named by Time as one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923; rated #94 on the list of Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels; winner of Cheltenham Booker Prize 2006 for year 1966.
9. Raising Stony Mayhall
Author: Daryl Gregory
Why it’s important: Delves into themes of “fitting in” and what it means to be an “outsider.” Explores the current nature of politics and the social struggles of various activist groups.
Summary: In 1968, after the first zombie outbreak, Wanda Mayhall and her three young daughters discover the body of a teenage mother during a snowstorm. Wrapped in the woman’s arms is a baby, stone-cold, not breathing, and without a pulse. But then his eyes open and look up at Wanda—and he begins to move. The family hides the child—whom they name Stony—rather than turn him over to authorities that would destroy him. Against all scientific reason, the undead boy begins to grow. For years his adoptive mother and sisters manage to keep his existence a secret—until one terrifying night when Stony is forced to run and he learns that he is not the only living dead boy left in the world.
Awards/Notes: Previous works by Gregory have either won, or been nominated, for numerous awards, including the 2009 Crawford Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award. Raising Stony Mayhall has garnered positive reviews from critics.
10. Things Fall Apart
Author: Chinua Achebe
Why it’s important: Seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English, and one of the first African novels written in English to receive global critical acclaim. It is a staple book in schools throughout Africa and widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world.
Summary: Tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries.
Awards/Notes: Time Magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. The novel has been translated into more than fifty languages, and is often used in literature, world history, and African studies courses across the world.