Youth Development Summer Reading List 2018

with contributions from education researchers & other youth development enthusiasts


John W. Gardner believed we must invest in youth: not just in anticipation of the adults they will become, but also as essential contributors to their current communities. He also believed in self-renewal; that is, taking countervailing measures to avoid the danger of complacency, of growing rigidity, or of imprisonment in our own comfortable habits and opinions.

For the fourth year in a row, our staff have generated this multi-genre reading list to share books that have encouraged our own self-renewal as it pertains to a subject we all take to heart: youth development.


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s first novel chronicles the life of a young black girl growing up in Lorain, Ohio in the early 1940s. Themes in the book include poverty, loneliness, and colorism. Read an excerpt.


Critical Mentoring: A Practical Guide by Torie Weiston-Serdan

This book introduces the concept of critical mentoring and offers examples of what it looks like in practice. This approach to mentoring places youth at the center of the process. It challenges adult and institutional authority in favor of collaborative, youth-community partnerships. Learn more.


The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis

This fictionalized biography of poet Pablo Neruda takes place in the small town of Temuco, Chile. Pairing magical realism with illustrations, readers of all ages will enjoy this depiction of a young boy who learns to follow his artistic calling. Read an excerpt.


The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls

This classic, bestselling memoir follows the precarious lives of the Walls family. Read what it was like for the author to live a nomadic lifestyle at the hands of eccentric parents. The story highlights the perils of childhood trauma as well as the power of youth resiliency. Read an excerpt.


Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Psychologist Angela Duckworth demonstrates that the secret to success is a blend of passion and persistence she calls grit. Here, she gives a first-person account of her research with teachers, West Point cadets, and young spelling bee finalists. She shares lessons from history as well as present-day famous high achievers. Read an excerpt.


Girl Mans Up by M.E. Girard

This refreshing YA novel features a gender nonconforming protagonist who is struggling to find balance. She must maneuver between her desire to shape her own identity and her Azorean-immigrant parents’ expectations of her. She must navigate loyalty in the face of a conflict between her friends. Read an excerpt.


The Girls in My Town: Essays by Angela Morales

The autobiographical essays in this collection create an unforgettable portrait of a family in Los Angeles. Read an excerpt.


How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana

Sandra Uwiringiyimana tells the moving, true story of how she survived a massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo, came to America, and overcame her trauma through arts and activism. Read an excerpt.


Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being by George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton

Penned by a pair of economists over the course of 14 years, this book reveals how our identities — and not just economic incentives — can influence our choices. The authors suggest that who we are and who we want to be may shape our lives more than any other factor. Read an excerpt.


Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

This young adult book chronicles the hardships that Katie, a first-generation Japanese-American girl, encounters when her family moves from Iowa to Georgia in the 1950s. When Katie’s sister falls ill with lymphoma, the family struggles to cope. The title of the book means “glittering” in Japanese. Read an excerpt.


Learning Time: In Pursuit of Educational Equity by Marisa Saunders, Jorge Ruiz De Velasco, and Jeannie Oakes

This book explores how we can expand, reimagine, and reorganize education time. In doing so, we can strive to enhance the educational opportunities and outcomes for disadvantaged students. The editors and contributors consider how best to extend learning time in high poverty schools. Read an excerpt.


Mean by Myriam Gurba

Described on its publisher’s site as a nonfiction novel, this coming-of-age story blends many existing genres, from true crime to memoir to poetry to horror. Gurba — a queer, mixed race Chicana — chronicles her experiences as a young survivor of sexual violence in a small California town. She handles the story with grace, wit, and humor. Read an excerpt.


No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Based in research and common sense, this how-to book offers disciplinary techniques and strategies to families who are navigating meltdowns and misunderstandings. Read an excerpt.


Thousand Pieces of Gold by Ruthanne Lum McCunn

This biography tells the powerful story of a Chinese-American girl who endures poverty, sex trafficking, and other hardships on the American frontier. In addition to shedding necessary light on an overlooked historical narrative, this book is testament to what it means to resist and rise above. Learn more.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

In this novel, the author reimagines the the Underground Railroad as more than a metaphor. Instead, a secret system of tracks exists beneath the earth, providing a route for Cora — the young protagonist — to find freedom. Read an excerpt.


A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

In light of her passing this year, there’s been a renewed interest in Ursula K. LeGuin’s acclaimed work. In this young adult fantasy novel, she tells the story of a young boy mastering the craft of wizardry. As he comes of age, the boy grapples with learning to cope with power and understand mortality. Read an excerpt.


You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: The Power of Opportunity to Change Young Lives by Milbrey McLaughlin

In her new book, Milbrey McLaughlin presents a rare longitudinal account of the benefits of a high-quality, out-of-school program on the life trajectories of hundreds of poor, African American youth who grew up in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green housing project in the 1980s and early ’90s. Read an excerpt.

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