The Rebellious Teacher’s Edgy, Summer Reading List for 2017

Edgy Books Recommended by Rebel Teachers

Summer reading for students who resist authority, control and convention. Recommended by teachers who do the same.

By Talya Edlund, 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year

If you are a reader (and I hope that you are), every now and then, you come across a book that challenges conventions, parts with predictability and — as a result — alters your perceptions of the world around you. Maybe the characters are intensely complicated. Maybe the writing is refreshingly raw; or maybe the author was brave enough to write the story that needs to be told.

These books don’t always make it to the top of bestseller lists and they’re not often displayed neatly on library bookshelves. They’re not necessarily warm and fuzzy, and they push your thinking — sometimes to the point of exhaustion. These are the books that rebel teachers want to put in their students’ hands. So, if you are a rebellious teacher, a parent, or — best of all — a student, this underground, offbeat list is for you.

Ashley Preston
Preschool teacher & 2016 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year
Red: A Crayon’s Story
by Michael Hall, Pre-K to 1st grade

The story of a crayon who struggles to find his place. So many young children struggle to find their way and feel they have to fit into certain molds. This story shows our youngest children the importance of being themselves and loving who they are.

by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Pre-K to 1st grade

Six girls express how each of them is unique in her own way. This book challenges stereotypes and gender norms, and is a fantastic way to show young girls that being beautiful is more than fancy dresses, makeup, and jewels.

Cathy Mobley Whitehead
2016 Tennessee Teacher of the Year
by Tony Abbott, 3rd to 5th grade

This poignant story of a boy’s friendship with a burn victim lets readers experience the choices we have to make to live kindly, even when those around us aren’t.

Inside Out and Back Again
by Thanhha Lai (winner of the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor Book), 5th to 6th grade

Inspired by the author’s own experiences as a refugee fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and then immigrating to Alabama, this book introduces kids to an immigration story they don’t often hear, told through verse.

Rick Joseph
2016 Michigan Teacher of the Year
One Crazy Summer
by Rita Williams Garcia, 4th to 6th grade

Delphine and her two sisters reluctantly go on a month-long summer vacation from their home in Brooklyn to Oakland, California where they stay with their mother who abandoned them when they were little. It is 1968 and the girls are immersed in the world of the Black Panthers and the reality of daily life for children of color. Every kid should read One Crazy Summer because the story busts narrow stereotypes about African- Americans and speaks to the power and importance of family and community.

Making Bombs for Hitler
by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuc, 6th to 8th grade

Lida, a Ukrainian girl, becomes a slave in a Nazi work camp during World War II. Lida’s desperate struggle for survival casts light on a familiar yet little known story of desperation. This book paints a larger picture of the evil of categorizing and oppressing people based on who they are or where they’re from. It also speaks to the strength of the human spirit against all odds.

Ann Rose Santoro
Instructional Support Specialist for Technology K-12 from Port Chester, NY. Responsive Classroom Consultant Teacher, America Achieves Teacher Voice Fellow, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council member

Paper Bag Princess
by Robert Munsch, Pre-K to 1st grade

This book flips the script on the traditional princess and dragon stereotype. In this story the princess saves the price and realizes she is good on her own. As a result, it has won critical acclaim from feminists, including an endorsement from the National Organization for Women, which sells the book on its website. I have read this book to my students in grades 1–4. Each group has interpreted it in a different way. Fourth graders, who are at a stage where they are outraged by injustice can get into some thoughtful discussions on the absurdity of gender roles.

The Van Gogh Cafe
by Cynthia Rylant, 2nd to 5th grade

Miracles are always in the making at the Van Gogh Cafe in Flowers, Kansas: a small restaurant housed in a renovated theater. 10-year-old Clara and her father Marc, the cafe’s owner, witness a series of serendipitous occurrences involving stranded sea gulls, aged film stars, magic muffins, lost pets and mysterious travelers. The chapter entitled, “The Star” depicts an elderly film star who comes to the Van Gogh Cafe to wait for his true love, a young man he met many years ago. Every year I read this chapter to my students, and they react as if it were just another miracle that occurs in this wonderful book.

Verbon Graves
2nd grade teacher, Louisville, KY
Heather has Two Mommies
by Leslea Cornell, illustrated by Laura Cornell, Pre-K to 2nd grade

The story of Heather, whose favorite number is 2, and who also happens to have two mommies. Most teachers are familiar with navigating the Mother’s Day holiday for children with deceased parents, but here, Newman provides teachers with a text that tells a familiar story for many of our students who don’t always find their family structures depicted in books.

Chocolate Me!
by Taye Diggs, Pre-K to 3rd grade

Chocolate Me is the story of a boy teased for being different. Its message is a positive affirmation of being an African-American child in a society that is often uncaring. It teaches children to not only love who they are, but also to respect the differences between themselves and their peers.

Talya Edlund
2016 ME TOY, President Maine State Teachers of the Year Association— 

Pam Munoz Ryan, 4th-6th

This is not a typical World War II novel for middle grade readers. Part fairy tale, part historical fiction, part magic realism, this book weaves the story of three children before, during, and after World War II. They are mysteriously connected by music and a time-travelling harmonica. Students who are ambitious enough to tackle this lengthy book tend to love it, but cannot explain why.

It Ain’t So Awful Falafel
by Firoozeh Dumas, Grades 5th-7th

This book takes on some pretty heavy themes with dry wit and humor. Set in late 1970’s southern California, twelve-year-old Zamarod juggles the complexities of being Iranian during a time that Iran makes U.S. headlines with protests, revolution, and finally, the taking of American hostages. This book captures the power reversals that exist between immigrant parents and their Americanized children, as well as the consequences of ignorance. Great companion read to Persepolis.

Audrey Jackson
5th grade inclusion teacher & 2016 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year
Hello, Universe
by Erin Entrada Kelly, 5th to 7th grade

This book explores multiple kids’ perspectives on finding and accepting themselves after feeling a bit lost in this world, and reveals how you can discover your own strength and friendships in the most unexpected places. Students in late elementary/early middle school years often struggle with wanting to fit in. In this story, diverse protagonists emerge as resilient, even though they each confront their questions about themselves and the world in their own ways.

Of Fire and Stars
by Audrey Coulthurst, 5th to 8th grade

Princess Dennaleia isn’t satisfied with the life that’s planned for her, and the fire inside her drives her to question what’s supposed to be, both inside and out. Middle schoolers naturally question authority, but can also feel pressure to conform. This book explores how you can face challenges, listen to your heart, question prejudices, and make difficult choices while still staying true to yourself.

Cornelius Minor
New York. Lead Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, working with teachers, school leaders, and leaders of community-based organizations to support deep and wide literacy reform in cities (and sometimes villages) across the globe.
Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography

By Andrew Helfer &, Randy Duburke, Grades 7 & up.

The histories that we offer children are often sanitized for our contemporary comfort. We rarely ever show them the parts of our heroes that are complicated and dynamic. We have scrubbed people like Martin Luther King, Jr. of all their radical potency and rendered others like Bayard Rustin or Dolores Huerta virtually invisible. If we want our students to be heroes, we must give them real examples. Lots of them. Though many of our textbooks still suggest this, history is not a linear narrative forged by wealthy white men. This book alone cannot fill the many silences in our curriculum, but this graphic novel approach to biography gives kids an opportunity to read and SEE what it was to be Malcolm X. More importantly, they see what it was to BECOME Malcolm X. If you’re interested in raising leaders, there are few better places to start than here.

The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Grades 8 & up

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between living in a poor neighborhood and attending a suburban prep school. Her world is shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend by a police officer. In the Hate U Give, we see how “America” is a liquid concept. The America that our students experience can be a different place from the one that we teachers may know. This book presents a nuanced picture of one version of “America” that many have refused to see. This book does not just foster a greater understanding of others, it demands one. If you are a teacher of teens and you haven’t read this book, you are not doing it right.

Faith Stroud
Middle school principal, Louisville, KY
A Long Walk To Water
by Linda Sue Park, Grades 6–8

This book tells the stories of two children who had to overcome life challenges, such as fetching water two hours daily and being “lost boys” of Sudan. The book demonstrates how you can overcome challenges and assist your local community with solutions for those challenges.

Amina’s Voice
by Hena Khan, Grades 6–8

A Pakistani-American middle schooler lives in a community where her local mosque was attacked. It is a coming of age story that tells how the main character must learn to fit in at school, process her religious and cultural identity, and her own emotions. Because of the political climate we are currently living in and because middle school is a time where students explore their cultural identities and process their relationship to the world around them, this book resonates with students making sense of themselves and the world.

Leticia Ingram
ELD/Social Studies, 2016 Colorado Teacher of the Year
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
by G. Neri , Lee & Low, 6th grade and up

This is a true story written in a graphic novel from the point of view of an 11-year-old named Robert “Yummy” Sandifer who struggles with being a boy and the violence of gangs. When he accidentally kills a neighborhood friend, the question is posed — Is this boy a victim or a killer? My ESL students come from violent countries and gangs are real to them. They can relate. I wanted something they could connect with and learn English at the same time. This book asks tough questions that engage learners.

by Yaa Gyasi, 11th grade and up

The story follows the lives of two half sisters born into two different villages in 18th century Ghana. One sister marries an Englishman and the other is captured and becomes a slave. It follows their descendants and their families over six generations. One sister is forced to go to America and the book tells the history of plantations, to the struggles of the Civil War, then to Harlem and to the present, while the other stays. This book is raw and real. It interweaves history with reality. Gyasi uses short stories to show both branches of families and their struggles. Her writing brings to life the human tragedy of slavery in a way that captures my students’ attention.They couldn’t put this book down. It brought discomfort, confusion, and lots of questions.

Michael Milton
by Laurie Hasle Anderson, 7th-11th grade

This is not your traditional narrative of the American Revolution, but it provides an amazing narrative of a group of people from the past who are often voiceless. During study hall this year, a bored sophomore had nothing to do except watch Netflix. I offered to lend her my copy of Chains and she spent the entire period (and the weekend) engrossed. Recently, this sophomore student has requested the second in this trilogy for beach reading.

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline, 9th-12th grade

In a future where life is more virtual than reality, life is lived in the OASIS — a virtual reality network. People have jobs and go to school on this platform, but the most important thing people do is the treasure hunt set up by the system’s creator. Wade Watts, a student, uncovers the first clue and is set on an amazing, 1980s-inspired journey where the winner gets the keys to OASIS. As the virtual world (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) is becoming more and more interwoven with the “real world” this book forces students to think about the role of technology in their lives. Plus, the 1980s pop culture references are amazing!

David Morales
ENgaging LAtino Communities for Education (ENLACE) at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces, NM & is the 2016 New Mexico Teacher of the Year
It’s All in the Frijoles
by Yolanda Nava, 9th-12th grades

I have my students read this book because they are asked to belong to one world but are constantly reminded that they actually belong to two. This book shows them that the pillars of character they are taught in their homes are often the same ones taught in cultures across the world.

Bless Me, Ultima
by Rudolfo Anaya, 9th-12th grades

I use this book in my class because Mr. Anaya is a local (NM) author and his story speaks to the history of our state, our culture, and our heritage. The young man in the story has to learn how to navigate through all the different sub-cultures to which he belongs. The story is thick with symbolism that the students learn to decipher and identify with. Through reading the book and our classroom activities, they learn that no one is monochromatic, we are all made up of all of life’s colors.

Shanna Peeples
Former high school English teacher, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, & co-author of Literature: 15 Master Teachers Share What Works
Philosophy for Teens: Questioning Life’s Big Ideas
by Sharon M. Kaye, Ph.D & Paul Thomson, Ph.D, Grades 6–12

This book is a teenager-friendly look at the philosophy behind everyday issues.The authors examine some of life’s biggest topics, such as lying, cheating, love, beauty, the role of government, hate, and prejudice, in this casual and engaging book, written directly for and field-tested with teenagers. Questions are the anti-tyranny vaccine and this book helps to give “booster shots” of critical thinking to kids in middle and high school. Students, whether remedial, gifted, advanced placement, English Language Learners, or struggling with learning difficulties, love thinking, discussing and writing inspired by this text.

The Sneetches and Other Stories
by Dr. Seuss, all grade levels

This collection of four of Dr. Seuss’s most winning stories begins with that unforgettable tale of the unfortunate Sneetches, bamboozled by one Sylvester McMonkey McBean who teaches them that pointless prejudice can be costly. Following the Sneetches, “The Zax,” looks at the pitfalls of stubbornness; “Too Many Daves,” a silly poem about a mother who names her 23 sons ‘Dave,’ and “What Was I Scared Of?”, is a spooky, but sweet take on anxiety and fear that rounds out the collection.

Andréa Santos
High School Spanish and Fine Arts Teacher, 2016 West Virginia Teacher of the Year
The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist
by Margarita Engle, Intermediate, Young Adult

The Lightning Dreamer is a historical biography written in free verse about the teenage life of one of Cuba’s most influential writers, nineteenth-century abolitionist, Getrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, known as Tula to her friends and family. The reader follows Tula’s fiery and powerful teenage journey of poetic rebellion against the injustices around her — slavery, women’s rights, and arranged marriages.

The Arrival
Shaun Tan, Young Adult, Grades 8-Up

The Arrival chronicles the story of an unknown migrant who must leave his family and homeland to find refuge in another country. This universal story of struggle and oppression is a wordless graphic novel told completely through the use of artwork. The hauntingly beautiful, strange and moving illustrations will capture the reader’s heart, and send them tumbling through feelings of adventure, fear, war, hope, and triumph.

I chose to share these artistic novels because of the unconventional way in which the authors decided to tell their stories. Whether the pages are laced with Tula’s lush metaphors, or penciled and painted with images of magical realism. These novels inspire the reader to be brave enough to take up pencil and paper, to use their words, their art, and voice — to write, to speak, to draw, to tell a story, to make a difference. In the words of Tula, “I think of my feather pen as something magical that still belongs to a wing.”

Alberto Morales
High School English, Maine 

You Don’t Know Me
by David Klass Farrar Straus Giroux, 8th-10th grade

This is a fantastic mix of brilliantly cynical teen observation, lyrical writing, and anger. Like teen protagonists before him, (think Holden Caulfield), John notices the falseness and hypocrisy around him. Written in a captivating and creative manner,this story is hard hitting and deals with tough, realistic subject matter in a way that is at times funny, and at other times, sad and harsh. I have been in search of books that are engaging and real, while at the same time written with artistic integrity. The student in front of you is often not what they seem to be. Many have gone through trauma, and our more fortunate students need to read this kind of story to have their eyes opened and to know and understand that these things are real and happen to kids everyday.

Whale Talk
by Chris Crutcher, 8th-10th grade

A biracial protagonist deals with bigotry and ignorance, and is an athlete, but not the stereotypical athlete. A crew of misfit swimmers compete to earn letter Jackets. Great storytelling in Whale Talk. A good reminder that heroes can come in any shape, color, ability or size, and friendship can bridge nearly any divide. A truly exceptional book.

Tom Rademacher
2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Author of, IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching
by Daniel José Older, 9th-12th grade

Shadowshaper follows Sierra, a witty, strong, art-obsessed Brooklyn teenager of Puerto Rican descent as she uncovers the magical and mysterious past of her family. This is one of those books that never spent long on the shelf of my room, and often was handed from student to student as it was read. The writing is funny, beautiful, and shares empowering ideas around race, identity, beauty, and body standards. The story is engrossing, and full of action and balances elements of reality and fantasy really well.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Saenz, 9th-12th grade

Aristotle and Dante are two smart teenage outcasts who struggle to fit in almost as much as they struggle to care about fitting in. They become friends because of, and in spite of, all of their quirks, and come of age together in the sort of kicking-and-screaming way many of us grew up. Before I finished it, I knew this novel would be included on the short list of books I read every year or so. The writing is brilliant, and the characters and relationships are gorgeously and carefully constructed through the book. This is a book that students (and adults) fall in love with.

Dan Ryder
English teacher and comic book geek at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Maine, Co-author, with Amy Burvall, of the new book from EdTech Team Press, Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom
I Kill Giants
by Joe Kelly with art by J. M. Ken Niimura, 9th-12th grade

This black-and-white graphic novel bursts off the page with such intensity and maverick aplomb that the emotional center of the book lands with a subtle grace that crumbles even the most stoic and steadfast readers. Need a brash and sassy, take-no-toots-from-no-one-no-how female protagonist that makes no apologies and wears an amazing pair of bunny ears? Recommended for lovers of Steven Universe, Calvin & Hobbes and everything Raina Telgemeier.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
by Ryan North & illustrated by Erica Henderson

Squirrel Girl will not be denied. She will right wrongs. She will sling songs. And she will remain now and forevermore undefeated. This is the sort of superhero comics that require no prior knowledge to enjoy and prove that weird roommates, precocious best friends, and social awkwardness ain’t gonna keep nobody down. Recommended for readers looking for the comic sensibility of Deadpool in PG packaging and a Peanuts cartoon degree of violence. And for people who like smiling.

Lisa Hollenbach
Social Studies Teacher, National Blogging Collaborative Co-Director, Editorial Content Mgr. @ Teaching Channel & Perpetual Rabble Rouser
The Handmaid’s’ Tale
by Margaret Atwood, Grades 11 and 12

The setting is a future dystopian United States suffering the effects of a toxic environment. The society that emerges is theocratic, totalitarian, and sharply hierarchical with women — although critical to the new order — stripped of their fundamental freedoms and basic civil liberties. In the wake of the 2016 presidential election the American political ecosystem is ripe with dystopian metaphor as civil liberties are endangered, women’s rights appear under attack, and hate crimes and extremism are on the rise. The difference between Atwood’s fictional world and our modern political reality is merely one of degree. Older students capable of navigating the mature themes and content within should engage with this text in juxtaposition with the freedom we often take for granted and the illusion of equality that colors American political life.

A People’s History of the United States / A Young People’s History of the United States
by Howard Zinn, Middle-High School Social Studies and History, 6th — 12th Grade

The story of our collective past is all too often told by the victorious. When interviewing candidates for our Social Studies department, I would often ask how a candidate intended to tell the stories of the marginalized, underrepresented, and the invisible. Not a single candidate was prepared to answer my question, though some fumbled through. But, as educators, we have to do better than fumbling. Zinn’s People’s History (for older, advanced students and adults) and Young People’s History present a radical way of understanding US History because this text challenges traditional textbook narratives by telling the stories of workers, women, Native Americans, African Americans, and others whose impact has been overlooked or dismissed. Zinn’s work can be used as a text or as a companion to a traditional text to show students that, just as there is honor in battle, there is honor in dissent and resistance when the country has lost its way.

Debbie Jocz
Kindergarten teacher, Los Angeles, California.

by Maira Kalman, Pre-K-5th

In New York City, an old fireboat is brought back to its glory days on 9/11. When the demand for emergency assistance is critical, the old fireboat goes to work transporting people off of Manhattan to safety. The content, while difficult to present to young children, is told through the experiences of the fireboat. Readers are given understanding of what happened that day through the vivid yet slightly disturbing images and the heartwarming story of this heroic fireboat.

Dan Yaccarino, Pre-K-5th

A Pug is bullied and shamed about his looks by his peers. Then a new family moves in next door and the dog becomes friendly with the neighbor dog, although they are never able to see each other. As their friendship grows the desire to see each other face to face becomes unbearable. Finally, the neighbor dog decides to dig a hole under the fence so they can see each other. The illustrations combined with the raw nature of the story conjure many emotions and understandings among young readers.

— Contributed & written by Talya Edlund, 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year

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