Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What I'm Reading: Nutritious Books

What's a Nutritious Book, you ask? Simply put, a YA novel that a teacher could use as part of their curriculum, supporting Common Core standards, etc. As an adult reader, I actually have loved some of the ones I have come across this's great to feel like I'm actually learning something as I'm reading, and many of them have given me a much greater understanding of a time period or event that I didn't know (or let's be honest, remember) much about before.

ELA and History are definitely the predominant teachers who might be inclined to use YA novels to support their classroom activities, and as it turns out, all of my picks this week have some sort of historical basis. I have to cheat a smidge and include one of the books that I included on one of my midterm reading lists, because I just loved it so much (as much as you can love a Holocaust book, I suppose!). In fact, I really enjoyed three of my recommendations from that list, so I'm including the other 2 as Honorable Mentions, as I didn't think I could get away with recycling all three of my picks!

So, here we go...Nutritious Books for your reading (or teaching) pleasure:

Chasing Lincoln's Killer
James L. Swanson, Scholastic Press, 2009

This one was on display in the children's room at my local library and it caught my eye. Chock full of primary sources (photos, newspaper clippings and the like), it traces the 12 days from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to when John Wilkes Booth was finally apprehended. While it obviously tells the story of an important event in history (with many details that I never knew, including that JWB was actually a famous actor), I think more of the teaching value lies in how well it captures the mood of the time immediately following the surrender of the South in the Civil War, both for Unionists and Confederates alike.

Laurie Halse Anderson, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008

I couldn't complete a Children's Literature course without coming across Laurie Halse Anderson! I was first introduced to her earlier this semester for a discussion board assignment and knew I had to include one of her books in this week's recommendations. Chains is the first in a trilogy set in the time of the Revolutionary War and features Isabel, a thirteen-year old fighting for her own freedom in dire circumstances. Fast-paced and thoroughly researched (including real quotes from letters, articles, etc. to lead off each chapter), Chains gives real insight and perspective into this integral time in our country's history.

Hana's Suitcase
Karen Levine,  Albert Whitman & Company, 2003

I don't recall if I found this in a specific search for Holocaust books, or if it was one that jumped out at me from the Holocaust section of my local library, but I was drawn into it immediately and couldn't put it down. The story alternates seamlessly between present-day Japan and WWII-era Europe, and follows a Japanese woman's quest to find the story behind the suitcase that has found its way to her Holocaust education center. With tenacity and a touch of luck (and a suspenseful retelling full of historical facts and anecdotes), she tracks down the owner's brother, resulting in a touching homage to a bright and lovely girl who was taken too soon.

Honorable Mentions

The Year of Goodbyes
Debbie Levy, Disney Hyperion Books, 2010

The Boy on the Wooden Box
Leon Leyson, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013

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