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A to Z: The Best Books for Teens

A to Z: The Best Books for Teens
Step into the young adult section of your local library or bookstore and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of books written just for teens. From paranormal romance and dystopian tales to stories of identity and social justice, there are plenty of options. The problem is, most teens aren’t reading them. To help teens wade through the masses, we’ve rounded up some of our top picks.

How’d we choose the books on our list? We looked for books that were exciting, books that teens could connect with emotionally, books that told about real-life teens, and books that would encourage teens to think a little deeper about the world. Some are fun, some are serious, and all are great reads.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novel that focuses on Jin Wang, a Chinese-American student who just wants to be an American boy. It’s a quirky story that deals with identity, disaster, and The Monkey King.

Blubber by Judy Blume is one of those classic novels teens have loved to read for decades. It takes on bullying and asks teens to consider how far is too far when it comes to making fun of someone.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a slightly odd, but enjoyable book about a character name
Christopher John Francis Boone. He is intelligent, but very little, and has no real understanding of human emotions. The novel was recently adapted into a Broadway musical.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick is one of Amazon’s 100 Young Adult Books to Read in a Lifetime. The book tells the story of Steven, whose younger brother is diagnosed with leukemia, and how he and his family navigate life in the wake of the diagnosis.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler has a humorous title, but it takes on very important issues that teens face, such as eating disorders, self-esteem, and rape.

Feed by M.T. Anderson, which is set in the future, imagines what would happen if televisions and computers were implanted into everyone’s brain. Teens will be able to connect many of the novel’s events with today’s focus on technology.

The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian introduces readers to a teen prophet, Larry. In a humorous way, this book discusses issues of self-identity, popularity, and what it takes to conquer the masses.

Hoops by Walter Dean Myers is a great book for teen boys. It follows Lonnie Jackson who dreams of being a big-time basketball player one day, but must deal with the pressures of life that get in the way.

For a bonus H pick, check out The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas which tells the story of an African-American girl who witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend.

If I Stay by Gayle Foreman shows a teen standing outside her body and considering her life up until that moment. It’s a powerful story that will encourage teens to consider what makes their lives worth living.

Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume is a story of friendship. Stephanie and Rachel have been friends forever, but their friendship is altered by the addition of a new friend, Alison, and by life changes, but they learn to navigate it all together.

The Kill Order by James Dashner is part of the popular Maze Runner series. This prequel provides teens with a welcome introduction to the events of the series and helps them learn more about Mark, Thomas, and Teresa.

Looking for Alaska by John Green is an award-winning book from one of young adult literature’s hottest authors. This particular story deals with sexuality, fitting in, grief, and controversial life choices.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers is written as a screenplay mixed with journal entries that detail Steve Harmon’s life in prison. Is he really he monster he sees himself as?

New Moon by Stephanie Meyer is part of the infamous Twilight series. Like it or not, many teens love Twilight, so that earned this book a place on our list.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is one of those classic novels that every teen, especially teen boys, should read. It tells the story of the Greasers and the Socs and shows how they navigate some of life’s toughest moments.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is a coming-of-age story that was turned into a major motion picture. It is written as a series of letters from a character named Charlie who must handle a whole host of social and psychological problems.

The Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof tells the story of two teenagers, one with a fatal illness, who learn major lessons about life and about love.

Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper takes the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet and sets it in Cincinnati, Ohio. The couple, from two different cultural backgrounds, must fight their families and their friends to maintain their relationship.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson follows Melinda, a formerly popular girl who has become an outcast. Readers will learn a lot about high school, the power of rumors, and what it means to stand up for yourself.

Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper is part of the Hazelwood High Trilogy, a series of books about a group of African-American teenagers and the struggles they face. In this book, Andy deals with guilt after his best friend is killed in a drunk-driving accident.

For a bonus T title, check out To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, a story about a teen girl whose high school existence is turned upside down when letters are secretly mailed to her five crushes. It was also made into a movie for Netflix.

Uprising: Three Young Women Caught in the Fire that Changed America by Margaret Peterson Haddix is a historical fiction novel that centers around a fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City. The book helps teens learn about the Industrial Revolution and its effects on many different types of Americans.

Very Far Away from Anywhere Else by Ursula K. Le Guin focuses on two friends, Owen and Natalie. Near the end of their senior year in high school. Owen narrates the novel as he figures out what their friendship means and whether he really knows as much as he thinks he does.

WTF by Peter Lerangis is an edgy book that tells of two parties from six different points of view. It’s a high energy, action-packed story that focuses on some of the worst-case scenarios that can happen to real teens.

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon that tells about Malcolm Little’s younger years. The book, which was co-written by Malcolm X’s daughter, helps explain the life decisions that he made before becoming the famed civil rights leader.

YOLO Juliet by Brett Wright and William Shakespeare takes the tale of Romeo and Juliet and puts it into terms teens today can understand. While it may seem a bit crazy, it’s actually a very clever take on classic literature that can help get teens hooked on the Bard.

Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts shares the story of two teens who meet in the pediatric cancer ward of a hospital. Both have very different personalities and perspectives on their illness, which means they each have something to offer the other.

We’re sure many of your favorites didn’t make this list. What do the teens you know love to read? Share them in the comments and encourage teens to pick up a book and get reading this week! Also don’t forget to check our our printable worksheets based on popular young adult novels or create your own literature quizzes using our Test Maker and Online Testing options.

8 Reasons Why I Teach Banned Books… and You Should Too

8 Reasons Why I Teach Banned Books

It seems like every year a new book makes the news for being challenged or banned by a school. Books that have been banned run the gamut from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to The Holy Bible. While some parents and teachers have legitimate concerns, others have less valid reasons (a library patron in Toronto, Canada wanted to ban Hop on Pop because it encouraged children to use violence against their fathers). Regardless of whether books contain controversial content, they should still be accessible to students. Here are eight reasons why banned books should be accessible to students.

They Challenge Students to Consider Alternate Viewpoints

As a parent, your first instinct is often to shield your children from things you don’t want them to see, but you can’t hide the world from your children forever. Banned books are often challenged because they contain controversial content or don’t mesh with adults’ beliefs, but that doesn’t always mean they’re bad. Instead of simply banning a book that contains an alternate viewpoint, use the book as an opportunity to safely expose students to that viewpoint. While reading the book, use reading response activities to discuss what’s controversial about it and why people might disagree with the actions or viewpoints held in the book. If you’re a parent whose child has to read a book for school that you don’t agree with, read the book with your child and talk to him/her about the content. Explain to your child why you don’t agree with it and encourage your child to share his/her thoughts too.

They Introduce Students to Diverse Characters

Often children live in their own little world where their friends and family members largely think and act like they do. While there are some exceptions to this rule, most children don’t get the opportunity to experience people and places that aren’t familiar to them. Many books have been banned throughout history because they contain diverse characters that children may not have encountered before. For example, the book Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan was challenged because the main character says a prayer to Allah in the book and the picture book And Tango Makes Three was challenged because the main characters are two male penguins who raise a chick together.

It’s important to remember that reading a book with diverse characters doesn’t mean you support those characters’ lifestyles or thoughts. Reading books with diverse characters can help students understand the different types of people that exist in the world and help them better prepare to interact with those people when they encounter them.

They Take Students Out of their Comfort Zone

Why are most books banned? Some of the most common reasons are because they include:

  • racial themes
  • alternative lifestyles
  • inappropriate language
  • unpopular religious views
  • sexual or violent content
  • unpopular political views
  • references to witchcraft or the occult
  • characters doing drugs or smoking

All of these reasons for banning books have one thing in common: they make people uncomfortable. It’s not fun to feel uncomfortable. It’s not fun to read something that takes you out of your comfort zone or challenges you to look at a situation differently, but it happens a lot in life and it’s bound to happen to children at one point or another. Should third graders be required to read books that contain excessive violence or sexual references? No. Should an eleventh or twelfth grader? Maybe. Because the eleventh or twelfth grader is about to enter a world where these issues will appear and what better place to practice being taken out of your comfort zone than in the safety of the classroom or your own home?

They Teach Valuable Lessons

In addition to taking children out of their comfort zones, banned books can often teach valuable lessons about identity, tolerance, or even freedom. For example, the book The Art of Racing in the Rain teaches readers a valuable lesson about the grieving process. The book The Working Poor: Invisible in America teaches a lesson about the real problems the working poor in America face. Brave New World teaches students about the extremes of passion and offers a bleak view of the future that students can connect to the future of the world. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been banned numerous times its use of the n word, despite being regarded as one of the most valuable pieces of American literature.

They Can Be Interpreted in Multiple Ways

A book that is banned in one school or district may be perfectly acceptable in another. Take the case of Hop on Pop. One person in Toronto thought it advocated violence against fathers, but how many others have read the book and seen something completely different. What about the book And Tango Makes Three? Are children likely to see it as more than a story about a family of penguins? You could write a book with nothing offensive in it and, as a adults, we are often more likely to find offensive content than children.

They May Be Banned for Silly Reasons

Sometimes this also leads to books being banned for silly reasons. Did you know Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic was once banned in an elementary school because it encouraged children to break dishes instead of dry them? The popular Harriet the Spy was once banned because Harriet is a spy and being a spy means that she occasionally lies and gets into mischief. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was banned because it talked about a girl getting her period. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin was banned because an author with the same name wrote a book about Marxism. Before you turn down a book because it has been banned, consider the reason it was banned. You may realize you were avoiding a book for no good reason at all.

They Are Often Great Books

Frankly, no one takes the time to ban a bad book. Not usually anyway. Books become banned because they become popular and fall into the hands of a diverse group of people. At some point, they’re bound to offend one of those people. Some of history’s greatest authors – Toni Morrison, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Judy Blume – have written books that have been banned. By refusing to teach or let children read banned books, you’re often causing them to miss out on great writing.

They Promote Free Speech

But at the end of the day, the main reason to teach banned books is because books should never be banned in the first place. If you live in the United States, you know that one of the greatest freedoms you have is the right to free speech. Banning a book suppresses the author’s right to free speech and also suppresses students’ right to access media. Yes, a book may be inappropriate for a particular age group or it may contain controversial content, but banning books is a form of a censorship, the same censorship people decry in third world countries, the same censorship that is warned against in books like Fahrenheit 451:

“Black people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator. Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too. Five minutes after a person is dead he’s on his way to the Big Flute, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after a man’s speck of black dust. Let’s not quibble over individuals with memoriams. Forget them. Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean.”

The solution to handling books that contain content someone doesn’t like isn’t to ban them. Instead, teachers and parents can use these books as a learning tool and discuss them with children in a safe environment. That doesn’t mean you have to read all controversial books, but it does mean you shouldn’t avoid everything just because someone says it’s no good.

How to Become a Champion Speller

How to Become a Champion Spellerr

Every year, the nation’s best junior spellers descend upon Washington D.C. They come to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee where they spell words like scherenschnitte and nunatak (2015’s winning words).  While not all kids will become national spelling bee champions, they can become better spellers. Follow these tips to help kids learn how to spell hundreds, if not thousands, of common words (like hippopotamus).

Read the Dictionary

In the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, one of the contestants sings a song about how much she loves her dictionary. While most kids won’t have the same fondness for their own dictionaries, they should take some time to familiarize themselves with the dictionary and learn the words it contains. For children in elementary and middle school, consider purchasing one of Merriam Webster’s Elementary or Intermediate dictionaries so they can find words that are more appropriate for their level.

Reading through the dictionary may seem boring, but it doesn’t have to be. Make it fun by playing one of these games:

– Race to see who can be the first to find and define a word
– Try to find a word that no one has heard of before
– Make up a fake definition for a word and have someone guess which definition is real.

Learn Common Spelling Rules

Why is English So Hard?
You’ve probably seen some version of the poem above before. The English language is definitely very confusing and doesn’t always seem to follow the rules. However, there are some spelling rules that kids can learn. A few good rules to learn include:

  1. i before e, except after a long c like in receive or in words like neighbor or weigh
  2. When adding -ing, -ed, -est, and other suffixes, double the consonant when the word features a vowel + consonant at the end or when the last syllable is stressed. For example, hop becomes hopping and regret becomes regretted.
  3. Drop the final e when adding a vowel suffix to a word, unless the word ends with ce or ge. For example, write becomes writing and manage becomes manageable.
  4. The letter y, when preceded by a consonant, becomes i when a suffix is added. For example, happy becomes happiness.
  5. Silent e helps a vowel say its name. If a vowel sound is long, it often has a silent e at the end. For example, you can see the difference in rat versus rate and hop versus hope.

Learn Frequently Confused Words

Do you know the difference between principal and principle? How about their, there, and they’re? These words frequently trip spellers up. Learning the difference between them and practicing using them correctly can help kids improve their spelling skills. Help Teaching’s Vocabulary page is full of printable worksheets designed to help kids learn the difference between these confusing words.

Learn Common Prefixes, Suffixes, and Word Roots

Take a look at the word antidisestablishmentarianism. This word is often considered one of the longest words in the English language and, upon first glance, it seems impossible to spell. However, if you break it up, you’ll realize it’s composed of many different roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Being able to recognize these word parts can be the key to becoming a good speller and figuring out the meaning of confusing words. So instead of having hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, kids can embrace those monstrously monosyllabic words and spell them with ease. Help Teaching’s online lessons portal features many lessons to teach kids about the basic prefixes and suffixes.
fear of long words

Visualize Words

Have you ever written a word and said, “That doesn’t look right?” Good spellers tap into the visual sides of their brains to help them learn to spell. For little kids, that may mean using a program like Word World or Bembo’s Zoo to help them visualize the words. For older kids, it may involve writing the words multiple times or breaking the words into chunks. For example, they may see the word conscience as con-science. You may also come up with funny images, such as a picture of a wig (hair) on a chair to remind kids that words are spelled in similar ways.

Read… A LOT!

When kids read, they often see words spelled correctly. The more they see a word spelled correctly, the easier it is for them to remember how to spell it on their own. So, encourage kids to read, read, read. Keep in mind, however, that some books for kids, such as the Captain Underpants series, intentionally misspell words. If you see that words are misspelled, point them out to kids and encourage them to look up the correct spellings as a learning activity.

Use Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic devices such as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally and Never Eat Soggy Waffles are great for helping kids remember key math and geography facts, but they can also be used for spelling. For example, kids may remember “pull apart to separate” or “there is a place just like here.” While it may not be practical to come up with a mnemonic device for every word, you can use these clever tricks to help kids remember particularly frustrating words.

Play Spelling Games

Games like Boggle and Scrabble are great ways to help kids improve their spelling skills. For a simple version of Boggle, print out a word scramble worksheet and have kids see how many words they can create. Word searches offer another way to help kids improve their spelling skills. Pick up a cheap word search book at your local dollar store or create your own using Help Teaching’s Word Search Generator.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The best way to become a better speller is to practice spelling. If there are particular words kids want to learn, encourage them to make flashcards and study them or to write a story using those words. You should also have kids write regularly and read what they write aloud. When they read through the paper, they may find that misspelled words are difficult to pronounce.

By following these steps, kids can vastly improve their spelling skills. Want to put your own spelling skills to the test? Try your hand at the same testcompetitors take during the preliminary round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Share your results and any additional spelling tips you have in the comments.

How to Motivate Students to Read More

How to Motivate Students to Read More
Many teachers struggle with motivating students to do more independent reading, especially when that reading happens at home. Whether students don’t like reading, or simply would prefer to play their favorite video game, it’s a head scratcher for even the savviest teachers.

However, you don’t have to take “Ehh, I just don’t feel like reading” for an answer any more. Use these strategies to motivate students to read more at home.

Make the Process More Fun

Students love video games and social media because they’re fun—and there’s no reason why reading shouldn’t be fun too. Use these websites to motivate students to read more at home without you pushing them to do so.

Bookopolis: The best book recommendations for students come from their peers. The website Bookopolis aims to give students the recommendations they’re looking for, with thousands of student-written book reviews. With the whole class signed up, students can recommend specific books to their friends and browse pre-made book lists to discover their next favorite read.

Whooo’s Reading: This online reading log platform motivates students to read more with extrinsic rewards. Students earn Wisdom Coins for logging reading, answering open-ended, reading comprehension questions and interacting with peers in their private newsfeed. These coins are used to “buy” accessories for their Owlvatar—students want to have the coolest Owlvatar in their class, motivating them to read and log more. You’ll be surprised how quickly these extrinsic rewards help develop an intrinsic desire to read more.
Storyline Online: This website provides audio books, with a twist. Rather than simply listening to the book, students watch a video of the person reading the book, so they see the actual book while listening. Some stories are even read by famous people, like Betty White.

Give Them a Greater Purpose

If students know they’re reading for a greater purpose—like helping impoverished children—they may want to read more. Here are a few worthy programs to join:

Read to Succeed: This program, offered by Six Flags, gives students free tickets to the nearest Six Flags after completing at least six hours of recreational—not assigned through school—reading. This program is free for teachers and schools to participate in.

Students Helping Students: Room to Read offers a fundraiser read-a-thon, where students read to raise money that goes toward helping impoverished children around the world gain access to schools and books.

Give Them Access to New Books

One of the reasons students cite for not reading more is not having a book or not knowing what book they want to read next. Luckily this is an easy battle to win—there are plenty of ways to get more books in the hands of your students.

Here are a few options:

Epic! Books: This service gives students, ages 12 and younger, access to more than 10,000 digital books. The program is free for elementary teachers and librarians to participate in, and provides students with a wide range of popular titles such Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See and the Goosebumps series.

First Book Marketplace: If you work at a Title 1 school, you’re eligible to purchase books through First Book Marketplace at 50-90 percent off below retail price. Books are available for children up to 18 years of age, with a variety of popular and classic titles available, along with STEM resources and college-prep materials.

Thrift Books: This online bookstore honors the work teachers and educators do with a 15 percent discount on book sets (20 or more titles). If you’re looking to stock your classroom, this is a great way to do it.

Reading Resource Project: Use this website to give your classroom library a complete overhaul. Educators can order a collection of 100 books—you choose the collection, whether it’s a mix of titles and genres, or books about specific things, such as animals, food, science and more—and then simply pay shipping, which comes out to $.88 per student. Books are distributed many times a year, including on Read Across America Day, National Drop Everything and Read Day and Children’s Book Week.

Free Audio Books: There are dozens of sites available that offer free audio books. Check out Ambling Books and Librophile. Get a full list of free audio book websites here.

Once you have all of these books in your classroom, you’ll need to implement a book lending process so students can take them home, if you haven’t already. Use these tips to create this system and making your classroom library more interactive.

Motivating your students to read more at home can be a difficult process. However, with multiple strategies at play, it becomes easier to get every student in your classroom reading more every single day.

Bio: Jessica Sanders is the Director of Social Outreach for Whooo’s Reading, a San Diego-based education organization that motivates students to read more every day. It’s available to teachers, schools and districts. Jessica grew up reading books like The Giver and Holes, and is passionate about making reading as exciting for young kids today as it has always been for her. Follow Learn2Earn on Twitter and Facebook, and check out their new ebook, How to Bring Technology Into the Classroom, just $2.99 on