At various times during the year, a “best books” list is published by someone somewhere. Those people have a lot more clout than I do, but I contend that some of the best books are being read in my classroom. Why? Because they are being read. Period.
Most of my students are self-proclaimed non-readers. They can read, but they don’t like to read. When offered the choice between a book and something else, the something else wins. Reluctant readers are often turned off by books because they are told what to read instead of being allowed to pick a book for themselves. When allowed to choose, students often select something that sounds good, but may be above or below their reading levels, which leaves them frustrated or bored.
This school year, we started by reading two novels I was sure they’d love: 13 REASONS WHY by Jay Asher and THE WAVE by Todd Strasser. We read these together, which was great, but I wanted my students to develop an independent reading habit. They took a reading assessment that produced their “Lexile” numbers, and these were used to help students select books. I hadn’t done this before, but it seemed like the best way to match students with books they could actually read instead of something too hard or too easy. Like Goldilocks, we were searching for books that were “just right.”
Once students and books were matched, I gave them time to read every day. And an amazing thing happened….books…got…read…in…their…entirety! That’s right: cover to cover. Pretty cool, huh? Now, my matchmaking skills didn’t work on everyone. I had some students who stopped after a few chapters and needed to try something new. I have one boy who took weeks to finish a novel and another who has yet to finish one. But, by and large, students were reading, asking for more time to read, and finishing books, at which time I made a copy of the cover and pinned it to the wall.
Here is a picture of my wall when we first started:
Here is a more recent picture:
This is what we call progress. (I stop to wipe a teacher tear of joy.)
So, here is a list of best YA books based on the criteria that they were read and loved by students who would normally prefer not to read. I look forward to adding to the list later this year.
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The Wave by Todd Strasser
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman
Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman
Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones by Patrick Carman
Skeleton Creek: The Raven by Patrick Carman
Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
Haters by Alisa Valdes
Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles
Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles
Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen