Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
This is the first historical novel I remember reading, and it began a long love affair with the genre. It was a Newbery Medal winner (1944) that was required reading in my eighth grade reading class. At first, it seemed unlikely that I would love it. A book published a zillion years ago? Required reading? I was an avid reader (still am) and I love history, so it’s really no surprise that I enjoyed this book. It’s the story of a teenage boy living in Boston at the time of the American Revolutionary War.. He’s an apprentice silversmith to Paul Revere until he injures his hand. Then he becomes a courier for the Boston Observer, delivering messages for John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Dr. Joseph Warren. That puts him right in the middle of the events leading up to the revolution. I enjoyed seeing these events from the point of view of someone my age. Much later, I made a point of using historical fiction to supplement my teaching of ancient civilizations.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
I stumbled across this book while browsing at the library for a thick historical fiction book that started a series, something I could dive into and disappear for a while. I have read this entire series (nine novels, three novellas, and a spin off series) twice, and have bought anniversary hardback editions of all of them. It’s an engaging idea, a married woman, at the end of World War II, being transported two hundred years back in time where she falls in love with a handsome Highlander. The ensuing dilemma is riveting as she ponders how she gets back to her husband in the future, or if she even wants to. The level of character development, setting descriptions, and historical detail delight me as a reader. Meeting Diana Gabaldon at one of her book signings inspires me as a writer.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
My book club decided to read this book because it was the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction. It is not a book I would have picked up on my own, but it transported me. To say this book is about trees is an understatement that does it a disservice. It’s a series of stories that follow humans through time as they interact, positively and negatively, with trees. There’s an underlying story about the natural world that moves beneath us paltry humans with strength, resourcefulness, and amazing collaboration. You will never look at trees the same way again.
The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
I’d been teaching elementary school for almost twenty years when I discovered this book. I’m not normally the person who reads a lot of books about the theory of education, or educational reform, so I still wonder what made me pick this one up. I’ve loved reading my entire life, and it frustrated me that so many of my students hated to read. Maybe the book’s subtitle drew me: Awakening the Reader in Every Child. This book validated everything I knew was wrong with the way reading is taught in schools, and inspired me to toss out the reading textbooks and use a Reading Workshop approach in my classroom. Students chose their own books to read, and I taught reading skills that helped them connect to and analyze what they read.
Fox by Margaret Wild
Yes, it’s a picture book. The text looks handwritten, and it crawls all over the page. The pictures are compelling, but it’s the rich mellifluous language that makes this book a joy to read aloud. It’s the story of Dog, who becomes friends with Magpie and guides her through depression. Then Fox arrives. Magpie tells him to go away, but Dog welcomes him as a friend. Fox betrays Dog and runs away with Magpie. In a touching ending that never ceases to choke me up, Magpie realizes Fox is not a good friend and begins to walk the long way back to Dog. I used this book to teach sixth graders about wonderful language, theme, and characters.
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