Fictional Reading Recommendations

Bausum, A. (2006). Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the front lines of the civil rights movement. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

This is a photographic history published by National Geographic. It highlights the origins of the Freedom Riders movement and begins by describing the context of the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. The book then moves on to discuss how the African American and white population found common ground in the freedom movement. There are harrowing photos included of the buses moving throughout the south and the violent reactions from the white population.

I would use this book as an introduction to the Civil Rights Movement because of the visual and written history. A teacher could activate prior knowledge by utilizing the photographs included to discuss the racial tensions. By reading through this book, students would be able to make inferences about the racial tension in the south prior to the Civil Rights movement. I would use this book as an anchor text to better understand the Civil Rights movement and ground students in the stories of those how fought in the Civil Rights movement.

Coburn, B. (2000). Triumph on Everest: a photobiography of Sir Edmund Hillary. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

This book is all about Edmund Hillary, who was one of the first mountaineers to climb Mount Everest. It is a photobiography, meaning that the images are equally as important as the story. Hillary’s journey was one of epic proportions and the pictures do an excellent job demonstrating the magnitude of his journey. The photos show Hillary as a young man during his formative years and also demonstrate the vastness and danger of Mount Everest. The story describes how Hillary became interested in mountaineering and the journey to Nepal to climb Mont Everest. The text includes text features you would expect in a work of nonfiction. There is a chronology (or timeline) at the end of the book, a resource guide, and an index.

There are many reading strategies this book would be helpful for. First, you could use the photos to activate prior knowledge. It would be tremendously helpful to look at the photos and make inferences about Hillary, mountaineering, and Mount Everest. You could also use the text features to model navigating a complex non-fiction text. Finally, this would be a great book to use in a middle grades Common Core aligned curriculum. Common Core emphasizes making inferences from non-print mediums and using textual evidence to support conclusions. Combinations of these two elements would lead to critical thinking supporting the Common Core curriculum.

Delano, M. F. (2005). Genius: A Photobiography of Albert Einstein . Washington DC: National Geographic Society.

This is a photobiography about Albert Einstein’s life. The title itself implies that the author intends to explore whether Einstein was a genius or if his work came from creativity, hard work, etc. The book begins with a forward by Einstein’s granddaughter, who describes Einstein as a gentle and kind-hearted man. This is an excellent primary source to analyze, but it also provides an opportunity to discuss the importance of a forward in a book. Throughout the book, there are photos and diagrams of Einstein’s inventions that help the reader understand the work Einstein produced during his life. The photos included of Einstein are headlines and diplomatic settings illustrating his importance contrasted by photos of him with his family in an informal setting.

This book would be most helpful to use when teaching text features for a work of non-fiction. It would also be helpful to analyze how a historical figure is characterized publicly versus how they were perceived by the people closest to them. You could also use this book in a science class to facilitate a scavenger hunt about Einstein’s life. Using the text features like the index, you could ask students to learn about specific elements of Einstein’s life.

Frost, R., & Schmidt, G. D. (1994). Poetry for young people: Robert Frost (A Magnolia ed.). New York: Sterling Publishers.

This book begins with an introduction of Robert Frost’s life, describing both his personal life and how he became interested in poetry. The biography is concise and simply provides context about Frost’s life. This book is split into the four seasons, with poems categorized by the season they describe. There are illustrations throughout the book that accompany each poem. The paintings directly describe the poem and provide visual aids for students who might struggle to grasp the abstract nature of poems.

This would be an excellent book to use in helping students understand the Romantic period of poetry. By immersing students in the poems categorized by season, students would more easily conceptualize the genre of romantic poetry. Additionally, this could be an interesting book to use throughout the year for poetic inspiration. By reading poems from the current season, students could gain creative inspiration in their own writing process. I would like to use this in a unit where I ask students to write poetry. I’m thinking that I’d like students to emulate different poetic genres and this would be a great anchor text for students to latch onto.


Hesse, K. (1997). Out of the dust. New York: Scholastic Press.

This novel, written in verse, is about the young Billie Jo during the dust bowl in Oklahoma. Told from the perspective of Billie Jo, who misses her mother who has passed away, Billie Jo brings the naïve perspective of a young girl who has faced adversity that most adults have not experienced. Karen Hesse successfully conveys Billie Jo’s story in verse, which is a phenomenal way for teachers to introduce students to the power of poetry.

This book is both emotionally gripping and includes complex rhetorical moves that students can use to analyze the author’s craft. I can use this book when analyzing the construction of poetry. I think this would be an effective introduction into the poetry unit because it is gripping for students and there are ample author craft moves to analyze. This would be a helpful book in a content area literacy unit, a poetry unit, or a history unit on westward exploration. It would be a great piece to use when collaborating with other teachers in a grade level team.


Murphy, J. (2003). An American plague: the true and terrifying story of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. New York: Clarion Books.

This is a non-fiction chapter book published by Scholastic highlighting the Yellow Fever epidemic. It is a research-based report that includes primary and secondary sources. This would be useful for middle school students to look at when learning about becoming an effective researcher. It would also bee helpful when learning about primary sources and how to distinguish a primary source from a secondary source. Finally, the integration of the primary sources could be looked at to assess how an author integrates primary and secondary sources.

You could use this book to help students both understand research questions on a state-mandated test and on Common Core aligned questions. The text features in this book are phenomenal, particularly because of the sheer number of primary sources included. This topic is particularly effective for middle school students because it talks about massive sickness and the negative ramifications of the sickness. Therefore, this is an effective text to teach a challenging standard through an engaging topic.

Potenza , A. (2014, March 17). 21st century slavery: Millions of people around the world are living as modern day slaves including in the U.S. The New York Times Upfront, 146(10).

This article is included in Upfornt Magazine, which is an imprint of The New York Times. The article is specifically about modern day slaves in the United States. Middle school students are generally fascinated by slavery and particularly what slavery looks like today. The article focuses on sex trafficking and begins by providing the context of slavery throughout the world. Finally, the article highlights products that are often made with slave labor, which is also an effective hook to engage students in the content.

We’ve been making the transition to Common Core over the spring semester and this type of non-fiction article is extremely effective in analyzing craft moves. The students could effectively analyze how the author developed the central idea and how the different text features contributed to the central idea. I can specifically imagine reading this text in tandem with a text like Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I think a current non-fiction text like this one would be interesting to compare to a prolific and historic text.

Rochelle, B. (1993). Witnesses to freedom: young people who fought for civil rights. New York: Lodestar Books.

This book is a historical account of the young people in the south who fought in the civil rights movement. It is broken into chapters about the major events that occurred during the Civil Rights movement. Each chapter also profiles young people who were involved in specific events that took place during the Civil Rights movement. The anecdotes provide an interesting narrative history of the Civil Rights Movement. Finally, the book also includes a multitude of primary sources about the Civil Rights movement. The photos included in the book tell the story of the young people involved and their journey towards equality.

This book would be useful to situate in a Civil Rights unit. The anecdotes could be spiraled into a creative writing unit where students are writing narrative fiction about the Civil Rights movements. This book could also be used in conjunction with a textbook to highlight specific anecdotes from the Civil Rights movement that would be easier for students to latch onto.

Rutstedler, Nancy. (2013). Pay it Forward Kids: Small Acts, Big Change. Boston: Fitzhenry and Whiteside.          

This book highlights how students can utilize small acts of kindness to make a big difference in the world. For each small act of kindness, a young person who has made an impact in their community is highlighted. There are several examples of how the small act of kindness manifested for a particular community in addition to steps and information about how a student could complete a service-learning project. It is both an inspiring and practical guide to facilitating change.

I would use this book for students who are involved in student council, community development, or character education. At my school, we spend a lot of time talking about our core eight values, which are our pillars of strong character. Using these examples of kids doing big things to change the world would certainly inspire my students and help them to realize that they can have a positive impact in their community. The layout of the book is student friendly. You could even copy a chapter from the book to hand out to students when talking about different core values or elements of community development.

Weatherford, C. B., & Lagarrigue, J. (2005). Freedom on the menu: the Greensboro sit-ins. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

This book is about the Greensboro sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement. It is told from the perspective of an eight-year-old who watched the lunch counter sit-ins. It is a historical fiction account and includes primary sources throughout. Yet, it is also a picture book, and there are beautiful watercolor and pastel paintings of the lunch counter sit-ins. The end of the book includes a short commentary about the actual historical events and explains how Connie’s (the main character) story relates to the sit-in movement.

I could use this book when working on a content area literacy unit. I imagine it would be in a creative writing unit, where we would be working on historical fiction personal narratives. It would be interesting to work with a history or social studies teacher on the historical perspective and focus on the craft of writing historical fiction in a writing class. You could also use this book as a key text in conjunction with an art class where students would be working on constructing a piece of fiction while illustrating their writing in an art class.



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