I have tried to suggest less well-known books as avid readers have probably read the typical selections. The books below are all classics, all favorites of mine and well worth the read (and ensuing discussions). This is only the beginning of a list, and these are the ones that stick out for me:
- Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is as he put it, "a very tricky poem." It is about his walking in the woods, coming to a choice of two paths, and taking (what initially appeared to be) the road less traveled. It's a beautiful metaphor about life's choices where only later on you learn if the decisions made were the best ones.
- Billy Collins. Sailing Alone Around the Room. New York. Random House. 2001 and The Question About Angels. University of Pittsburgh Press. 1991 are two of my favorite books, but just about anything by Billy Collins is wonderfully thoughtful, provocative, and often full of energy.
- Karen Hesse. Out of the Dust. Scholastic Press. 1997 is a brilliantly written and orchestrated "verse novel" weaving poetry and story telling about a girl growing up in the Oklahoma dust bowl in the 1930's. Truly breath-taking!
- Esther Forbes Johnny Tremain. Houghton Mifflin (1943) tells the story of the Boston colonists' struggle towards independence as seen through the eyes of a young silver smith apprentice, Johnny, who meets Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock, Doctor Joseph Warren, James Otis, Sr., Governor Thomas Hutchinson, and Thomas Gage - to name a few. This book has also been referenced in two (at least) episodes of The Simpsons ("Whacking Day" and "Skinner's Sense of Snow") as well as in Family Guy.
- Baroness Emmuska Orczy The Scarlet Pimpernel Hutchinson Press (1905) - (originally a play) takes place during the Reign of Terror following the start of the French Revolution. There is intrigue, history and lovely twists of story and fate. I would read this first and then introduce Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities (which is a bit denser) but obviously a classic as well.
- Yoko Kawashima Watkins So Far From the Bamboo Grove Harper Teen (1986) is a semi-autobiographical book that takes place during the last days of World War II and Yoko and her family must flea their home in Nanam, northern Korea and end up, eventually in the United States. It is about how she must flee with a torn family as father and brother are separated early in the story. This book skirts some difficult (and often adult) issues, but is well worth the read and ensuing discussion.
- Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston Farewell to Manzanar Houghton Mifflin. (1973) is a story of a Japanese American family sent to an internment camp near San Pedro California during World War II. It describes the plight of loyal Japanese Americans who were confined during the war by their fellow citizens. Riveting and quite thought provoking.
- Laurence Yep. Dragonwings HarperCollins (1975) is about a young immigrant Chinese boy who immigrates to San Francisco in the early 20th century (living through the Great Earthquake). It is about he juggles the two worlds and cultures, fights discrimination, and how he and his father - inspired by the Wright brothers embark on an airplane project.
- Gene Luen Yang. American Born Chinese First Second Books (2006) is a brilliantly written and illustrated graphic novel that weaves three apparently unrelated stories together in an action-packed, humorous and poignant modern fable. The first story is about Jin Wang -a 'new kid' in school who finds he's the only Chinese-American student and desperately wants to fit in; the second is about the Monkey King an old Chinese fable; the third is about Chin-Kee, the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype who is ruining his cousin Danny's life.
- Nick Abadzis. Laika. First Second Books (2007). is a graphic novel about Laika, an abandoned runt of a puppy who becomes the Earth's first space traveler. The reader learns about and relates to Laika and her owners/care takers while reading about the space race from the Soviet perspective. I highly recommend reading this and then reading Homer Hickham's October Sky (the story of the 1950's space race from an American boy's perspective).
- Orson Scott Card. Ender's Game Tor Books (1975) is a series - all worth the effort. This is a science fiction classic with outstanding character development.
- Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy Ballantine Books (1995) This is a three book series. The first, The Golden Compass was made into a movie. The book is infinitely better. It does, however, touch on some mature topics including organized religion and the concept of the 'original sin'. My son, in 5th grade LOVED these books so much that when he found out they were based on John Milton's Paradise Lost he actually read the seventeenth century poem!
- Neil Gaimon The Graveyard Book Harper Collins (2008) is a lovely introduction to Gaimon for the younger reader. While it is about a boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard, it is warm, alive and really entertaining.
- Cornelia Funke, Inkheart. Scholastic, (2003) is about a girl whose father can read characters in and out of books. Despite the fact that this gets them into a lot of trouble, Meggie still wishes she had her father's talents.
- Joe Kelly I Kill Giants Image Comics (2008) is about a girl who plays dungeons and dragons and kills giants. It is incredibly moving as the reader must untangle what giants Barbara is actually killing. This is one of my favorite works - well worth the read for you and your kids.