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In Your Words

What three books should students read before graduating?

No one has captured the timeless thoughts and feelings of teenagers better than J.D. Salinger in Catcher in the Rye. My students are amazed that a novel written 59 years ago is so accurate, insightful, and enjoyable.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is an inspirational book about Dr. Paul Farmer, a physician who brings quality medical care to the most impoverished areas of the world. It helps students realize that caring for and about others is our highest calling.

Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya is required reading for my “Poverty and Privilege” unit. Set in rural India, it’s about how strong marriage and family ties can overcome poverty, illness, and disaster.

After reading it, many of my students rethink their ideas about love, belonging, and human relationships.

David Archibald-Seiffer Boise, Idaho

Last year our district motto was “I Can.” What better book to illustrate this concept than The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. Right before my second graders take our Mad Minute Math quizzes, we chant, “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I will.”

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is a beautiful story of an endearing friendship and the fragility of life. I have been reading this book to my students almost every year before school ends, just as my first-grade teacher did back in 1965.

The Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham reminds children to be open to new experiences, to be willing to try new things, and to think outside the box. Also, that was the first book I read on my own!

Susan Bratta, Berwyn, Illinois

I’d recommend three poems—The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, If by Rudyard Kipling, and What Is Success? by Ralph Waldo Emerson. They contain nuggets of wisdom that will help students prepare for future challenges. Word for word, these poems speak volumes.

June Pattinian Utecht, Monroe, Connecticut

I’m a teacher educator, so I’ll recommend books for teachers “graduating” with their initial license, starting with The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. His poetic prose is hauntingly eloquent and his message as inspiring as anything you can find. Teachers should read these essays again and again just to touch beauty and remind themselves of the transcendent elements of life itself.

Spitwad Sutras: Classroom Teaching as Sublime Vocation, by Robert Inchausti, is my favorite “coming of age” teacher story. It’s filled with perennial wisdom and reminds teachers of the nobility of their calling.

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is a classic tale that bridges the worlds of children and adults. Teachers should read it when they feel stranded and need a reminder of the glorious minds of their students.

Geoffrey Scheurman, River Falls, Wisconsin

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is written from a young girl’s perspective and deals with the realities many of our kids face today. It’s a story of poverty, alcoholism, racism, sexual promiscuity, poor medical care, and the struggle of immigrant life in the ghettos of early 20th century New York. Despite everything, the young heroine is inspired by her teacher to become a writer and succeed.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit has beautiful language and description, and is a wonderful way to bring up the issue of immortality and the dilemmas it might pose. It allows kids to discuss and explore their personal beliefs.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls should be read for its lessons of love, loyalty, hard work, and perseverance.

Mark Galipeau, Rohnert Park, California


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