I recently asked my eleventh grade AP Language and Composition students to share with each other their “favorite” books from the school year. I explained to them that they didn’t have to choose just one, and they didn’t have to pick the top book of the year if they couldn’t decide. They just had to list some favorites. They were happy to oblige!
The variety of topics and genres was a lot of fun to see on the list.
Some of the nonfiction that was popular wasn’t necessarily a surprise. I’ve loved some of these titles, too.
I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks last summer and loved it so much that I bought four copies for my classroom library. I thought it was a great book for many reasons – it appeals to students who love science, history, ethics, and great writing. Several of my students have read it this year, and it made the list of favorite books.
One of my students read Inventing Human Rights during the first half of the year, and she’s still not over it. She went on to read A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because she was feeling inspired.
Another one of the titles that I have heard several students talk about this school year is Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex.
Because of their interest and thoughtful conversation about this book, I ordered a copy of Orenstein’s new book, Boys and Sex for next year’s new classroom library books.
My students aren’t just reading nonfiction, even though that is the primary focus of AP Lang.
Congo and The Firm are some classic thrillers that some students have nearly inhaled, they’ve read them so quickly. All the Missing Girls is a more current well-loved title, and it’s not just a thriller; it’s written so the timeline is backwards, which makes it a bit more complicated to follow, and I love that my students are tackling this kind of challenge.
Another work of fiction that doesn’t ever seem to be on my shelf – it’s always checked out – is Crazy Rich Asians. I made sure to order another copy as well as the rest of the trilogy, so next year I’ll have some happy students.
There are quite a few titles that have made the list of favorites, and most of them are from my classroom library rather than our main school library. I truly believe that the immediacy of availability along with the daily book talks are what have made these books interesting and intriguing enough to my students that they try them out, take them home, and declare them as favorites.
Immediacy of availability along with awareness of their existence, plus the expectation and option of student choice become a powerful combination. Authentic readers like wildly different texts sometimes, and other times love the same titles, but are ready for them at different times. The poster with the titles is helpful for this because students can find recommendations as they are ready for them, and can choose their own timing.
The fact that sixteen and seventeen-year-old students have favorite titles makes me happy. The fact that these titles are smart, thoughtful, and challenging is even better.
Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for more than twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, four in Amman, Jordan, and the most recent school years in Managua, Nicaragua.
Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie