Check out our weekly suggestions!
Are your students looking for book recommendations?
Send them to browse through the picks for this or past years.
For the picks from 2022 click here
For the picks from 2021 click here
For the picks from 2020 click here.
For older picks click from 2019 click here.
For the even older picks click here.
Jeffrey S. Kaplan, PhD, is Associate Professor Emeritus in the School of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership in the College of Education and Human Performance, University of Central Florida, Orlando and Senior Adjunct Professor/Chair/Methodologist for College of Doctoral Studies, Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Arizona. His research interests include the teaching of reading and writing, and specifically the teaching of young adult literature across the curriculum. Dr. Kaplan is Past President of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (2012-13), a division of the National Council Teachers of English and the co-editor of Teaching Young Adult Literature Today: Insights, Considerations and Perspectives for the Classroom Teacher (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012, 2016) and Chair (2014-2017), National Council Teachers of English Standing Committee Against Censorship. He can be reached at Jeffrey.Kaplan@ucf.edu
In the 70s, when Ronald Reagan ran for President (1981 – 1989), the central question was not his politics – it was his divorce.
President Reagan had been married once before – to movie star Jane Wyman in the 1940s (1940 – 1949) and the burning issue on the American public’s mind was – can a divorced American become President of the United States?
The issue seems quaint now – considering what we know about the personal lives of past and current presidents – but at the time, the notion of a divorced politician was jarring – to say the least. Men and women – especially, those in elected office – were to be the epitome of American goodness – and anything in one’s background to blemish that image – was considered suspect – if not downright, immoral.
And as a kid, I never knew anyone in my neighborhood whose parents were divorced – and the discussion was never broached by friends and neighbors who would gossip frequently about what was going on in the house next door.
Times have changed, though.
And thank goodness for that.
We are more open and honest about our feelings – with ourselves and with each other – and how, society readily accepts the notion of divorce – and divorced parents – and other parental arrangements – such as single parenting, domestic partnerships, and interracial marriages.
Still, divorce is never easy. For couples, divorce is a painful reminder that life is not perfect – and sometimes, separation is the only answer. And for children and adolescents, seeing parents separate – and living in separate households – can be quite traumatic.
Middle schooler Jen’s parents are divorced and now Jen’s mom is living with her boyfriend, Walter, on a farm in upstate New York. Trouble is – besides that her parents are separated and living miles apart – is that Jen is a city girl – and could not feel more uncomfortable and out-of-place than living among mud and animals.
And if tending to farm chores were not bad enough, Jen must deal with her not only her mother’s aloof boyfriend Walter, but his bossy obnoxious older daughter, Andy, as well.
Andy visits on weekends and together, with Andy’s younger sisters, Jen and Andy annoy, bicker, and admonish each other. Yet, like all good stories, they eventually reconcile – blossoming into a caring and genuine friendship.
What makes this tale extra special – especially for adolescent readers –is this is a graphic novel. In colorful, vivid drawings – reminiscent of Raina Telegemeir’s graphic novels for young readers – Lucy Knisley manages to capture the joy and pain of adolescence. Through the help of caring adults, Jen slowly recognizes that ‘things’ change, and sometimes, we must let ourselves live in the moment and learn to accept what life brings – no matter how painful and unsettling our new lives become.
The Wondrous Wonders by Camille Jourdy (First Second, 2022)
Middle schooler Jo is frustrated. She is tired of being thought of as a ‘brat’ – and on a camping trip with her dad and her new stepmom and stepsisters, Jan decides to run away. Now, this sounds like a typical adolescent drama – one that involves anxious parents and eager search parties – until this graphic novel enters a fantastical universe filled with bright colors and talking animals.
Yes, fantasy is what comes next – as Jo encounters one out of this world creature after another – all at war with each other – and eager to win ownership of what they believe rightly belongs to them. The story is truly outlandish – and told in a vivid-pastel colored universe – but the moral is simple - that there are worse things in life than divorce – and that living in fear of one’s own life is one of them.
In a more realistic vein, Isabella, 11-year-old daughter of a white mother and a Black father, is feeling pigeon-holed and stereotyped by her neighbor’s assumptions about her. Is she white? Is she Black? Is she both? Does it really matter?
Things get worse, though, when her parents suddenly – almost, unexpectedly - divorce and like most kids, Isabella finds herself shuffled between two homes. Not knowing whether she is coming or going, she grows more and more frustrated as she feels like a ping pong ball between two warring parents.
“What about me? What about my needs?” Isabella finally implores both to herself and aloud – as she grapples with living in two worlds – where parents are more concerned about their needs – then the immediate needs of their child.
Coupling Isabella’ struggles with school troubles – where racism raises its ugly head – as her best friend, a Black girl, finds a noose hanging in her school locker – and Draper makes this story compelling and real - about the pain of not only fitting in emotionally – but racially, as well. Fortunately, a sensitive English teacher comes to the rescue, making life tolerable for both girls – as she instills her lessons with thoughtful lessons about empathy, inclusion, and race.
Sharon Draper, like she always does, gives us much to ponder – the concept of identity, separation, divorce, and adolescent angst – all appropriate for not only middle school readers, - but for parents and adults as well.
For 11-year-old Miguel and his little sister, Juanita, their move from New York to Vermont is sparked not by a desire for new adventures, but by the impetus of divorce. Miguel and Juanita’s parents, Mami and Papi are in the process of getting a divorce, and now, Mami has moved the two of them to rural Vermont – uprooting not only their city lives, but their very existence.
Their mother, Mami, though, makes life even more miserable – by inviting a Mary Poppin’s character to live with them – and perhaps, to ease the pain of this painful transition and separation. Direct from the Dominican Republic, their Aunt Tia Lola arrives with a flowered carpetbag, a pinata, and an overabundance of good cheer and friendly advice – but young Miguel wants nothing of it.
Frustrated that his world has been upended – all Miguel wants to do is return to ‘normal’. Miguel wants nothing to do with Tia Lola’s babysitting charms, colorful personality, and broken English. Miguel wants instead for ‘things to be the way they were’. With the help of Aunt Tia, Miguel, though, slowly realizes that difficult transitions – are just that – and sometimes, - new relationships and perhaps, by a whimsical and ‘magical’ aunt, can make life just a little bit better.
Mum, Dad, Can You Hear Me? An Emotional Story of a Child’s Overcoming Her Parents’ Divorce by Despina Mavridou, Illustrated by Korina Marnelaki (Yearling, 2002)
Finally, there is 10-year-old Irene whose parents are divorcing – and in her anger, loneliness, and confusion, she turns to her diary to express her frustrations. With the help of her grandmother and stuffed animals, Irene struggles to make her parents listen to her – as she tries to verbalize what she is feeling – and how her feelings impact her world.
Told through the eyes of a pre-teen, this emotional story provides insight into the minds of children and adolescents who face the uncertainty that accompanies their parents separating. Additionally, this plain-spoken and heartfelt all-too common story of parental strife and emotional bereavement will help all young people recognize that they are not alone – and that caring, listening, and healing will help reconcile seemingly insurmountable troubles.
No book can make life better – but for young people, who often think that they are the only person in the world who is going through ‘what they are going’ – a good book can often be just the tonic to soothe an aching heart – or at the very least, make them realize that they are not alone.
To be sure, there are many problems in the world – and teachers and students are often the first to confront these issues daily in their classes – making it imperative that teachers (and parents) have access to resources that young people can easily read and digest. For such reading, lives are changed.
As is often said, “The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world.” A good book can do the same.
Enjoy reading, friends!
Until next week,