Best Young Adult Books from Goodreads

Some things I considered before commenting:

  • How relevant are the themes of the book to the lives of my students?
  • Is the reading level of the book too high for my students?
  • Has there been (or will there be) a movie done on the book?
  • Does the book appeal to both girls and boys

5 The Giver (The Giver #1) The Giver (The Giver #1)  by Lois Lowry – I like the fact that it is a science fiction tale taking place in the future. Science fiction is a great platform to use when introducing students to societal issues. Similarly, I also like the fact that it explores the idea of a utopian society, and as a result, exposes some of the flaws in the world we live in (e.g. the environment, medicine, laws, etc.). I currently teach this book as part of a unit on peer pressure. With that said, I do not love this book, and feel that there are other books on this list that are better. I found the diction that the author uses to be forced and over-thought in some areas. I found the main character Jonas to be forgettable. In my opinion, the book loses momentum when it should gain it. This occurs while Jonas is in training with the Giver, and learns about pain, love, and happiness. I would recommend watching the film, Pleasantville to help gain back some of that momentum, and flesh out some of the themes in The Giver.
9 To Kill a Mockingbird To Kill a Mockingbird  by Harper Lee – I have to admit that the vocabulary in the book still scares me. I find the reading level to be too high for middle school students. I also feel like reading the whole book would take too much time. I would recommend using this book for a book club, and with students who express interest in reading it. With that said, I would be in favor of using this book with 10th-12th grade students. The character development is top-notch. Atticus, Scout and Boo Radley are immortal. There are so many memorable scenes. The issues are relevant and enduring, and there are so many directions you can take with the book. It is a classic, and for good reason.
13 The Hobbit The Hobbit  by J.R.R. Tolkien – I loved reading The Hobbit as a child, and still do. However, this book does not contain any strong female characters. Yes, there are giant spiders, giant wolf-like creature, goblins, and a dragon, but I fear that my students would lose interest among all the tall trees and muddy swamps and rustic settings of Middle Earth. Many of them have never even been outside of New York City. Tolkien’s writing resists being Victorian in style, but just by a few decades.
32 Stargirl (Stargirl, #1) Stargirl (Stargirl, #1)  by Jerry Spinelli – I would put Spinelli up there with Walter Dean Myers in his ability to communicate to a modern audience. Students literally tear through books written by these authors. Stargirl, the character, is unforgettable. Spinelli is a special talent. I would definitely use his book with middle school as well as high school students. His language is very accessible, both boys and girls would enjoy reading this book.
39 Island of the Blue Dolphins... Island of the Blue Dolphins  by Scott O’Dell – Read this book for the first time this semester. There is much to keep my students interested from this book. They will like the fact that the protagonist is a girl, and that she is put in the middle of a survival tale. In my opinion, Karana’s connection to the natural world will appeal to students in a way that The Hobbit probably will not.
49 Lord of the Flies Lord of the Flies  by William Golding – In the same way that the vocabulary of To Kill A Mockingbird might be too advanced for my population, the same might apply to Lord of the Flies. However, the plot of the story is so compelling, and the story is short enough, that I believe the students will be able to manage the vocabulary. Yes, there are no female characters in the book, but the book would work just as well if the males were substituted with females. The reason for this is that the conflicts in the story applies universally to both sexes. How will kids behave when adults aren’t watching? How will people behave, when there is no one around to police them? Girl or boy, it makes no difference. I might not try this book with 6th, or even 7th grade readers, but I would definitely use with 8th grade and above.   
50  Hatchet (Brian's Saga, #1) Hatchet (Brian’s Saga, #1)  by Gary Paulsen – In terms of being a survival story, I preferred Island of the Blue Dolphins and Lord of the Flies. With that said, Hatchet is more accessible to 6th and 7th graders because of its vocabulary. In addition to being stranded in the Canadian wilderness, the main character of the story, Brian, also struggles emotionally with his parents’ divorce. Divorce is definitely a relevant topic for my students. It is a simple and straightforward tale that students should have little trouble analyzing and discussing, especially when trying to consider the heroic qualities that Brian possesses.
73 Walk Two Moons Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech – This is easily an important book because it deals with the loss of a family member. It is also valuable because it is successful in creating a sense of wonder about the vastness of America. The characters are well-developed. The language that Grams uses is memorable and quotable. The reader learns a little about Indian history and culture. The book is sophisticated and modern in the way that it successfully and cohesively interweaves three plotlines. This book is good and solid literature for people of all ages.
90 The Absolutely True Diary o... The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – This book was a revelation. It was easily the funniest book I have read maybe in the last few years. It was funny often in a tragi-comic way, which I like. This is a book that students will flock to not only for its humor but because they will be able to identify with the Indian plight. The reservation is a prison without bars, and the same can be said of the “hood.” The hero of the story, Junior, has so many shortcomings, but overcomes those shortcomings like a champion. This is the one book I would recommend without exception to everyone I know. It is an inspiration.
92 The Graveyard Book The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Vintage Gaiman. I was reminded of three books while reading this: Books of Magic, Sandman: The Doll’s House, Sandman: Seasons of Mist. Similar to the Harry Potter story, the hero of Books of Magic is identified as potentially being a messianic figure in the world of magic. He could be the next Merlin. However, he could also turn out to be the anti-Christ. A number of powerful wizards and sorcerers are sent to protect and guide him. He faces many dangers and makes mistakes along the way. Many of the same things can be said of the main character of The Graveyard Book, Bod. Bod is also a messianic figure as well. His guardians however are ghosts, vampires and werewolves. Much of Sandman: The Doll’s House takes place at a convention for serial killers. One of the serial killers is a non-human killer called the Corinthian who wants the main character, Morpheus, dead. The villains of The Graveyard Book are part of a mysterious organization called the Jacks of All Trades. They often meet at conventions that seem benign on the surface, but are sinister in nature. Finally, Sandman: Seasons of Mist is a tale about how Lucifer, aka Satan, abdicates his dominion over hell. Lucifer chooses to leave ownership of hell to the main character, Morpheus. In Graveyard Book, Bod is tricked into traveling into the underworld of Ghulheim. His escape from Ghulheim depends on the assistance of one of his guardians, Miss Lupescu. Beyond this, students would love the story because even though Bod has plenty of helpers along the way, he must confront and defeat very dangerous men who are trying to kill him. In order to defeat the Jacks of All Trades, Bod must use his smarts, and some very unique abilities.
















Stealing from the Star Wars Aficionados

Old Republic 1

The Star Wars Expanded Universe

Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU) generally refers to “all of the officially licensed, fictional material of the Star Wars franchise, outside of the six feature films, and Star Wars Rebels TV series produced by George Lucas.” They include graphic novels like Star Wars: Dark Empire, and Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi, and video games like, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Star Wars: Old Republic to name a few. Suffice to say, the Star Wars Expanded Universe is aptly named.

YouTube Clip: The Star Wars Expanded Universe: Past, Present, and Future


Kit Fisto v Plo Koon


The VERSUS Series

With so many offshoots to the original movies, a certain segment of the Star Wars fanbase has not only begun creating various YouTube videos exploring this universe, they have further expanded on its lore. Aficionados like Jensaarai1, Reti4, Antoine Bandele, and EvanNova95 have created the Star Wars “VERSUS” series. As the name suggests, an aficionado will hypothesize who would win in a fight. The characters may come from different storylines (e.g. Ahsoka Tano (from Clone Wars the animated series) vs. Galen Marek (from Force Unleashed video game) by EvanNova95), or even fight on the same side (e.g. Yoda vs. Mace Windu by Reti4).

YouTube Clip: Versus Series: Kit Fisto Vs Obi-Wan Kenobi 


Seven Forms

EU Scholars

What makes these videos so impressive is the level of research that has been put into analyzing each character. These hypothetical battles are rarely under fifteen minutes, and some are over an hour. Impressive, when considering the average film is around two and a half hours in length. Indeed, watching one VERSUS video is like attending a college level course given by an EU professor.

YouTube Clip: Lightsaber Combat Descriptions: Soresu


Satele Shan

Presentation is Important

Beyond their scholarship, the VERSUS creators also know their way around a computer. It might just be a case of finding, or buying, the appropriate software (which I have yet to do), but what is involved in the process is using an application that is able to combine an author’s voice, background music, and visuals. The visuals are usually slideshows of various images from the EU, but some VERSUS creators have improved their video by incorporating film clips.

YouTube Clip: Old Republic: Hope


Top 10 Jedi

Beyond Versus

In addition to the VERSUS series, VERSUS creators have also been creating top ten lists. Again, the research that is put into these lists is prodigious. Choices are all supported with lots of evidence, and inferences made and conclusions drawn are believable.

YouTube Clip: Star Wars Top 10 Underrated Jedi


Part Time IndianThe Graveyard Book

Disreputable History


What does all this have to do with book reports?

It comes as no surprise to find that “geeks” are leading the way. Teachers can definitely take a page or two out of YouTube videos like the Star Wars VERSUS Series. My original plan was to create my own top 10 (in my case, 5) list using Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. My search led me to applications like Hokusai, Recorder Plus, and AvFX, but this particular search came up empty. I’m sure that with a little more persistence, the right application will surface.

Top 10 lists are great to use in an English Language Arts class for a number of reasons. First, the top ten list is just another way of saying, “graphic organizer.” They can be used during the pre-writing or brainstorming activity of the writing process. As such, lists allow students to assess different parts of a text with a focus in mind. Much like the VERSUS series creators, students would have to qualify their top ten choices with evidence from the text. This would require that students finish the text in order to find the evidence. Students could be encouraged to come up with VERSUS series and Top 10 list topics of their own. Doing so requires that students use critical thinking skills. With regard to presenting the VERSUS series and Top 10 Lists (and once I figure out how to do it myself), teachers will be able to infuse a current, relevant medium that students can use outside of the classroom.

Here are some possible VERSUS and Top 10s I’ve considered, drawing from texts that we’ve read together in this course:

  1. Top 5 funniest moment in …Part Time Indian
  2. Top 5 saddest moments in …Part Time Indian
  3. 10 songs Junior/Rowdy/Gordy/Penelope (from …Part Time Indian) would have on his/her ITunes playlist
  4. Top 5 reasons Bod (from The Graveyard Book) needed to leave the Graveyard
  5. Silas vs. Jack Frost (from The Graveyard Book)
  6. Silas vs. Miss Lupescu (from The Graveyard Book)
  7. The Ghouls vs. The Sleer (from The Graveyard Book)
  8. Matt vs. Alpha (from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks)
  9. Matt vs. Porter (from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks)
  10. Top 5 pranks played in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks





The Road Trip & Walk Two Moons

Little Miss Sunshine trailer:



Going Native


Thelma & Louise

Rain Man






The term, coming of age, generally refers to a time when a child matures into adulthood. However, in literature, this term has less to do with a physical growth, and more with an emotional and/or intellectual maturity. This maturity is often marked by a moment of clarity in which the hero becomes aware of a certain truth about his/her life. This newfound awareness ultimately affects the decisions the hero makes bringing the hero closer to a more self-actualized individual.

Coming of age stories often take the shape of a physical journey where the hero must physically travel from one destination to another before the maturity is realized. Enter the road trip, a term that has in recent times been used to describe such journeys. Stories involving road trips have become commonplace in American pop culture pervading every genre of literature and film. Young Adult (YA) literature is no exception to this trend, and Walk Two Moons by author Sharon Creech is a perfect example.

Walk Two Moons

In 1995, Walk Two Moons won the Newbery Medal, the United Kingdom Reading Association Award, and the United Kingdom’s Children’s Book Award. In 1996, it received the WH Smith Mind-Boggling Book Award. In 1997, it also won the Literaturhaus Award, Austria, and the Young Adult Sequoyah Award .


Sharon Creech, author of Walk Two Moons

Sharon Creech, author of Walk Two Moons


On her official website [ ] Creech describes how as a kid she often took road trips with a very “noisy” and “rowdy” family of seven to states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Idaho. It was during a five-day trip to Idaho, in fact, that the seed for Walk Two Moons was planted. In the story, Lewiston, Idaho, would become the final stop for the main character, a twelve year old girl named Sal (short for Salamanca) (Interestingly, Sal was also the name of the main character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, another story involving a road trip). More importantly, it would also be the place where Sal finally comes face-to-face with a certain truth about her life.

The road trip that Sal takes begins in Euclid, Ohio, and works its way across several states including Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and finally, Idaho. Since she is still too young to drive on her own, Sal’s grandparents, Gram and Gramps Hiddle, accompany Sal. Sal is on this trip to pay a visit to her mom, Sugar, who has for the past two years been on a journey of her own.


The map below tracks the course Gram, Gramps and Sal took in the story.

Euclid to Lewiston


Each day of their journey, the trio visits a familiar destination for tourists. These destinations provide the backdrop for the real drama taking place, the excitement and anxiety that is building up within Sal.


Lake Michigan

DAY 1: Gram, Gramps and Sal stop at Lake Michigan to get their feet wet.

Lake Michigan Surfers – Who needs oceans when lakes, particularly the Great Lakes, will do just fine?!?! Link:


Wisconsin Dells

DAY 2: The trio make a stop at the popular tourist spot, Wisconsin Dells, where they watch a group of Native Americans perform a dance. Grams’ great grandmother was a Seneca Indian (Or is it Native American?).

Politically Correct?: Even though it might be politically correct to use the term, Native American, to refer to the tribes that lived on this land before European settlers came, you might want to ask someone from one of the remaining tribes what they think. The characters of Sal and Grams preferred the term, Indian.

Do You Prefer to be Called Native American or Indian? Link:



Pipestone National Monument

DAY 3: Sal tries her first peace pipe at Pipestone National Monument. As the name suggests, the stone that is quarried at the park is used to produce the peace pipes that the area is best known for.



It is on Day 4 of their journey that the reader glimpses the first real conflict and mishap of the story. While getting their feet wet to cool off in the Missouri River, and while in South Dakota, a teenage boy tries to rob Sal and her grandparents of their money and belongings. It is during this robbing that Gram is bitten by a water moccasin, a poisonous snake.

Documentary about the water moccasin (aka the cottonmouth). You can fast forward to minute 6 to learn how the Indians used the water moccasin against American soldiers as a tactic of war. Link:




DAY 5: The Badlands of South Dakota

Mount Rushmore

Grams, Gramps & Sal also drive through the Black Hills in South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore


Rushmore Butts

…however, when they consider that Mount Rushmore was sculpted in the heart of one of the most sacred Indian grounds in all the country, they can barely look. Driving by the monument becomes more of a slap in the face, or like being shown the backsides of four men.



"It looks like an upsidey-down waterfall!" says Gram.

DAY 6: Old Faithful geyser”It looks like an upsidey-down waterfall!” says Gram. “HUZZA! HUZZA!”

Old Faithful Video. Link:




Day 7: Glacier National Park – Coeur dAlene – Grams becomes seriously ill at this point in the trip. Gramps stays behind, and gives Sal (who is still only 13 years old) the keys to his car.

Glacier National Park. Link:



Sal finds her mother Sugar in Longwood, Idaho, but not in the way you might imagine. She also learns an important lesson about life and loss.



Top 15 Favorite YA-Books-Turned-Movies

I know some will read this, and feel a bit reluctant to consider teaching a novel with a popular movie easily available for all students to watch and replace with reading, but I think if administered correctly, these could be really great picks and an important list to browse. I have a student this year with extreme dyslexia and mental processing disorders. It is an enormous challenge for her to comprehend what she is reading, so if I can find a film that stays true to the novel, it is a great way to help her understand the written content. We can go slow, compare scenes, and even compare mediums. If she is already familiar with the plot, reading the words might be a bit easier and open her up to reading more books and being comfortable with them. I hope it works, and will keep everyone posted. Has anyone ever tried this method with your SPED kids before? If so, I’d love to know how it went, or any ideas and suggestions you may have.



Fortunately, About Milk by Neil Gaiman book trailer

This is a great book that so many of my eighth grade students loved. I’m on a big Neil Gaiman kick lately, just finished American Gods, and I love how his young adult work connect to the same themes in his adult books. This trailer also helps students to see the author speak on behalf of his own book. The book contains a mix of exciting characters such as aliens, pirates, dinosaurs and wumpires, also a never-adequately-explained-bowl-of-piranhas, not to mention a Volcano God. Gaiman mixes fantasy with important essential questions that jog young adult imaginations. It also creates amazing class discussion and debate.


-Caitlyn Pezza