Ten Restful Books to Get Your Imagination Working Again This Summer

Every year seems to bring more demands upon teachers. We need to realign to the common core standards, remap our courses to eliminate overlap, differentiate our instruction, make our classroom more transparent, improve our relations with the constituency, define academic language, and many more things besides our overall task of teaching our students about all of God’s creation from a Christian perspective and caring deeply for each and every one of them to ensure their success. Sometimes the first thing necessary for you to do to be an excellent teacher is to rest and recharge your mind so that it can imagine and play once again, and what better way to do that than exploring some young adult fiction. Here are ten books (some of them are graphic novels—book-length stories told using the conventions of a comic book) featuring excellent and imaginative storytelling that will help you do just that.

  1. Kibuishi, Kazu, ed. Explorer: The Mystery Boxes. New York: Amulet, 2011. This collection of short graphic novel stories must have begun with a simple idea. Pair up some of the most imaginative authors with some of the most creative artists and ask them to write a short story that somehow involves a mysterious box. A third- or fourth-grader could enjoy this book. Adults seem to like the way it opens up worlds of wonder with stories that range from silly to serious. This is a good one to read on the first day of break. You can finish it in half an hour or less and will feel like you have accomplished something important. You might even be able to use it in your elementary, middle, or high school classroom.
  2. Chabon, Michael. Summerland. New York: Miramax, 2002. This amazing and wonderful book is stylistically magnificent—every single sentence is well written. Unfortunately, this is one of those books that is going to sound dumb as soon as I start to summarize the plot, so if you are smart (and trusting), you will go get the book and read it and not let me ruin it for you with this summary. Ethan, the worst player in the Little League of Clam Island, Washington, is the sort of outfielder that I was in middle school—looking at the clover and the sky and the bee buzzing by and never at the ball. He is so bad at hitting he usually just stands there, doesn’t swing, and hopes he will get a walk. Ethan gets scouted by strange fox-like beings who need him to save their dimension from this evil Loki-like creature. Along with his friends Jennifer T. (who is an amazing pitcher) and Thor Wingnut (who thinks he is an android), Ethan leaves our world on a quest to stop the evil guy from poisoning the well in the center of the universe. Sounds weird, I know, but the story is somehow believable enough that you care for the characters, even if you don’t like sports books. Excellent middle-school readers through high-school readers will like this—especially the quirky ones.
  3. Hicks, Faith Erin. Friends with Boys. New York: First Second Books, 2012. Maggie has been homeschooled her whole life and now is starting high school. She worries about finding friends and navigating the huge school building. Fortunately, her oldest brother, a likeable member of the theater group, is willing to show her around, as are her twin brothers (though they are usually too busy fighting with each other to be of much use). Maggie meets Lucy (a hyper, but likable kid) and her moody punk brother Alistaire and things seem to be going okay. Maggie’s other problem is that she is haunted by a ghost. This is a very good story appropriate for middle school and up featuring a group of kids who are not into drugs, drinking, or sex. The main themes include developing your own identity, learning how to be a friend, and standing up to what you fear. Oh, and this one is a graphic novel, too.
  4. Colfer, Eoin. The Supernaturalist. New York: Scholastic, 2004. For fans of Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, here is a different kind of dystopian novel. Cosmo Hill and his friend escape from the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys (where they earn their keep for volunteering to be subjects for testing potentially toxic products). After the escape, Cosmo is recued by Stephen, Mona, and Ditto, who are waging a guerrilla war against the Satellite City. This action-packed book raises interesting issues about our litigious society, what we are doing to our environment, and the trustworthiness of corporations who are all about the bottom line. High school students might enjoy this one, too.
  5. Eichler, Glenn, and Joe Infurnari. Mush: Sled Dogs with Issues New York: First Second Books, 2011. Very occasional vulgarities mean this one might not work out so well to use in class, but, depending on your sense of humor, you may enjoy reading this graphic novel about a dysfunctional group of sled dogs. Their personalities and problems may remind you of some people you know in your extended family, school, or church.
  6. Hamilton, Steve. The Lock Artist. New York: Minotaur Books, 2009. Fair warning: this one has a fair amount of vulgar language and some subtle references to sex, and might not be a good fit for your school. Underneath all that, though, is the story of a mute seventeen-year-old who, from a very young age, has been taught to pick locks, and now finds himself drawn into interactions with some scary people. He ends up meeting and falling in love with the daughter of a man he helped to rob, and communicates with her partly through the drawings he gives her. How can he escape his former life and all the guilt that goes with, in order to start a new life with the chance to get to know her better? Read and find out.
  7. Selznick, Brian. Wonderstruck. New York: Scholastic, 2011. Fans of The Invention of Hugo Cabret will love this one. It is not a sequel, but uses the same combination of sections of text and sections of images to tell two intertwined stories that connect past and present, the wilderness of the Gunflint Trail in Minnesota and the parks of New York City, and people who care of each other. It is a fine book, and, like Hugo Cabret, very encouraging to struggling readers who may never have experienced the joy of moving fairly quickly through a huge book. Excellent for your students from middle school on up.
  8. Wolitzer, Meg. The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman. New York: Dutton, 2011. Duncan Dorfman has a lot of strikes against him from the start. He is the new kid in his high school. He lives in an apartment with his single mother who works at the local Thriftee Mike’s Warehouse, where she purchases all his clothes, so he always looks dorky. In short, Duncan Dorfman is a hopeless nerd. Then two things happen to Duncan. First, he discovers that his left hand somehow has the ability to read print in total darkness; his mother does not seem surprised to learn he has this power, and she wants him not to tell anyone. Second, when Duncan is showing his only friend Andrew what he can do, an athletic bully-turned-Scrabble-addict named Carl who happens to be sitting at the next table overhears. Carl sees the possibilities of Duncan’s power in a game that involves drawing letters blindly from a bag, and before he knows what is happening, Duncan finds himself bullied into being Carl’s partner for the regional Scrabble tournament. The journey that follows involves Duncan wrestling with his conscience, meeting other nerds, and discovering some amazing things about himself that he didn’t know.
  9. Card, Orson S. Ender’s Game. New York: Tor, 1985. Chances are, you have read this one. This is an amazing story that has become a science fiction classic. Ender is a brilliant kid chosen to be trained as a military leader and to fight against an alien force that has its heart set on colonizing earth. His older brother was also recruited, but was found to be too heartless to be a good leader. His older sister was recruited, but found to be too empathetic to put the objective before the soldiers. And so Ender fights his way through bullies and an increasingly difficult series of strategic games to eventually accomplish the impossible. There is a movie version coming out in 2013 starring no less than Harrison Ford as Colonel Graf. Read it once more while you can still imagine the book in your head without a movie interpretation crowding out your own interpretation.
  10. Go to a local independent bookstore, explore for a while, then pick up a book that interests you. Chat with the owner as you check out, then go find a coffee shop. Read the first couple of chapters there. Take a deep breath. You are reading a book, restoring your brain and your heart, and starting the process of getting ready for another year of making a difference in God’s children’s lives.