Novels that teach timely lessons for today’s youth


I am such a lover of books. One of my favorite things to do is to curl up with a great book and a cup of my favorite tea. So, obviously, I want to pass on that love to my students.

I have written a few blog posts about my feelings on the importance of reading novels to your students regardless of their ability to comprehend all of the story. If you missed them, check these related posts here after you read this one and grab the free downloads.

  • Reading novels to a low incidence class <click HERE>
  • Not your average novel study <click HERE>
  • Why I don’t create adapted novels <click HERE>

I get so many requests for novel units from teachers who are discovering that reading the same novels their general education peers are using is not only possible but engaging for their students. Some of the requests lately have been from books I had never read before. And, as I dove into these new stories, I was amazed at how the subjects are so timely for experiences many of our kids are facing today. I applaud all the teachers out there who are leaving some of the classics behind in favor of titles that will not only get kids excited about reading, but allow them to connect on a more personal level. Let’s look at a few so you can see what I mean.


Restart, by Gordon Korman, was such a great book, especially for boys. It has football, athletes, jocks, and all those things middle school boys live for. It is a story about a boy, Chase, who was once the star quarterback and a truly terrifying bully. In short, he was NOT a nice person. Then, one night, he falls off the roof at his home and develops amnesia. All of a sudden, because Chase can’t remember the bully he once was and has a second chance to be a good guy. But, then he struggles with the memories of who he used to be as his memory slowly returns. Finally, he must come to grips with the reality of some pretty awful things he did before the accident, and how he treated other students and people in his community.

I love this book. First of all, because we need more books that appeal to boys, and this one definitely does. Second, it also takes a very honest and raw look at the devastating effects of bullying. Finally, the idea that it is never too late to start over, is so appealing that it makes you stop and think “what if I did something different starting tomorrow?” If you teach middle school, then absolutely put Restart on your reading list. ?????

Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan was another novel requested by a teacher, and I dove into it this summer. This is the story of a young girl, Esperanza, who was living a privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico. But after a family tragedy, Esperanza and her mother are forced to flee to California. This story takes place during the Great Depression, and Esperanza’s life of luxury is quickly replaced by one of a poor migrant worker. Her struggle to see herself in this new role and understand the change in her family’s status takes us into the darker world of migrant workers here in the United States. But, in the end, she learns what and who is really important and necessary to make a person happy.

I loved this book because I read it at a time when the news was filled with what felt like anger and hate for people not born here in the United States. It seems like we have forgotten how our country was literally built, on the backs of immigrants, many of whom were unwilling slaves. In this book, Esperanza has to face the reality that she is now an outsider and looked down upon by most people in the neighboring communities. Undoubtedly, you will have students in your class you are dealing with some of these same feelings. On top of that, the fact that the main character was a girl just made me feel even sadder and more discouraged at how we can treat people who are different. Again, if you teach middle school or even high school, and teaching about immigration is in your curriculum, Esperanza Rising is a great book to use to ease into this emotionally charged topic. ?????

The War with Grandpa

I actually just finished the novel unit for The War with Grandpa by Robert Kimmel Smith. This story, seemingly funny on the surface, takes a hard look at a common situation families are faced with today: having an aged parent (or grandparent) come and live with the family. Peter has to give up his room to his grandpa, and he is so upset about it, he declares war and engages in battles to try and force his grandpa to give up the bedroom.

How many of your students are finding themselves in this situation? An aging relative not only comes to live with them, but might actually end up taking over their bedroom. I think this is an important conversation to have, and one that may be easier for a kid to have with a teacher than a parent. I like how this story is good at identifying feelings. Yes, Peter says he feels really bad about the tricks he is playing on his grandpa, but, as Peter says,” this is war.” If you teach students in elementary or middle school The War with Grandpa is a good one to talk about some challenging family issues. ?????


So, I would be totally remiss if I did not talk about Wonder, by RJ Palacio. I got so many requests for this novel unit!! It is the perfect story to teach kindness to all students. Most of you know already, but if you don’t, Wonder is about a boy named Auggie, who has a significant facial deformity. He suffers through many surgeries and health problems, but finally enters the school system in fifth grade. His struggle to find acceptance and true friends is portrayed in a realistic way, that often makes your heart hurt. But, in the end, it all turns out okay with one of those tear jerking moments of triumph.

The edition I happened to get out of the library had a bonus section with a chapter from Julian’s, the antagonist, point of view. I found this chapter to be especially insightful because it shows you how you never know the struggles others may be facing. It also deals with the issue of a hidden disability. This chapter really gave a lot more depth and meaning to the story for me. I wrote a blog post about it with a bunch of extra activities you can download for free. Read it HERE. Wonder is a must read if you are looking to teach your students about kindness. ?????

Number the Stars

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is my last review for this post. This is the story of a young girl, Annemarie, living in Denmark during World War 2. Her fear and struggle with the imminent Nazi invasion, makes this novel a perfect companion to your social studies curriculum focusing on European history or World War 2.

The main reason I am including this novel, even though it may not feel timely, is that I wanted to make sure you knew you could get this COMPLETE novel unit for free in the resource library. So, if you are on the fence about doing a novel unit with your students, then here is a risk free way to try it out. Plus, it is a truly important story and one students will be able to identify with. ?????

If you have not joined the resource library yet, then click HERE to get the password. If you have, but did not know this was there, then click the Resource Library tab a the top of this page and look under the ELA section.

To access these novel units in my store, then click below:

  • Restart <click HERE>
  • Esperanza Rising <click HERE>
  • The War with Grandpa <click HERE>
  • Wonder <click HERE>
  • Number the Stars (in the library for free!! click HERE to get the password)


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