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49 Books to Help You Get Ready for Back to School

Illustration of five children and a dog exploring a storybook page

Kerri Brown Parker, director of the NC State College of Education’s Media and Education Technology Resource Center (METRC), curated two lists of book recommendations for summer reading to jump start back to school preparations. The first focuses on culturally diverse texts that resonate and move young readers, as well as increase their social-emotional learning. These books can be used either for K-12 students in your classroom or added to your own bookshelf at home. The second list includes recently published works related to education that will add to your professional development.

What is your summer reading plan? Maybe you spent June relaxing with some beach reads and are now ready to “get serious” about reading. I just finished the most recent Stephen King novel; and while King’s books have had a re-birth with middle school and high school students after the movie IT, it’s time for me to get back to true young adult, elementary and professional books. So I’ve jumped into the world of YA with The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue and The Hate U Give.

In selecting books to read, I look for what moves kids to read or moves and changes kids after they’ve read a text. As educators, it’s important to keep up with professional texts and also to know the children’s and young adult literature that can impact who our students become as well as help them learn about the world. The “classics” of professional education and children’s literature can be endlessly debated, so this list focuses on more recently published works (within the last two years) that are making an impact on education and on students. We have also elected to focus the children’s books selections to those that speak to empathy and social-emotional learning as an important part of the complete education of our students. —Kerri Brown Parker, Director of METRC

Books Promoting Cultural Diversity and Empathy in Young Readers

Middle Grades & Young Adult:

  • Refugee by Alan Gratz
  • Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • Train I Ride by Paul Mosier
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang  
  • A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold and Charles Santoso
  • Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
  • Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
  • Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
  • Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley
  • Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
  • The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • Patina by Jason Reynolds
  • Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
  • The Stars Beneath our Feet by David Barclay Moore
  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Picture Books:

  • My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett
  • You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel
  • A Day with Yayah by Nicola I. Campbell and Julie Flett
  • When We Were Alone by David Robertson and Julie Flett
  • Love by Matt de La Pena and Loren Long
  • A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui
  • Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix
    by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter and Stacy Innerst
  • Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes
  • Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds
  • We’re all Wonders by R.J. Palacio
  • Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
  • My Night in the Planetarium by Innosanto Nagara
  • Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt
  • Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • Stella Brings the Family: A Tale of Two Dads on Mother’s Day by Miriam B. Schiffer
  • Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

14 Books That Will Help You Grow as an Educator

  • Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child by Pernille Ripp
  • For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta L. Hammond
  • Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World by Asi Burak
  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
  • Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for Change: Data-Driven Strategies for Overcoming Student Poverty and Adversity in the Classroom to Increase Student Success by Eric Jensen
  • Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall
  • Excellence Through Equity: Five Principles of Courageous Leadership to Guide Achievement for Every Student by Alan M. Blankstein, Pedro Noguera, and Lorena Kelly
  • Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes. by Jimmy Casas
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst
  • What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America by Ted Dintersmith
  • The EduProtocol Field Guide: 16 Student-Centered Lesson Frames for Infinite Learning Possibilities by Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo