Great Books to Teach Voice
brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodsen
This beautifully poignant book in verse captured my heart. I was swept away in the beauty of Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical memories. This is a book that will embrace readers, wrapping them in Woodson’s childhood in the stormy 1960s. I couldn’t help but read and reread portions of the text–for every few pages that I read, I needed to flip back and relive the beauty of the previous verses. I will cherish this book, reading it again and again, for every word feels intentional and every memory vivid. brown girl dreaming is timeless, and it is universal. Above all, this book will give readers insight–unfolding the experiences of a “brown” child living during the heat of the civil rights movement; a young girl growing up in a house that identifies as Jehovah’s Witnesses; and a young writer, struggling to find the perfect words to reveal the truth. Woodsen’s voice will touch the hearts of readers of all backgrounds and ages in its messages of family, friendship, strength, and hope.
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
This book captures depression and anxiety in a way that is both authentic and heart-wrenching at the same time. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book to give James a big hug. Similarly to It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, this book employs humor without detracting from the very realness of James’ struggles with loneliness and isolation. Teens (and adults) will find themselves in James because he is depicted in a sympathetic way that is very human. This novel is brilliant.
X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
Most texts are written about Malcolm Little’s later life, but this book encapsulates his early years—this restless young man is dissatisfied with his circumstances and attempts to make a name for himself. He does not always make the best choices, but he learns from his many mistakes, and his strong voice and powerful spirit will inspire readers. I will be using this book in my Methods classes because it begs for discussion. Malcolm has a lot to teach us.
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
Girls Like Us is a novel that begins with high school graduation as Quincy and Biddy transition from their high school special-ed classroom to real life. The story is told in both Quincy and Biddy’s voice, so the reader is able to get to know both girls through their own thoughts and words. What I love specifically about this book is that it is an authentic look into a problem that is not often talked about and is definitely not in many YA novels. Quincy and Biddy are like so many high schoolers who leave their homes and their schools each year to somehow go figure it all out without any assistance that they were used to. Their voices are so authentic and distinct, and they give a voice to many who are not often heard from.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Crossover‘s verse format definitely helps in creating Josh Bell’s voice. Through his poems, you hear his rhythm, rhyme–his swag. As you read, you hear Josh (aka Filthy McNasty) in his head because the poetry helps you hear the cadence and inflection of his voice. He is so real and easy to connect to. I see parts of Josh in so many of my students, and I loved him through the entire book (even if he is a bit cocky).
Winger by Andrew Smith
If any author out there in YA today gets teenage boys’ voices correct, it is Andrew Smith. Within Winger, Ryan Dean’s voice rings true as a 14-year-old at a boarding school whose only focuses are drawing, fitting in, and particular young lady. Filled with humor and truths, Winger gets into the mind of Ryan Dean West and lets you in on his most intimate secrets.
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