Reading Books Not Written for Educators

A MiddleWeb Blog

I read a lot. This year my goal is 80 books. My ultimate goal? Make the time in my life to read two books a week. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it!

As a librarian and now a principal, I encourage our students to I read a wide variety of genres. At any given time, I generally have four books going:

  1. A novel that’s just for me (I love horror, science fiction, and humor genres best!).
  2. A novel that is targeted to the middle grades.
  3. An audiobook (for when I’m housecleaning or walking or driving).
  4. A professional book (I like to write reviews for MiddleWeb – you know they give you FREE books, right?!?! Amazing.)

Of course I also read a ton of picture books (what a treat), but I don’t count them toward my goal. My goal is more focused on longer forms.

Great Books for Teachers and Building My Street Cred

In a 2018 post for MiddleWeb I shared my list of 10 Books To Keep Teachers At the Top of Their Game. I stand by those selections, though I would have to add my own book, Working Hard, Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom to that list. It’s my magnum opus. If you read it, message me so we can talk.

I don’t tell you these things to brag. The truth is I spend inordinate amounts of time on my hammock or couch just reading, it’s more a sign of my physical laziness than my intellectual prowess.

I tell you this to buy some street cred of sorts because below I am going to recommend more books to you. These are books that were not written for educators. That notwithstanding, they are the best books for educators I’ve read in recent years.

I hope one or two of them look interesting and that you’ll find time to read or listen. When you do, reach out here in the comments or on Twitter. I would love to hear your thoughts and also about any books you think should be added to the list.

Best Books for Teachers That Weren’t Written for Teachers

The Decision: Overcoming Today’s BS for Tomorrow’s Success by Kevin Hart

I love all of Kevin Hart’s books. This somewhat fractured twist on a self-help book is audio only – but, listening to Kevin’s advice is a great use of your time. He calls the listening experience a “Mental Fitness Boot Camp” and cusses his way through a series of lessons on how to meet goals all the while dropping “truth nuggets.”

I like this book for teachers because it validated much of what I have always felt to be true about goal-setting and growth mindset. Also, it’s FUNNY! Teachers, we need to laugh as much as possible, laughter is part of self-care.

How Not to Get Shot and Other Advice from White People by D.L. Hughley

Hughley, like Kevin Hart, has stand-up comic as the first entry on his resume. Also like Hart, he is wicked-smart and has his finger on the pulse of the American heartbeat. This farce offers “advice,” in short, really funny snippets, on how to deal with racism.

The “advice” draws into the light the systemic racism African Americans face every day and the absurdity of White society’s response to the oppression. I laughed a ton and learned a ton with Hughley. Be advised, however, this man can swear a blue streak and does not pull punches.

Big Nate: The Boy With the Biggest Head in the World by Lincoln Pierce

This is the most recent book in the “books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid” genre that I have read. I loved it because it was funny (if this seems like a trend, it’s not. The next books are not funny). Any Big Nate, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Timmy Failure will do, really.

The reason I recommend these books is two-fold. Middle grade kids consistently like them and knowing what they like means places to begin conversations. Two, for me, they allow a glimpse into the day-in-day-out experiences and feelings many middle grade kiddos have in school.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

This book tells the heart-wrenching story of a mother and her son, who are forced to leave Mexico and join the many who head north seeking refuge from drug wars. Though there was some controversy about this book, I found it to be a page-turner and a mind-changer.

For me, and many other fans of Oprah’s Book Club, it allowed access to the intimate stories that detail the what, why, and how of immigration to America. Even months after reading this book, I find my mind wandering back to the characters and hoping they are doing well in the neverland of the pages not yet written.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Owens’ story of a girl who grows up on the edges of civilization, on an ocean filled with opportunities for learning, not only is beautifully written but is packed with some powerful lessons for teachers too. The main character is whip-smart and well-educated, though she has had little more than a couple of days of formal schooling.

As I read this book, it served as a visceral reminder to not judge folks based on how many years of college they have had. There are parents in my community who’ve not had much more than 10th grade, but they are smart and capable, and vastly more knowledgeable than me about many things, just as the gal who grew up where the crawdads sing.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

All three of these novels were wonderful quick trips into the psyches of tweens and teens. The first, Head Full of Ghosts, was really scary (and it’s hard to scare me), so be warned. It tells the story of a teenaged girl who may or may not be possessed by a demon.

The second and third books are about tweens who in dealing with various traumas find themselves face-to-face with monsters. All three helped me understand some of the complex emotions our students encounter as they walk into the dawn of impending adulthood. Not only that, they are all fabulously fun to read.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

Another gut-wrencher of a book here. Backderf wrote this graphic novel memoir about his experiences with his friend, Jeffrey Dahmer (yes, that Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial murderer) when they were in high school. Like many educators, I’ve had students who I deeply worry about, and when I hear the narratives of people who do really bad things, I often wonder how no one caught them early enough to meet their social-emotional and mental health needs.

This book shows that there were many early warning signs and offers a glimmer of hope that if they had been recognized (or are for the next truly sick child), Dahmer might have walked a different path. I want that different path for my students. It was interesting to think about my role in helping them find it.

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

I not only recommend this nonfiction book to every teacher but to every American. The story it tells about the role of class and race in shaping the nation such that there are clear winners and losers is spellbinding. Isenberg helps us analyze the oft-spoken ideals that we live in “the land of the free” where there is “justice for all” and we can “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.”

Turns out the playing field is way less even than I thought, and the system was built so it would be. For teachers hoping to make a difference and continue to grow an America that actually fits the dream, it is an important read – a book so overflowing with learning that you, like me, might actually feel your brain growing.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

In narrative nonfiction, Desmond exposes the hard reality for low income renters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. If you serve homeless children or those with fragile rental situations in your school, this book will be a wake-up call about just how hard some of their lives are.

Portrayed in rich color and excellent prose, the book introduces you to families from all backgrounds, who, no matter how hard they try, cannot climb that ladder of success. It is a really tough book to read, and I shed some tears, but better to cry in knowledge than smile in ignorance if we, as teachers, are to help our students live their best lives.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This short book is incredible and truly a must-read for educators. Coates tells the story of systematic racism in America through the lens of a father (Coates) writing a letter to his son. I learned more about what it means to live in a racist nation and how my white privilege plays out in the lives of others in the pages of this book than in all of my life before. Not only that. Coates is a literary genius and every sentence was woven into a tight and beautiful poem.

What Do You Recommend?

My list is just the tip of the iceberg! I know that many educators are like me and that just about everything we read is filtered through the lens of the work we do. I would love to know what you’ve read recently that wasn’t for teachers, but could have been. Please share in the comments!

Rita Platt is a principal and NBCT in Wisconsin and recently received a leadership award from the Kohl Foundation. Her first book, Working Hard, Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom, is a Routledge/MiddleWeb publication. It’s a quick read, filled with practical ideas about creating a learning culture in your classroom and school (see this review by Anne Anderson). MiddleWeb readers receive a 20% discount at the Routledge site with the code MWEB1.

Rita Platt

Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a National Board Certified Teacher and a self-proclaimed #edudork with master’s degrees in reading, library, and leadership. Her experience includes teaching learners in remote Alaskan villages, inner cities, and rural communities. She currently is a school principal, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute and writes for We Teach We Learn. Rita's first book,Working Hard, Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom (Routledge/MiddleWeb), was published in July 2019.

4 Responses

  1. Regie Routman says:

    A great reading list, Rita. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Sunday Cummins says:

    Such a great list! Thanks for inspiring me!!!

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