Essential books for a school library
September 17, 2014 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Recently on my booklog I got asked the following: "Suppose you could recommend 100 books for a high school library (ages 14-18). What books would you want the librarian to buy, and why? (Fiction, non-fiction… whatever you think it important for teenagers to read.)" What would y'all recommend? Note that this is not a hypothetical exercise, but would be a list of recommendations for an actual school library.
posted by MartinWisse to Education (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

In which country?
posted by mareli at 5:33 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
posted by jbickers at 5:33 AM on September 17, 2014

Response by poster: In which country?

The United States.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:35 AM on September 17, 2014

Meditations -- Marcus Aurelius (make sure to get the translation by Maxwell Staniforth.)
posted by dancestoblue at 5:39 AM on September 17, 2014

Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
Dianna Wynne Jones
Ursula Le Guin
Jasper fforde
The Sprawl Trilogy - William Gibson
All of Douglas Adams
Sheri S Tepper (esp: Gate to Womens' Country, and Raising the Stones)
Guns Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
The Code Book - Simon Singh
posted by pompomtom at 5:42 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's awfully small library. It's unclear: are these books to add to an existing library if they don't already have one or will this be the whole library? Presumably this library is supplementing other existing resources (especially if it's the full library): how accessible are those other resources (e.g. public library) and what are their strengths and weaknesses in their collections for that age group?

In addition to those things they "should" read, get things that the students will read, especially those who might not otherwise read: graphic novels? resources related to their interests (in my day, that might have been skateboarding magazines or things like that, but I am old).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:44 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Terry Pratchett
Neil Gaiman
posted by pompomtom at 5:45 AM on September 17, 2014

In no particular order: The Bean Trees. Warriors Don't Cry. The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-time Indian. Angela's Ashes. The Perfect Storm. Coming of Age in Mississippi. Diary of Anne Frank.
posted by mareli at 5:46 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Phantom's Tollbooth - so wonderful. I read it when I was 9 and it transformed my sense of humour, and my propensity to pun (may or may not be desirable feature). Protagonist is bored child who hates to learn and eventually undergoes important journey of self discovery, etc, so, pertinent.

Cartoon History of the Universe - will be transformative for everyone, not just kids. Seriously one of the best and rigorous popular histories I've read (and I teach this stuff).

On the Meditations, my humble opinion is that the newer translation by Gregory Hays is much more readable, especially for teenagers (because he tries to write it in the spirit of Aurelius but in the prose and enunciation of today).
posted by idlethink at 5:47 AM on September 17, 2014

Peter Cameron's Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You would be my choice. My mother is a librarian, so anything I checked out or put on hold from the public library would inevitably cross her path, so for years I used my middle and high school libraries to discreetly read gay novels, and I'm incredibly thankful that my high school library had a small selection tucked away in a corner I could vanish into during lunch. Cameron's novel was not among my school libraries' stacks, but it's still one of the most honest accounts of young adulthood, gay or otherwise, I've read from an author decidedly uninterested in littering depictions of adolescence (and especially gay adolescence) with the sort of clichés and romance that made so many books foreign to me. A decent selection of minority literature is one of the most valuable things a school library can have, and Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You is one of the best gay young adult novels around.
posted by lunch at 5:53 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hunger Games
Looking for Alaska
The Hobbit
The Maze Runner
The Outsiders
Boy Meets Boy
posted by lyssabee at 5:56 AM on September 17, 2014

Grade 8 - Age 13-14

The Diary of a Young Girl - Frank, Anne
Bull Run – Fleischman, Paul
Call of the Wild – London, Jack
Count Karlstein – Pullman, Philip
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm – Farmer, Nancy
Favorite Greek Myths – Osborne, Mary Pope
One Bird – Mori, Hyoko
Watership Down – Adams, Richard
The Wright Brothers Freedman, Russell
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Twain, Mark
The Amber Spy Glass – Pullman, Phillip
Animal Farm – Orwell, George
Beyond the Myth: The Story of Joan of Arc – Brooks, Polly Schoyer
Bless Me, Ultima – Anaya, Rudolfo
From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun – Woodson, Jacqueline
Great Escapes of World War II – Sullivan, George
The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings – Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Outsiders – Hinton, S.E.
Scorpions –Myers, Walter Dean
To Kill a Mockingbird – Lee, Harper

Grade 9 - Age 14-15

All Quiet on the Western Front – Remarque
Black Like Me – Griffin
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee – Brown
Good Earth, The – Buck, Pearl
Great Expectations – Dickens, Charles
Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe – Poe, Edgar Allen
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – McCullers, Carson
Hound of the Baskervilles – Doyle, Arthur Conan
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Angelou, Maya
Iliad – Homer
Jane Eyre – Bronte, Charlotte
The Little Prince – Saint Exupery
Lord of the Flies – Golding
Nine Stories – Salinger, J.D.
Odyssey – Homer
The Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway, Ernest
A Separate Peace – Knowles
Slaughterhouse Five – Vonnegut, Kurt
The Yearling – Rawlings

Grade 10 - Age 15-16

Pride and Prejudice – Austen, Jane
A Man for All Seasons – Bolt, Robert
The Martian Chronicles – Bradbury, Ray
The Good Earth – Buck, Pearl S.
The Stranger – Camus, Albert
As I Lay Dying – Faulkner, William
Moby Dick ¬– Melville, Herman
Cry the Beloved Country – Paton, Alan
Frankenstein – Shelley, Mary
The Importance of Being Earnest – Wilde, Oscar
posted by maya at 6:07 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I was in high school I really latched onto Vonnegut. His writing hit that spot of despondency I felt as a teenager with the general "we're all sort of fucked because humanity is flawed" but turned it into something ok with the recurrent theme of "so let's be kind and make the best of it while we're here."

Slaughterhouse 5, Cat's Cradle, Mother Night, Welcome to the Monkey House
posted by phunniemee at 6:08 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Our Bodies, Ourselves is pretty important for teens. And/or Changing Bodies, Changing Lives.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:22 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Betsy-Tacy high school and early 20's books.
This Boy's Life
The Cider House Rules......
posted by brujita at 6:40 AM on September 17, 2014

"Dangerous Angels" (the Weetzie Bat books) by Francesca Lia Block was probably the most formative book that young teenage me picked up in a school library.
posted by skycrashesdown at 7:00 AM on September 17, 2014

Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce.
posted by thefang at 7:06 AM on September 17, 2014

As a teenager I felt like I had a lot of breadth available but not much depth, and very little practical stuff at a level of detail above a Wikipedia entry. I was sick to death of teen protagonist literature; I was reading Faulkner at home and thought it was neat.

So, I'd say college level textbooks in the sciences, psychology, literary theory, sociology, gender studies, government, and engineering, or popular books on fields you can major in that don't usually get seen in high school. Books on basic money management. Books on career choices; books with interviews with people in various careers. Our Bodies, Ourselves. I think the reason these books don't end up in high schools is because of how quickly they get dated, but I still wish I'd had access to them.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:55 AM on September 17, 2014

Best answer: Please reflect the demographics of the community you wish to serve (50% women authors, diverse backgrounds and viewpoints) and so not just American authors with a few British ones thrown in that were read in high school by the adults suggesting them (so far no one has suggested Sister Soulja or Eric Jerome Dickey I notice, or even Alice Walker). A lot of the above selections show a remarkable class and racial bias, which may be reflected in your student body, but may not. Is the goal to get books will read because they assigned them, books to morally educate them, books they want to read? You need to articulate a collection policy (which states the goals clearly) before you start collecting lists of random books.

This would be a great excercise in involving the community. Since they are ones ones to read the books, why not ask them. Teens have tonnes of opinions on books and love to shre them if adults would only listen. Source: school librarian for 20 years.
posted by saucysault at 7:59 AM on September 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also, is the Librarian asking for this list? It is rather rude to approach a professional with years of training and experience and hand them a list of books they "should" buy when they most likely have standards and policies that have been researched and a five or ten year plan in building their collection. If it is a new librarian they should be directed to professional resources to build a proper policy and then evaluate booklist for suitability within the policy framework.
posted by saucysault at 8:07 AM on September 17, 2014

Best answer: Please reflect the demographics of the community you wish to serve

Yep. If you were a library, you would have a set of policies and/or mission statement that would guide your purchases. 100 books is more of a bookshelf than a library. Which is fine, but I'd be getting different things for such a bookshelf than I would if I was picking 100 books for a larger collection. It seems like maybe you are seeking to supplement the existing collection? Which is a different exercise than starting from scratch. Unless I was the longtime librarian for this community, I'd be seeking out

- recommended lists for this age group - YALSA is a good place to start for this sort of thing
- local authors/illustrators/notable persons so that there are books that reflect the community (younger authors THE BEST)
- books from a variety of reading skill levels and at least a few hi-low readers for people who are not reading at grade level or books for reluctant readers, differing formats including fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels
- inclusive diverse backgrounds and viewpoints which would mean GLBT representation (books for trans teens), attention to gender diversity of my authors, Native American/First Nation representation, disability representation, racial and country-of-origin diversity, family type diversity (bigger deal for kids in school than in a larger public library), rural/urban diversity, etc. With 100 books you'd have to force some of this instead of presuming that some of it would arise just from having a trained professional managing the collection.
- something very very good that came out this year
- asking the actual young adults in the community what they want. People are more attached to the library if they feel like it is theirs. So putting together a teen council or whatever is a good thing to start with.

So, all that said, here are books that I think should be in a high school library, looking at filling imagined gaps

- House of Stairs
- American Born Chinese
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
- Empress of the World
- The earth, my butt, and other big round things
- Evil Genius/Genius Squad
- Pretty Monsters
- Shadowed Summer
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

It is rather rude to approach a professional with years of training and experience and hand them a list of books they "should" buy when they most likely have standards and policies that have been researched and a five or ten year plan in building their collection.

Seconding this. "How should I do this in a way that will lead to the outcomes that I want" is a very different question from "What are some good books"
posted by jessamyn at 8:22 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Black Boy and Native Son, both by Richard Wright.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 1:29 PM on September 17, 2014

The House on Mango Street
The Joy Luck Club
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
posted by brujita at 3:53 PM on September 17, 2014

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow.
posted by janey47 at 5:52 PM on September 17, 2014

For planning purposes, check out this book by a friend and distinguished scholar in the field.
posted by janey47 at 5:55 PM on September 17, 2014

True Grit by Charles Portis
posted by H21 at 6:46 PM on September 17, 2014

I just did something like this and have some of the same picks as above. This list is for high proficiency English language learners and older teen bilinguals. They asked me to make the list to add to the library, so I did it based on what I've read, some that my students have read and enjoyed, suggestions, and reviews. I did not add typical lit / canon titles like Gatsby, Charlotte's Web, Fahrenheit 451, Matilda (other Dahl), Salinger, etc. since I supposed the library already has most or all of those. The list is recent/pop YA.

50 books with ISBNs

Looking at the other answers, I looked back and I'm reasonably happy with the gender balance etc. but it does skew a bit male and SF/F.
posted by Gotanda at 9:24 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

If this is for an established school library, I would be very surprised if most of the books recommended here are not already in the collection. Twain, Wright, Melville, Heller, Vonnegut, Tolkien, Gaiman, Pratchett, Sherman, & all other classics new and old, along with current popular YA fiction will all be in collection. Plus, a lot of these recommendations are part of the curriculum/required reading in many schools.

I agree with saucysault & Jessamyn that it is insulting to assume that the librarian needs these recommendations to build the collection. In most states, you must be both a licensed classroom teacher and have an advanced certification/degree to be a school librarian. Middle school and high school librarians know their readers & the curriculum and buy to support both reading for pleasure & academics.

If you know the collection is weak/outdated in certain areas or that the budget needs to be supplemented, lists of books that might expand a collection in the areas Jessamyn suggests might be worthwhile, but creating a random list of books without knowledge of the current collection & its collection development policy isn't. You can ask the librarian what is needed or what kids are reading or what he/she needs for the library. The librarian will be happy to share that info with you.

You can use the suggestions here to create a list of what people think kids "should" read (most of which, it seems, was published in the last century), but please don't hand it to the librarian with the expectation the books be added to the collection.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 10:23 PM on September 17, 2014

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