• Megan Snedeker

40 of the Most Important Books to Have in Your Classroom Library

I think it's important to offer the most varied, student-friendly classroom library we, as educators, can. A lot of students hate reading because they've never been able to read things that actually relate to them. A lot of the books they read don't have characters that look like them - whether those are racial differences, sexual differences, or whatever else.

A lot of the books in my list need to be taken with a bit of caution, based on your school district and community. Many of the books (even those outside of the LGBT section) include LGBT themes. Many include racial themes. I think these books are important to have available to your students, but their content could be a point of contention in different communities, so keep that in mind!

At the end, I have a section just for Graphic Novels, because (personally) I think any sort of reading is still reading, and I actively encourage reading Graphic Novels in students. The ones I listed have strong themes, like gender, race, etc, but are more accessible to students who might be wary about reading. If you don't have any graphic novels in your classroom, I highly recommend you include some!

LGBT Books

1. Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Allre Saenz

This book, even as a 22-year old woman, still holds my heart. I love it. I fell in love with the characters, their relationships, their youth and the ways growing up hurt so much. Honestly, even if you don't like the idea of having LGBT-themed books in your classroom library, please include this one. It discusses growing up Hispanic, it looks at identity, family, and just being a young person trying to figure things out.

Other Themes: Family, Race, Growing Up and Coming of Age, Identity, Fitting In, and Expectations

2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Orlando is all about gender, and the complexity and fluidity of gender and sex and identity. For a lot of your students, it might be a bit hard to read with its lyrical, strange nature and its "dated" language, but for students with an interest in gender and gender fluidity, they'll want to stick it out. It follows a main male protagonist, named Orlando, who one day just... is a woman. The novel looks at feminism, bisexuality, queerness, and gender.

Other Themes: Feminism, Class, Love

3. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

This story is an anthem for young lesbian girls, and focuses on coming-of-age and loving who you want to love. Through the novel, Molly is undeniably and unapologetically herself. She's loud and bold and refuses to change just because society wants her to, and is a great motif for young girls (especially those struggling with sex and gender) to cling to.

Other Themes: Family, Growing Up, Identity, Being Yourself, Independence, Feminism

4. Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Niru, son to conservative Nigerian parents living in Washington D.C., is a model student and son. He's a track star and has his sights set on Harvard. The only issue is that he's gay, which he kept secret for awhile. However, one day Niru's father discovers the truth, and this story follows the aftermath of Niru's outing. It explores the dark side of identity, where your society isn't that understanding, and is raw and beautiful in its honest portrayal of LGBT life for many young people, especially young men.

Other Themes: Race, Family, Friendship, Identity, Growing Up, Sexism

5. Paper is White by Hilary Zaid

Ellen Margolis is excited to finally marry her girlfriend, but feels she can't go through with it until she tells her grandmother. Her grandmother, however, is dead.

This novel looks at the two women's path to queer marriage, the struggles of being truthful, and the ramifications of the Holocaust (as well as what being queer during the Holocaust meant).

Other Themes: Race and Religion, History, Family, Honesty, Identity, Equality, Feminism

6. Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristen Elizabeth Clark

This is a beautiful coming-of-age story about being transgender. The last time Jess saw her father, she was a boy. Now, a recent high school graduate, she decides she has unfinished business with her father and plans a road trip across the country to visit him at his wedding.

Together with her friend Chunk, Jess learns about herself, her future, and being a young woman on her road trip to infinity.

Other Themes: Relationships, Family, Identity, Friendship, Body

7. Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews

Another book that looks at being a transgender teen, Some Assembly Required takes a brutally honest look at the gender reassignment process for teens and the sort of lashback that often occurs for young tans people. The memoir urges readers to remember that self-acceptance doesn't come ready-made or with an all-inclusive manual; there will always be some assembly required.

Other Topics: Family, Love, Coming-of-Age, Self Acceptance, Change, Mental Health, Discrimination

8. It's Not Like It's a Secret by Misa Suiura

This beautiful story follows Sana, a teenage girl with a lot of secrets (like most teens). A lot of these are small, but then there are the big ones. Her dad might be having an affair, and she might just have a crush on her female best friend. When she moves states, Sana is forced to come to terms with her sexuality when she meets Jamie. In her story, she learns that telling the truth is just one part of the challenge, the rest of it comes after.

Other Topics: Race, Family, Honesty, Relationships and Love, Friendship, Identity

9. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

This is another book I beg you to have in your classroom. It's so much more than LGBT, so much more than a book really. This is a beautiful whirlwind of life pressed between the pages of a book. It follows two twins and the way life draws them together and pushes them apart. Each half of their story is told by a respective twin at different parts of their life, coming together to tell one full, beautiful story about love, family, and life.

Other Topics: Family, Friendship, Coming-of-Age, Identity, Togetherness, Life, Sexuality, Gender

10. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

This has become a sort of staple of teen LGBT-positive reading, and for good reasons. Simon is happily closeted, preferring to save his drama for theater, but a turn of events brings his sexuality into the forefront of his concerns, especially after he meets a confusing guy that he can't keep his mind off of.

Simon's story is all about 21st Century love and coming out queer in a world not fully ready to accept love as love.

Other Topics: Family, School, Relationships, First Love, Coming Out, Pressure

11. The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

This story follows young, trans Leo. And school is going fine for Leo, no one knows he's trans and no one bothers him. That all changes when Leo accidentally gets the attention of one of the school's most attractive girls. Just as Leo's life is getting to be a lot more than he bargained for, he meets another student who is trans and is preparing to openly transition. Together, the two learn a lot about themselves, their gender, and the art of being normal.

Other Topics: Friendship, Love, Relationships, Bullying, Family, Self-Discovery and Identity

Mental Health Books

1. 10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

Maeve has struggled with anxiety her whole life; she's heard all of the advice "keep calm", "think positive" but (unsurprisingly) it isn't something she can just talk herself out of.

Unexpectedly, Maeve learns she'll be spending six months in Vancouver with her dad, her pregnant step-mom, and a whole slew of new worries she didn't have before. In the middle of it all, she meets a girl who seems to be her antithesis: calm, steady, and self-assured.

Other Topics: LGBT, Family, Friendship, Identity, Growing Up, Change

2. Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

When Suzette comes home from boarding school, life isn't as easy as it had once been. She feels tied to L.A. again, where her friends and crush are, and more importantly her brother who has been recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

But as she settles into her new life, she finds herself unexpectedly crushing on someone new: the same girl her brother is. Forced to battle these conflicting feelings, Suzette also has to help her brother as he spirals further out of control.

Other Topics: Family, LGBT, Friendship, Love, Identity

3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

This is a deeply authentic look at depression in a dry-witted, lyrical novel about womanhood.

The Bell Jar looks at depression and feminism, and what it means to be a woman growing up in a world where one has to decide what sort of woman they're going to be, and which one is correct. It's short, sharp, and lyrical.

Other Topics: Gender, Sexism, Feminism, Growing Up, Friendship, Pressure, Sexuality

4. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Aza's mind spirals out of control when all she wants to do is be a good daughter, good student, good friend, good everything.

Anxiety is such a common issue facing young people and it's never spoken about, but the way Aza opens up in this novel about her own battles with her mind are absolutely touching for those who face their own mental demons.

Other Topics: Friendship, Family, Growing Up, Identity

5. Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Caitlin's best friend committed suicide. Caitlin has no one and has no idea where to go from there, until she finds a journal left behind for her.

Readers get to travel with Caitlin as she goes on a journey of self-discovery and identity while learning to cope in a world that keeps moving when all she wants to do is hold still. Through the novel she learns about herself, her lost friend, and makes new friendships and loves.

Other Topics: Suicide, Friendship, Identity, Relationships, Love, Family

6. Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mim, a spunky, outspoken girl, is forced to move with her father and new stepmom after the collapse of their once nuclear family. However, when she learns of an illness plaguing her mother back in her old state, Mim doesn't hesitate to hop on a Greyhound bus and begin a 1,000 mile journey of self-discovery.

She meets an amazing cast of characters in her journey, meets parts of herself she never expected to, and learns what exactly it means to be sane.

Other Topics: Family, Self-Discovery, Identity

7. A World Without You by Beth Revis

Bo always believed he could travel back in time. His concerned parents send him to a school for troubled youth, and Bo realizes he must have been sent to a school for other kids with powers like his. He falls in love with Sofia in this school, but she ends up committing suicide.

Bo, however, doesn't think she's dead. He believes she's stuck somewhere in time, and he has to find her. As he tries to save his lost love, he must either face his demons head on or succumb to a world of psychosis that lets him be with her again.

Other Topics: Love, Friendships, Family, Self-Discovery, Identity

8. Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Mira is depressed. Her parents don't understand, and send her off to a new school with the expectation that she'll act like "a functioning human" this time around.

Jeremy is painfully shy, and on an imposed isolation as a result of an incident in his other school.

Sebby seems to carry the sun with him. He and Mira live in a world of impromptu road trips and magic rituals to mask the darker parts of their lives Jeremy realizes they keep hidden to survive.

Other Topics: Friendship, Family

9. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Lia and Cassie are wintergirls, frozen in fragile bodies. They were at competition to see who could be the thinnest, and Cassie won the contest, but lost her life in the process. Lia is left behind, forced to face the guilt and loneliness of losing her best friend.

Wintergirls watches Lia's attempts at recovery, discoveries of herself, and the struggles she faces trying to move on and grasp a little hope.

Other Topics: Body Image, Grief, Friendship, Self-Discovery, Recovery

10. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Samantha looks like every other girl in her school, well the girls who fit in at least. However, under the painstakingly applied mask of normacy, Sam has OCD and every part of her daily life is a struggle accompanied with second-guesses and crippling self-doubt.

Soon, she meets Caroline and is introduced to a world of misfits that she desperately wants to belong to, but has to keep it hidden from her "cooler" friends.

Other Topics: Friendship, First Love, Identity, Poetry and Writing

11. Paperweight by Meg Hatson

Stevie is trapped in an eating-disorder treatment facility and trapped in a body she can't seem to love. The facility is a nightmare come true, with nurses watching her at meals, escorting her to the bathroom, and trying to challenge her to eat the foods she spent so long trying to avoid. However, Stevie won't be there long. There are only 27 days until the anniversary of brother's death (a death she's convinced she caused), and only 27 days until she, too, will end her life.

Other Topics: Grief, Family, Relationships, Body Image, Identity, Suicide

Books About Race

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This might be an obvious suggestion, but it wouldn't have felt right leaving it off the list.

Starr's life was already a struggle as she balanced her urban home life with her preppy school life, but things get even harder when she witnesses a shooting of her unarmed friend by a police officer. The community goes into an uproar, some calling him a thug, others protesting the police. Only Starr can answer what really went down that night, but she risks her community and her life in opening up.

Other Topics: Family, Community, Friendships, Honesty

2. Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce is a good kid and tries hard to be one. None of that matters to the cop who puts him in handcuffs, however.

He leaves his rough neighborhood behind, but can't escape the hostility of his new life. Nowhere left to turn, Justyce turns to a journal to Martin Luther King Jr. to make sense of his new world.

Other Topics: Family, Friendships, Identity, Self-Acceptance, Societal Pressures

3. You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

Julia, an Indian-American in a school for the deaf, finds a slur scrawled across the wall of the school directed at her best friend. She covers it with a beautiful, but unfortunately illegal, graffiti mural.

Ratted out by her supposed best friend, Julia's two mothers send her to a new school, and she has to learn to cope with growing up the only way she knows how - through her art.

Other Topics: Friendship, Family, LGBT, Art and Expression, Identity, Differently Abled

4. The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Things/People Margot Hates:

  • Mami, for destroying her social life

  • Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal

  • Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal

  • The supermarket

  • Everyone else

Margot finds herself stuck working in the family supermarket after "borrowing" her father's credit card for a new wardrobe and having to learn from her mistakes, or choose to forego those life lessons in favor of a prepschool beach party.

Other Topics: Family, Identity

5. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop. Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. She has to learn to swallow her grief and find her place.

Other Topics: Family, Grief, Identity, Body Image

6. The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Hoping to raise money for a post-graduation trip to London, Asha Jamison and her best friend Carey decide to sell T-shirts promoting the Latte Rebellion, a club that raises awareness of mixed-race students.

But seemingly overnight, their "cause" goes viral and the T-shirts become a nationwide social movement. As new chapters spring up from coast to coast, Asha realizes that her simple marketing plan has taken on a life of its own―and it's starting to ruin hers.

Other Topics: Identity, Friendship, Family, Reputation, Ambitions

7. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

Other Topics: Love, Friendship, Family, Fate

8. Something In Between by Melissa de la Cruz

Jasmine de los Santos has always done what’s expected of her. She’s studied hard, made her Filipino immigrant parents proud and is ready to reap the rewards in the form of a full college scholarship to the school of her dreams.

And then everything shatters. Her parents are forced to reveal the truth: their visas expired years ago. Her entire family is illegal. That means no scholarships, maybe no college at all and the very real threat of deportation.

Other Topics: Love, Family, Self-Discovery, Identity

Growing Up Books

1. It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Determined to succeed at life—which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job—Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does.  That’s when things start to get crazy.

At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn't brilliant compared to the other kids; he’s just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable and Craig stops eating and sleeping—until, one night, he nearly kills himself.

Other Topics: Mental Health, Friendships, Self-Discovery

2. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Everyone says that it was an accident... that sometimes things "just happen". But Suzy won't believe it. Ever. After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory--even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy's achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe...and the potential for love and hope right next door.

Other Topics: Friendship, Grief, Family

3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

This novel chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Other Topics: Race, Family, Identity, Self-Acceptance, Society

4. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

The García sisters—Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofía—and their family must flee their home in the Dominican Republic after their father’s role in an attempt to overthrow a tyrannical dictator is discovered. In the wild and wondrous and not always welcoming U.S.A., their parents try to hold on to their old days, but the girls try find new lives: by forgetting their Spanish, by straightening their hair and wearing fringed bell bottoms. For them, it is at once liberating and excruciating to be caught between the old world and the new.

Other Topics: Family, Friendship, Identity, Self-Discovery and Acceptance

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

Other Topics: Family, Friendships, Self-Discovery, Grief, Love

6. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Maybe an odd pick, but this fantasy adventure of young Sophia (who was cursed to look like an old woman) and the strange man named Howl that takes her in, is a light, magical read that is all about learning about others and learning about herself.

It's fun, adventurous, and all about growing up.

Other Topics: Friendship, Adventure, Self-Discovery, Acceptance, Body Image

7. Holes by Louis Sachar

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep.

Other Topics: Friendship, Relationships, Family, Self-Discovery, Adventure

8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Other Topics: Race, Sexism, Bullying

9. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he's got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends—true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is beating up on “greasers” like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect—until the night someone takes things too far.

Other Topics: Friendship, Family, Diversity

10. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath's sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can't let go. She doesn't want to. Now that they're going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn't want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She's got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Other Topics: Love, Friendship, Family, Identity

Graphic Novels

1. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescense, the denouement is swift, graphic -- and redemptive.

Other Topics: LGBT, Family, Identity

2. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

This is more of a "just for fun" read.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are.

3. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. One of the local teens is caught up in something bad... Something life threatening.

It's a summer of secrets, and sorrow, and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

Other Topics: Friendship, Family, Self-Discovery

4. In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wnag

Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It's a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It's a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer -- a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players. Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward than on the surface.

Other Topics: Hobby, Self-Identity, Friendship

5. Little Fish: A Memoir From a Different Kind of Year by Ramsey Beyer

Told through real-life journals, collages, lists, and drawings, this coming-of-age story illustrates the transformation of an eighteen-year-old girl from a small-town teenager into an independent, city-dwelling college student. Written in an autobiographical style with beautiful artwork, Little Fish shows the challenges of being a young person facing the world on your own for the very first time and the unease - as well as excitement - that comes along with that challenge.

Other Topics: Growing Up, Independence, Self-Discovery

6. Tomboy by Liz Prince

Growing up, Liz Prince wasn't a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or playing Pretty Pretty princess like the other girls in her neighborhood. But she wasn't exactly one of the guys either, as she quickly learned when her Little League baseball coach exiled her to the outfield instead of letting her take the pitcher's mound. Liz was somewhere in the middle, and Tomboy is the story of her struggle to find the place where she belonged.

Other Topics: Gender, Growing Up, Identity, Self-Discovery

7. I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina

Alfonso Jones can't wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school's hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.

When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he's on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings. Meanwhile, Alfonso's family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.

Other Topics: Race, Identity, Grief, Friendship, Family

What did you think of this list? Any books on here that you loved? What suggestions would you want to add yourself?

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