What books are Michigan teachers assigning?

The Detroit Free Press asked Michigan educators across the state about the books they’re assigning in class, and the significance of those books. Here’s how they answered: 

Mong Quynh Nguyen, 13, of Brownstown Township works on math Feb. 10 in Maryna Hedeen's English learning classroom. Hedeen is from Ukraine and was inspired to start a book club called Beyond Esperanza, looking to teach books that talk about the immigrant experience in America.

More:Demand is high from Michigan teachers for more window, mirror books: What they are

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

Name: Angela Maio

School: Covenant House Academy East, Detroit 

Why: “(It) gives perspective from African Americans in real-time situations on what some of our kids are seeing on social media. Must read.”

“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler

Name: Chris Jones

School: Success Virtual Learning Centers of Michigan

Why: “This is actually a short story: ‘Bloodchild’ by Octavia Butler. Although Ms. Butler wrote many great novels, this story seems to capture the attention and imagination of high school students.”

"The House on Mango Street," by Sandra Cisneros

“The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros

Name: Kim Sawyer

School: Edwardsburg Public Schools, Edwardsburg

Why: “‘The House on Mango Street’ by Sandra Cisneros is a poetic vignette with coming of age theme offering glimpses of insight, growing pains, triumph, understanding, and especially a love for family/community/self.” 

“We Are Water Protectors” by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade

Name: Nichole Biber

School: Robert L. Green Elementary School, East Lansing

Why: “I take care of the library at Robert L. Green Elementary School in East Lansing. For the children, I love to read ‘We Are Water Protectors,’ which was also last year’s Caldecott Winner. I so very much appreciate how this book places our indigenous traditions (I am a tribal citizen of the LTBB Odawa) as a contemporary reality, underscoring how our activism in defense of water and life is inseparable from our commitment to cultural and spiritual teachings and practices.” 

“I am enough” by Grace Byers

Name: Theresa Coleman

School: Not specified 

Why: “My favorite book to read is ‘I am enough’ by Grace Byers. This book is full of positive affirmations. It also sends the message of acceptance of others even if they are different than you are.” 

“Shades of Black” by Sandra and Myles Pinkney

Name: Janet Bohn,

School: Coleman Elementary School, Coleman

Why: “One of the reasons I love this picture book is that it helps children and myself discover that black is not black, it can be ivory all the way to ebony.  So that we can start the discussion that everyone has a different shade of color – be it hair, eyes, or skin.  I think it is a great beginner book. I also use it in my Kinder and first grade classroom.” 

“Bud, Not Buddy” by Christopher Paul Curtis

Name: Julie Brehmer

School: Literacy consultant with Michigan Department of Education

Why: “I love ‘Bud, Not Buddy’…The students thought it was so great that he’s a Michigan author!” 

“Amazing Grace” by Mary Hoffman

Name: Traci Elizabeth Teasley

School: Michigan Department of Education

Why: “I always read ‘Amazing Grace’ by Mary Hoffman to my first and third grade students to teach self-confidence and dispel stereotypes of what African American and young girls can do.” 

“When Stars are Scattered” by Victoria Jamieson

Name: Taylor Sandweg

School: Dearborn Public Schools, Dearborn

Why: “I am a fifth grade teacher in Dearborn. I have the bilingual fifth grade section, meaning all of the newcomers to the country, voluntary or refugee, come to my classroom. This year we were so fortunate to have been able to purchase several copies of and read ‘When Stars are Scattered’. This true story was near to everyone’s hearts for a few reasons.

One, the characters are Muslim and talk about Islam and say some Arabic words, which although the options are increasing, is still an underrepresented population in popular children’s literature. Two, the characters are refugees, fleeing a war in Somalia, which many of my students were able to relate to the war in Yemen, or their own refugee experience. And finally, it’s a graphic novel! I feel so fortunate that amazing, true stories such as this one are being written for kids.” 

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury and “Twelve Angry Men” a play by Reginald Rose

Name: Mark Palise

School: Dearborn High School, Dearborn

Why: “My seniors will be reading ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and ‘Twelve Angry Men. Why those books? Because they were written by a pair of prophets in the 50s and couldn’t be more relevant today.” 

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba was chosen for the 2022 Sarasota One Book, One Community program.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Name: Allison Wolski

School: Bryant Middle School, Dearborn

Why: “All my classes love to read! One of the books we read together this year was: ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’ by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. William’s memoir tells of a story of courage and perseverance in Malawi! It was an instant classic book and the students loved discussing it!”

“Seedfolks” by Paul Fleiscman and “Aaron’s Gift” by Myron Levoy 

Name: Josh Melvin

School: Stout Middle School, Dearborn

Why: “My 6th graders at Stout Middle School read ‘Seedfolks by Paul Fleiscman’ as a class to begin the year.  I focused on this because it has themes of people from different cultures coming together in one neighborhood for a common purpose.  What better way to start the year with kids from four elementaries all becoming Stout Falcons?

From our textbook, we also read ‘Aaron’s Gift,’ by Myron Levoy.  It’s the story of a boy seeking to fit in, who endangers himself and his pet.  It mirrors his grandmother’s experience with Cossack Pogroms at the turn of the 20th century.  The 10-year-old protagonist learns lessons about peer pressure, standing up for what’s right, and how to sacrifice to protect the vulnerable.

In addition, students have required reading during class and for homework in a book of their choice. Many students this year are loving the ‘InvestiGators’ series, ‘The Babysitters Club,’ and classics like ‘A Child Called It’ and prolific authors like J.K. Rowling, Alan Gratz, and Lauren Tarshis.” 

“Legend” by Marie Lu

Name: Derrick Borg

School: Bryant Middle School, Dearborn

Why: “Our seventh graders will be reading a novel called ‘Legend’ by Marie Lu in the spring. We’ve read it as a class novel over the last several years and our kids love it… The plot is great, the characters are fun, and it has some plot twists.” 

“Shiloh” by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, “Because of Winn Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

Name: Alia Jaber

School: Henry Ford Elementary School, Dearborn

Why: “I really felt like the students missed out on a lot of great books over the last two years. There are some books (classics) that should be read in elementary school.

I decided to get the students excited about these texts… Some books we have read together are: ‘Shiloh,’ ‘Because of Winn Dixie’ and we will start ‘Narnia: The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe.’ Students are reading on their own books like: ‘Call of the Wild,’ ‘Black Beauty,’ ‘Dear Mr Henshaw,’ ‘Frindle,’ and ‘Magic Tree House.’”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

Name: Jenny Nate

School: Niles High School, Niles

Why: “My favorite book to assign is Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and free-choice novels. I love ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ because the themes and characters are timeless. The book encompasses adventure, struggles, coming of age, prejudices (various types including race, religion, gender, socioeconomic, family history, demographics, etc.), friendship, trust, socioeconomic challenges, relationships, loyalty, trust, good vs. evil, love, religion, and offers a plethora of positive lessons.

The characters are believable, vulnerable, authentic, and relatable. Novel discussions generated by the themes and plot in this book give us a safe platform in our classroom to discuss challenges from that time period that we all still face today. This also offers my students an opportunity to listen to various voices and perspectives on the topics and issues raised so that we can all continue to learn and grow in the same ways as the novel’s dynamic characters. Then, we reflect and share our own thoughts, experiences, and ideas on the topics.

Over the past 19 years, my students’ reactions to the text have been positive, emotional, and passionate. They make personal connections to many of the characters and themes, and I am impressed at their ability to respect each other’s comments and take-aways as we work our way through the novel together.” 

“The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton and “Romeo & Juliet” by William Shakespeare 

Name: Teresa Harrington

School: Harbor Lights Middle School, Holland 

Why: “I love teaching ‘The Outsiders’ to my English 8 students because they are immediately drawn into the conflicts.  I seldom have discipline problems in my room during this unit because the students are eager to find out what happens next and interact with the text.  Especially poignant is Ponyboy’s recitation of ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ with its layers of symbolism that speak volumes regarding the theme of the novel.  

I also enjoy teaching ‘Romeo & Juliet’ to my ninth grade English class because it teaches my advanced readers to think about their reading strategies again. Besides, it gives me a chance to share ‘Mrs. Harrington’s Dating Tips 101’ which usually brings groans and eye rolls and nervous giggles. We end the unit with a eulogy activity during which the students practice point of view and get wildly creative paying respects to the dearly departed in the text.

In both texts, students enjoy arguing various points of view. They learn to see a situation from multiple angles and how our actions impact others.

It doesn’t really surprise me, but I never fail to be awed by their ability to personally connect with the text.  Students at the 8th grade level have a strong sense of justice. They can get very critical about character motivations and like to consider other ways to resolve the conflicts.”

"The Giver" by Loid Lowry

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

Name: Lee Schopp

School: Harbor Lights Middle School, Holland 

Why: This is a great book about rules a government creates trying to create a perfect society. In the unit, we discuss that rules and rituals can’t create a perfect society because people aren’t perfect and can’t be controlled. There are many parallels to this text and our current world climate (government, pandemic, responses in situations, etc). 

Students have great reactions and strong opinions. We have great discussions regarding what rules and laws are good. We also discuss a lot about what equality means compared to fair.” 

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “The 57 Bus” by Dashka Slater, “I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika Sánchez, “The Great Gatsby” by  F. Scott Fitzgerald and “American Street” by Ibi Zoboi

Name: Margaret Grossnickle

School: Kettering High School, Waterford Township

Why: “My favorite book to work through with students is ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’  The language is rich and deep and beautiful; every year students discover a new layer to the text as they analyze the language.  It is a book that engages students as it immerses them in a time period and culture different from their own, but also is so relatable in the way that Janie fights for the things every human wants: love, independence, and a sense of belonging.  When I taught language arts for juniors, my favorite unit was one focused on the American Dream and the ways that people strive to achieve that dream for themselves and others. It was a literature circle unit and students were able to choose between books like ‘The Hate U Give,’ ‘The 57 Bus,’ ‘I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,’ ‘The Great Gatsby,’ and ‘American Street.’ This unit sparked more meaningful conversations than any other texts I taught.  Students were engaged in the stories of the characters and invested in learning about different communities and the challenges that are faced in the quest for the lifestyle that so many Americans desire.” 

“Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Name: Stephanie Hampton

School: Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, Kalamazoo

Why: “Currently, my sixth-grade class is reading ‘Ghost Boys’ by Jewell Parker Rhodes…  I also frequently recommend this book to other teachers, students, and families. ‘Ghost Boys’ follows the mantra ‘Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better’… You finish the book having a sense of direction. You know where to go from here. Young readers are pulled to this book again and again as they begin to contextualize and understand big society issues like racism, police brutality, and coming to terms with the past to reconcile with the present.” 

“Fences” by August Wilson

Name: Jeff Kass

School: Pioneer High School, Ann Arbor 

Why: “I give students lots of reading time to read books of their choosing, but also do teach whole class works. At the moment, we’re reading August Wilson’s play ‘Fences,’ which is one of my favorite things to teach because it focuses on family dynamics, father-son relationships, and forgiveness. I also enjoy teaching Bernard Malamud’s ‘The Natural’ and William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies.'” 

Contact Lily Altavena: laltavena@freepress.com or follow her on Twitter @LilyAlta.


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