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June 21, 2023 | 1 comment

Children’s, Young Adult and Adult Books for 2023 Summer Reading Lists

Individuals of all ages can dive into reading this summer with these favorite books, recommended by American Federation of Teachers staff.


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A creek runs alongside a walking trail near my home, and along that creek is a large old tree stump that is home to a fairy garden. I’m not sure how this fairy garden began or if there is a certain person who maintains it; but throughout the seasons, it continuously changes. Some items disappear as, presumably, the fairies have permanently claimed these items and whisked them away to unknown realms. But as soon as items are whisked away, new items appear, left by visitors to the garden who wish to leave the fairies gifts. This garden on the stump is not a well-manicured, carefully sculpted fairy garden like some that you may have come across, but is instead a jumble of items of all different shapes and sizes. That does not detract from the beauty of the fairy garden, however, for the beauty of the garden is found in the magical stories it tells. Visitors to the fairy garden are compelled to stop and be transported to a different world as they imagine fairies visiting the garden and how they would live in and use the different gifts left there. The fairy garden is fun, exciting, and an opportunity to escape from our realities for a little while, and who doesn’t want to step into another world for a little bit?

While not everyone may have a fairy garden they can visit to be whisked away to a different magical world, luckily, the stories found in books can also transport us on adventures to fantastical lands. Books provide us with the opportunity to visit a vast array of places and step into others’ shoes—all without leaving the confines of our home. Here in the Educational Issues Department of the AFT, we recognize the magic of books, and we want to share some of our favorites. Explore the list of staff-recommended books below, and then be sure to check out Share My Lesson’s collection of summer reading activities and resources.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Natalie Dean's Picks

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein | Grades K-3
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein | Grades K-3

Shel Silverstein is a bestselling children’s book author and illustrator. His stories engage readers of all ages, taking them on journeys through whimsical lands. Find learning resources on Silverstein’s website.

Black was the Ink

Sarah Elwell's Picks

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade | Grades PreK-4

My daughter really liked the striking illustrations, the cultural understanding at the center that we are each responsible for protecting our natural environment, and the connection to our own biology, in how we are made in large part, of water. I read this to my daughter's fourth grade class and it has accompanying activities/lessons.

Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar and illustrated by Khoa Le | Grades PreK-5

My daughter really liked the frame of the power of storytelling, the theme of the importance of family / heritage / self-knowledge / self-determination and the Indian culture that is at the center of the tale. She also loved the illustrations, which are (in her words) "enchanting". I read this book to her fourth grade class and it addresses both the topics of the challenges of immigration and of the strength and beauty in diversity.

Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman | Grades 4-9

My daughter is reading this book, and she absolutely adores it! The book takes place in India and centers on love for family and friends. The main character, Kabir, is born in jail and is forced to leave the jail and his mom when he turns 10. He goes on a journey to find his dad and to free his mom from prison and along the way goes on a journey of self-discovery.

Black Was the Ink by Michelle Coles | Grades 8-12

This novel is the riveting story of Malcolm Williams, whose mom sends him to stay with relatives in Mississippi during the summer for a break from the turmoil in his Washington, D.C., neighborhood. As Malcolm struggles to adjust to his new environment, he bonds with his relatives, works on his art and learns more about his family history. Things really get interesting when, through the mystics of time travel, Malcolm is repeatedly transported back through time to the Reconstruction era. He meets some of the towering Black leaders of the time period and explores an unfamiliar world, embarking on both a historical and a personal journey that is a true page-turner. The parallels between this historical time period and today are both heart-wrenching and empowering, as Malcolm stands on the shoulders of the giants of the past to become a changemaker today and in the future.

Explore this Teacher’s Guide from Lee & Low Books.

A Raisin in the Sun

Heidi Goger's Pick

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry | Grades 9+

Lorraine Hansberry's play set in the late 1950s focuses on the dreams of a working-class family in Chicago while including the cultural differences between African and African American cultures, discrimination and an unexpected pregnancy.

Teach this unit plan from SML member IMKessel.


Andy Kratochvil's Pick

The Ferryman by Justin Cronin | Adult Read

For a lover of spooky books and the beach, this dystopian sci-fi tale about a beautiful archipelago with dark secrets and fascinating characters is the perfect summer read! If you haven't read Cronin's other book, The Passage, you should also check it out (this second book does not include beautiful beaches, however).

Black Cake

Dawn Krusemark's Picks

Black Cake: A Novel by Charmaine Wilkerson | Adult Read
The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton | Adult Read

Both of these books will take you to other worlds and experiences that will wake you up. 

Secret Coders

Giselle Lundy-Ponce's Picks

My Friends by Taro Gomi | Ages Birth-5

This delightful book for babies, toddlers and preschoolers speaks to the beauty of nature and the animal world.

Coqui in the City by Nomar Perez | Grades PreK-4

This book, beautifully illustrated by the author, tells the story of Miguel, a young boy moving away from home and family in Puerto Rico to New York City. While the move is filled with many questions and sadness, there is hope and happiness ahead.

Secret Coders series by award-winning author Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Mike Holmes | Grades 3-7

Your budding computer-coding fan will love this graphic novel about an intrepid group of seventh-graders who discover a secret coding school inside their school and go on to many adventures! What's wonderful about this book is that it can also light kids' interest and enthusiasm for coding by clearly explaining concepts like binary computer language and what it means.

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid's Poems by David Bowles | Grades 5+

This Pura Belpré Award finalist is a book of poetry, all kinds of poetry (free verse, sonnets, haiku, etc.), telling the story of a seventh-grader straddling two cultures along the border, speaking Spanish at home, English and Spanglish with friends, and confronting people who want to define him just based on their perceptions.

The No. 1 Car Spotter: Best in the Village—Maybe in the World! series by Nigerian author Atinuke | Grades 1+

Meet Oluwalase Babatunde Benson. He is a plucky kid who loves cars, but is also good at solving problems for his village.

Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire edited by Jehad Abusalim, Jennifer Bing and Michael Merryman-Lotze | Grades 10+

This anthology features Palestinian students, writers, artists and activists. They offer riveting, intellectually stimulating narratives from their point of view. The harrowing conflict in Gaza and the West Bank is often poorly understood or depicted in simplistic terms. These diverse voices  speak to history, truths, aspirations, and hopes seldom heard. 

Throne of Glass

Megan Ortmeyer's Picks

Built Together by Mina Starsiak Hawk | Early Childhood-Grade 1

I'm a fan of the TV show “Good Bones” so, of course, I was excited that the star of the show wrote a children’s book. I bought it for my dear friend’s kids; it is a wonderful book that teaches children about how families come in all shapes and sizes.

Trixie Belden series | Grades 3-7

I have always enjoyed a good Nancy Drew mystery, but Trixie Belden was my favorite mystery book series as a young reader. Trixie and her friends take readers on exciting adventures as they look to solve the mysteries that come across their paths.

Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas | Young Adult Read

I love a good fantasy series, and the Throne of Glass series is probably my favorite. With assassins, humans, fairies and witches, as well as unexpected plot twists that constantly keep you on your toes, you are sure to be engaged and immersed in the world Maas has built. Plus, with eight books in the series and each book ranging from 432 to 992 pages, you might be set for the whole summer.

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy | Adult Read

Having been an avid watcher of “iCarly” while growing up, I was intrigued when I heard about Jennette McCurdy’s book. I finally picked it up a few weeks ago, opting for the audiobook read by McCurdy herself; I would highly recommend for you to do the same. 

Looking for Lorraine

Chelsea Prax's Picks

Looking for Lorraine by Imani Perry | Adult Read

Looking for Lorraine beautifully upends the biography genre and reintroduces an iconic American thinker. 

Francisco by Alison Mills Newman | Adult Read

Francisco, re-released from 1974, is an immersive examination of the Black arts movement.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones by Olga Tokarczuk | Adult Read

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones playfully messes with the murder mystery genre and stars an atypical main character: an elderly, curmudgeonly woman.

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel Moniz | Adult Read

This book offers short stories filled with "unlikable" women and girls in curdling horror scenarios.

Torn Apart by Dorothy Roberts | Adult Read

Torn Apart names the harms of the child welfare system and urges profound changes to achieve family unification and well-being.

Equity-Centered Trauma Informed Education by Alex Shevrin Venet | Adult Read

This is the best book I've read on trauma-informed practices in schools (and I've read many more than most)!

Outlive book cover

Justin Stone's Pick

Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Dr Peter Attia | Adult Read

This is an excellent read on understanding the biology of longevity, mitigating the highest risk factors for disease, and improving your chances to remain active throughout your life. 

Bernando de Galvez book cover

Teresa Valcarce's Pick

Get to Know Bernardo de Gálvez, English Edition; or Conoce a Bernardo de Gálvez, Spanish Edition by Guillermo Fesser | Grades 2-5

Dive into this engaging story to learn about historical figures of the Hispanic/Latino community and their contributions to the independence of the United States. Get teaching ideas here.

The Summer I Turned Pretty

Robin Vitucci's Pick

The Summer I Turned Pretty (three-book series) by Jenny Han | Grades 7+

This series is a few years old, but my daughter (finishing seventh grade) has been into it recently. Amazon Prime is releasing the second season of the show created from the book series this summer, so that is a great way to get kids that age interested. This is the same author who wrote the To all the Boys I've Loved Before series, which was made into movies on Netflix and also great for that age (and maybe for my age too, ha-ha). 

Miles Morales

Susan Youssofi's Picks

Adventures in Time: The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Dominic Sandbrook | Grades 4+

I'm reading this now with my 9-year-old. He did so well with nonfiction when we read about Alexander Hamilton prior to going to see Hamilton on Broadway last summer, that I figured we'd dive into Tudor England as a companion to watching Six on Broadway this spring. While some of the vocabulary is geared more toward upper elementary, we are both thoroughly enjoying this retelling of the high-stakes, dramatic time period—the events of which still impact England and the world today. Bonus: It's refreshing to learn about history centering on women's perspectives as well as men's. We're learning so much more than simply “Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived." We’ll look forward to more historical books from Dominic Sandbrook!

Miles Morales Suspended: A Spider-Man Novel by Jason Reynolds | Grades 7-12

Once we finish the Adventures in Time history book, I'm looking forward to reading a new must-read superhero story with my son this summer: Jason Reynolds' Miles Morales Suspended: A Spider-Man Novel. I recently heard Reynolds in a radio interview, and his new novel sounds thought-provoking, exciting and cutting-edge contemporary. Spider-Man's newest enemy is evidently hiding a secret, one that could destroy the world’s history—especially that of Black and brown people—and Miles is the only one who can save us all. Get ideas for teaching with superheroes here.

Missed last year’s staff summer reading book recs? Find them here.  And be sure to explore Share My Lesson’s Summer Reading collection for even more summer reading ideas along with engaging activities and discussion guides. 

Your Summer of Learning

Looking for summer PD hours, ideas for back to school, or just ways to relax? Visit our 2023 Summer of Learning page for upcoming summer webinars, teaching resources, blogs, self-care ideas and more.

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Megan Ortmeyer

Megan Ortmeyer is an SML Team Member and has worked in the AFT Educational Issues Department since fall 2018. She received her M.A. in education policy studies in May 2020 from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the George Washington University.

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