It’s official—summer is finally here! This is a great time for Core Knowledge teachers to discover some new books . . . beginning with some classics that may be new to you. You might start by looking at the book titles listed in the Language Arts section of each grade level of the Core Knowledge Sequence.

Are you a primary-grade-level teacher who is familiar only with your own grade level of Core Knowledge recommended titles? Check out some of the titles in the later grades, such as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, or The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Or, are you perhaps an upper-grade teacher who has never read the many wonderful titles we recommend in the early grades, such as The Velveteen Rabbit, Charlotte’s Web, The Wind in the Willows, or even Miss Rumphius, a recommended preschool title? Do not underestimate the powerful insights and wisdom imparted in these early childhood selections just because they are intended for younger children.

It’s also a great time to explore the wide range of voices and perspectives in works by contemporary authors. Where to begin? You might start with recent Newberry and Caldecott winners, or peruse the titles selected by the Association for Library Service to Children as this year’s Notable Children’s Books.

Here at the Core Knowledge Foundation, we’d like to share the titles that we have been reading recently. Let us know what you think, and please share any book titles, using “Reply,” that you would like to recommend to Core Knowledge teachers.

Primary K-3 Picture Books for Read-Alouds

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson: Chloe and her friends refuse the overtures of Maya, a new girl in their classroom. One day, when Maya is not in school, Chloe’s teacher conducts a simple lesson on kindness. Chloe realizes, sadly, that she has lost an opportunity to show kindness to Maya, who has moved away with her family.

George by Frank Keating: In this first-person narration, Revolutionary War hero George Washington recounts the key facts of his life, from birth to his election as president of the new United States. The book interweaves Washington’s account with quotes from “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation,” a set of precepts that Washington copied down for himself as a young teenager.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine: Enslaved Henry Brown grows up not knowing the date of his birth and longing to be free. Forcibly separated from his family, Henry eventually decides to mail himself in a crate to the North in order to finally be free, ultimately choosing his first day of freedom as his true birthday. This true story by an award-winning author brings home the tragedy and triumph of one enslaved American.

How Children Lived: A First Book of History by Chris and Melanie Rice: This beautifully illustrated book allows young readers to compare their lives to those of sixteen children from wide-ranging periods of history and parts of the world. With photos of actual artifacts—ranging from a Viking girl’s ice skates to the helmet that a samurai in training aspires to wear—the book investigates the lives of an American drugstore owner’s son in the 1920s, an ancient Egyptian scribe in training, a Moghul Indian boy whose father raises elephants, a Dakota girl living on the Great Plains, a girl at home in industrial Britain, and many more.

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde: This charming picture book celebrates the joys of being human—the curiosity, dreams, playfulness, and wonder—and gently acknowledges the challenges—hurting other people, being hurt, and feeling sad—while praising our ability to move forward to connect to other people with kindness, forgiveness, and compassion.

If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America by Anne Kamma: This seminal book—part of a history series—helps answer questions that young students have about the tragic institution of slavery, such as: Where did enslaved people come from? What were their homes like? What types of work did they have to do? Introducing this difficult topic to young readers, the book provides an age-appropriate overview of what life was like for the millions of people who suffered as slaves in America from the 1600s until 1865.

Light in the Darkness: A Story About How Slaves Learned in Secret by Lesa Cline-Ransome: Rosa and her mama sneak off at night to attend a secret school for slaves, where Rosa determinedly works on her letters and excitedly anticipates learning how to read. Along the way, she learns how important it is to keep the school a secret from the man who owns them, because he will punish them if he finds out.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson: Clover, a young, African American girl, is perplexed about why a fence separates the white and black sides of town. When Annie, a white girl, starts sitting on the fence, Clover becomes brave enough to befriend her.

Elementary (Grades 4 and Up) Chapter Books

Amina’s Voice by Henna Kahn: Amina is a Pakistani American, Muslim girl in middle school, confused about how to fit in while also being true to the culture of her family. Her best friend, Sajin, contemplates changing her name to one that is more “American,” and Amina wonders if she should do the same. Her local mosque is vandalized, a heart-wrenching event. However, Amina learns to use her voice to help bring her diverse community together.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson: This National Book Award-winning collection of emotionally evocative poems is Woodson’s exploration of growing up in the 1960s and 1970s as an African American girl. Her poems, which are accessible, powerful, and poignant, focus on the Civil Rights movement, the lingering effects of Jim Crow, personal family stories from time spent in both South Carolina and New York, and special challenges Woodson faced in learning how to read.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson: Six kids start meeting with each other on a weekly basis to share stories, challenges, and fears. Their ARTT room—A Room to Talk—becomes a safe space to chat about a parent’s deportation, a father’s incarceration, fears of being profiled, and family struggles. This uplifting novel, focusing on the concerns of these six students as they approach adolescence, conveys the idea that a shared community can make you braver and better able to face the challenges ahead.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia: In this humorous, Newbury Honor novel, three African American sisters—Delphine, Vendetta, and Fern—travel to Oakland in 1968 to spend time with their mother, who had previously left them behind in Brooklyn, deserting them for a new life in California. Once Cecile reunites with her daughters, she decides to send them to a summer day camp managed by the Black Panthers. Their resulting crazy summer teaches them a lot about who they are, their family, and even their country.

Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez: Tyler’s Vermont farm family has to hire migrant workers when his father is hurt in a tractor accident. Mari and her family live in constant dread that they may be deported back to Mexico, although she is both proud of her cultural background and interested in her life in America. Alvarez’s touching novel explores the friendship that develops between Tyler and Mari, despite their differences and the very real challenges they face.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Nye: Aref loves his life and home in Muscat, Oman, and stubbornly refuses to prepare himself for his family’s upcoming move to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Worried about him, Aref’s mother asks his beloved grandfather, Sidi, for help. Sidi takes Aref on some special adventures—sleeping on Sidi’s roof, visiting a camp in the desert, fishing in the gulf of Oman, and viewing sea turtles in a nature reserve—reassuring Aref that his time in America will be another adventure that will end in his returning home.

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems by David Bowles: Güero, the Mexican American protagonist of this novel-in-poems, is a bookish border kid who wishes he could trade his fair skin and red hair for the darker complexion that would more clearly identify him as Mexican American. Through a variety of poetic forms, ranging from sonnets to raps, Güero provides a lively, funny portrait of the life and culture of a border kid and the challenges of seventh grade.

Teacher Resources

This is Our Constitution by Khizr Khan: Gold Star father Khizr Khan—who emigrated with his wife from Pakistan in 1980 to the United States, where they eventually became U.S. citizens, and whose son gave his life, stopping a suicide attack in Iraq—reflects on the U.S. Constitution, how he feels connected to it, and the document’s history, with a detailed explanation of what the Constitution means. Khan also examines the Bill of Rights and key Supreme Court decisions, and provides complete texts of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Words That Built a Nation: Voices of Democracy That Have Shaped America’s History by Marilyn Miller, Ellen Sordato, and Dan Tucker: This much-hailed collection of the most seminal documents in U.S. history, aimed at upper elementary and early middle school students, includes the documents themselves, as well as brief biographies of the people who wrote them and responses to them. The book opens with the Mayflower Compact and includes the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, key amendments to the Bill of Rights, historic speeches, pivotal Supreme Court decisions, and much more.

9 comments on “Summer Reading for Teachers!”

  1. 1
    Kristina Livingston on July 3, 2019

    I highly recommend “The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet” by Carman Agra Deedy as a K-3 Read Aloud.

  2. 2
    Jennifer Borgman on July 18, 2019

    I enjoyed the section discussing how upper-elementary teachers can utilize lower-elementary books. Teachers can get a lot out of using lower-level books to teach higher-order thinking comprehension skills. This will be my first year teaching upper-elementary and I am excited about incorporating books that I have also taught at a lower level. I am looking forward to reading many of the books on the book list that you have provided. Thank you.

  3. 3
    Darrion M Willis on July 20, 2019

    This is a great reading list. I’m currently reading Brown Girl Dreaming. How would you incorporate this book into your curriculum when teaching primary students? What ideas do you have in mind?

    1. 4
      Linda S Bevilacqua on July 22, 2019

      Hi Darrion,

      For primary age students, I would suggest that you use one of Jacqueline Woodson’s picture books – either The Other Side or Each Kindness – as a read-aloud with students. Each of these books describes situations and events that young children can identify with. Starter discussion questions might include:
      Has anything like this ever happened to you or someone you know?
      How did it make you (or your friend) feel?
      What could you do if you saw something like this happening to a friend?

      I hope this gets you started.
      Linda Bevilacqua

  4. 5
    Kattya Martinez on July 22, 2019

    As a lower-level elementary school teacher, it was intriguing to see how it is encouraged to read the books that the following grade uses. This could be useful as the new school year approaches, especially when I have identified those higher-level learners who can be encouraged to read high-level books. I also appreciate the acknowledgment made about reading the books our students are meant to be reading. This allows teachers to build a list of comprehension questions because we will know the book before we read it to our students. Thank you.

  5. 6
    Michel Cole-Bailey on July 26, 2019

    I am excited about the materials on Reading you have shared in this forum. My kids became fascinated with the varied types of text we have read during the past school year. Currently, I teach third grade and one book they kept talking about was, “Fish in a true” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Although the main character in the text was from an upper elementary grade, my students were so excited to participate in the daily chapter readings and discussions we had. They could relate to the experiences in the text and I felt like I awakened a hidden interest in them. Looking at the information you all have shared, it gives me more to explore with my students as I go back to school this coming year. Thank you

  6. 7
    Margo on September 15, 2019

    These are great reading lists that are provided! I like that you mentioned how it could be helpful to read books that the following grades look at. I think that is a good idea. I teach third grade, so I am interested in looking into the book, “Fist in a true” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Maybe I will find it helpful to read with my students as well. Our school has started a “One book, one school” committee. This will be our third year doing it. Last year, we read “Adventures According to Humphrey.” My class loved the book and we continued to read more books from the Humphrey series! I am in the “One book, one school” committee this year and we are trying to think of a book to use. We want to find a book that can fit the interest of grades K-5. Anyone have any suggestions for a book we could use?

  7. 8
    Michelle Striblin on September 22, 2019

    Summer reading for teachers is a great idea. When there is never enough time in a day during the school year, to try and change up on some things, dedicating part of the summer to do so is wonderful. You have listed a great deal of interesting books, that I would like to read. Although I am in early childhood, there is a way to break down the books if necessary so that the younger children can understand them.

  8. 9
    Amber King on November 13, 2019

    I love the idea of a summer reading list for teachers! I often want to check books out before recommending them to my students, but where is the time. I love how the list is separated by grade level and gives a wonderful description for each book. This summer I am going to give Aminas Voice and Return to Sender a read.

    A book I would recommend for middle school students is The One and Only Ivan
    This unforgettable novel from renowned author Katherine Applegate celebrates the transformative power of unexpected friendship. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated book is told from the point of view of Ivan himself.

    Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.

    In the tradition of timeless stories like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create an unforgettable story of friendship, art, and hope.

    The One and Only Ivan features first-person narrative; author’s use of literary devices (personification, imagery); and story elements (plot, character development, perspective).

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