Labor Day has come and gone, which means it’s back-to-school time for kids in the United States! To celebrate the new school year, I’ve put together a list of books inspired by the various subjects studied in American schools. Load up your backpacks, pack those lunch boxes, and let’s get ready to read!
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbot: Who would have guessed that a fictional tale of geometric shapes, written as a satire of Victorian society, could be entertaining? Certainly not me, but this little book, narrated by “A. Square,” is actually quite clever.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: Little Brother is a computer nerd’s dream and a civic student’s nightmare. It’s about teen hackers using technology to protest governmental oppression, and it explains a ton of cool facts about information technology and the mathematics behind it.
Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School by Louis Sachar: I loved the wacky Wayside School stories as a kid, and this particular book is a lot of fun, even though I still can’t wrap my head around the majority of its quirky math puzzles. Here’s a typically goofy quote from the book: “Everyone take out your spelling books,” said Mrs. Jewls. “It’s time for arithmetic.”
Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson: I don’t remember a ton of details about the plot and characters in Catalyst – it’s been many years since I read it – but many of the science-y facts from the book fortunately stuck with me. In fact, I recall getting really excited in ninth-grade Chemistry because I got the question “What is a catalyst?” on an exam. The only reason I knew the answer was because of this book.
Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny: When Jess Scott starts failing her high school Biology class, her only shot at saving her grade is extra credit – namely, spending her Spring Break in Panama with the school’s Conservation Club, working to protect an endangered species of frog. This novel is light and fun and shares the importance of ecosystems and conservation. (Read my review here.)
The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett: Bennett’s book introduced me to a career I never knew existed: medical illustrator. (For some reason I thought medical journals just used photos nowadays.) The book’s protagonist, Bex, spends much of her time drawing careful diagrams of muscles, organs, bones, and more. It’s not a job that I could do – too squeamish – but it’s definitely a cool idea.
The Fall by Bethany Griffin: This novel-length retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” is deliciously Gothic and creepy. Griffin fleshes out the story and makes it, in my opinion, even better than the original. (Read my review here.)
For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: Persuasion has always been my least favorite of Jane Austen’s books, but this futuristic, quasi-dystopian reimagining brought the tale alive for me in a whole new way.
This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel: I’ve never read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but this prequel makes me want to do so quite badly. It introduces a teenage Viktor Frankenstein and shows him taking the first steps on his path to knowledge and power. (Read my review here.)
Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shectar: A love story set in Pompeii, this book includes great historical details about what life would have been like in the days leading up to the infamous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson: This fictional account of a true event – a mass breakout of yellow fever in Philadelphia that left more than 5,000 dead – was the first plague book I ever read. It made me supremely grateful for modern medicine!
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Mitchell’s tale is a classic not only for its iconic characters and volatile romance, but also for its portrayal of the American Civil War and the profound transformation that war had on the Southern way of life.
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher: An unlikely group of outcasts form a swim team and confront racism, bullying, and injustice in this short but super-special novel.
Winger by Andrew Smith: Although Winger is about so much more than just sports (like first love, friendship, and tolerance, for example), rugby does play a big role in the story, as you might guess from the title. The school rugby team’s camaraderie and pranks are part of what makes this book so much fun to read. (Read my review here.)
Summerland by Michael Chabon: I don’t know much about baseball, but Summerland makes me wish I did. The great “American pastime” lies at the center of this magical tale, which is also full of adventure and faeries and a battle of good vs. evil.
David by Mary Hoffman: Hoffman’s book tells the fictional story of the man who supposedly modeled for Michelangelo’s statue of “David.” I love the insight it gives into the relationship between model and artist and the way it showcases the political climate of Italy at the time of the statue’s creation.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: Twins Jude and Noah are best friends turned bitter rivals, bound by their shared love of art yet constantly striving to outdo one another in a bid for their mother’s attention. Art is the lifeblood of this story, from paintings to sketches to sculptures, and as a decidedly non-artistic person I really enjoyed seeing the world from an artist’s point of view.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: In this story, two kids run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eleven-year-old me thought this was the coolest idea ever, and I still entertain fantasies of sleeping in Marie Antoinette’s bed, wandering through the Egyptian galleries, and diving for spare change in the fountains after hours like Claudia and Jamie in the book.
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen: Music aficionados will find a kindred spirit in Owen, the music-obsessed love interest in Just Listen. Music is Owen’s life, and he’s constantly trying to induce Annabel, the book’s protagonist, to explore new musical genres: “Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.”
I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen: Tyri is a teenage girl torn between her passion for music and her family’s expectations. Quinn is a run-away companion droid who yearns to be human and move people with his music. When the two musicians’ paths intersect at a prestigious orchestra, neither realizes just how big an impact they will have on each other’s lives and on the fight for robot autonomy. (Read my review here.)
Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater: When it comes to literary bad boys, musician Cole St. Clair is one of my favorites. He’s one half of the romance in Sinner and the front man of the wildly popular band NARKOTIKA. Brilliant, troubled, and self-destructive, Cole strives to find an outlet for his love of music and performing without giving in to his addictive personality.