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8 new books to inspire your students this year

Since 1986, Accelerated Reader has helped millions of students in the US and around the world to discover a love of reading. As we celebrate 35 years of AR, we want to highlight the wide diversity of fiction and nonfiction titles supported by the program. And who better to help us with this than the members of the AR Quiz Design Team, who read hundreds of new children’s and young adult books each year?

Below, you’ll find details on eight engaging titles to explore with your students, courtesy of our AR quiz designers. Remember that you can visit AR Bookfinder to explore all of the titles (more than 200,000 and counting!) supported by Accelerated Reader. You can also download the latest What Kids Are Reading report to see the most popular print and digital titles at every grade level, along with new insights on K–12 students’ reading habits.

Books to inspire students in grades K–3 (interest level)

Bartali's Bicycle

Bartali’s Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy’s Secret Hero
By Megan Hoyt (Nonfiction)

Of all the books I’ve read in my experience as an AR quiz designer, none has affected me quite like Bartali’s Bicycle. The words “True Story” in the subtitle are a necessary addition, because Gino Bartali’s accomplishments would be hard to believe otherwise!

Bartali won the Tour de France in 1938, then worked for the Italian Resistance during World War II, saving the lives of over eight hundred Jewish people by delivering fake identity papers to them on his bicycle. After being drafted into the Italian Militia, he then rescued forty-nine English POWs without getting caught. Three years after the end of the war and a decade after his first Tour victory, he won the Tour de France for a second time. To top it all off, he never spoke publicly about his role in the Resistance or the hundreds of lives he saved, arguing that “good is something you do, not something you talk about.”

I think teachers and students alike will enjoy Bartali’s Bicycle. It’s a book that emphasizes goodness as its own reward, even in the face of monumental cruelty and injustice. Bartali used his skills as a cyclist and his fame as a Tour de France winner to help vulnerable people when they needed it most. More than that, however, he was one person among many who did the same, each using their own talents to help others as best they could. The man himself may have balked at the recognition, but Bartali’s story will doubtless serve as a source of inspiration to many readers. —John H.

Books to inspire students in grades 4–8 (interest level)

All Thirteen

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team
By Christina Soontornvat (Nonfiction)

All Thirteen is one of the best books I’ve written an AR quiz for. It’s a thrilling account of how the Wild Boars soccer team was rescued in 2018, after rising floodwaters trapped them in a cave in northern Thailand. Readers learn about karst caves, stateless people, Buddhism, and diving techniques. They will be inspired by examples of courage, resourcefulness, sacrifice, and international cooperation. The book has many photos and diagrams as well.

One person you get to know in the book is Thanet Natisri, a water expert who worked tirelessly to keep the cave from flooding even more than it already had. He is an American citizen who owns a Thai restaurant in Marion, Illinois. When I read this, I thought: “I know where that is!” My husband and I drive to Tennessee every year, and we spend the night in Marion. The THAI D restaurant is near our hotel. I resolved to buy this book before our next trip and ask Mr. Natisri to autograph it for me.

This past June, almost three years since the Wild Boars were rescued, we arrived in Marion. Would Mr. Natisri be at his restaurant? Well, no…but his lovely and gracious wife was. She told us that Thanet was in New York, working on a documentary about the rescue. She showed us to a table, and we enjoyed a delicious meal.

So, my book remains un-autographed, but that’s okay. It’s a beautiful book, with a great story to tell. —Ellen C.

A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table
By Saadia Faruqi  and Laura Shovan (Fiction)

I chose to write the AR quiz for this book based on my interest in cooking, knowing that books with cooking themes often contain interesting recipes to try. There is a recipe at the end, but I got so much more than that!

The story centers on two middle-school students and their families. Sara is a Muslim girl whose parents came to the US from Pakistan. Elizabeth is Jewish, and her mother came to the US from England. At first, the girls don’t think they have much in common, but they begin to form a hesitant friendship after being partnered in a cooking class. They learn more about each other, including the fact that both their mothers are studying for their US citizenship tests. Hijinks ensue (as the saying goes), and the girls eventually become true friends.

I love the idea that cultural differences can become a unifying force rather than a divisive one. A Place at the Table illustrates how sharing the food of one’s culture is a great first step to building a bridge of understanding and friendship.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to hear from the authors in person (or what passes for “in person” in the Age of Zoom!) I suggested the idea and was given a green light to invite Ms. Faruqi and Ms. Shovan to speak to the AR Quiz Design Team. Both women graciously accepted. It was exciting to meet the authors of a book I had just read, and we had a wonderful discussion of the experience of growing up in the US as a first-generation American, and the unique challenges of raising first-generation children. (Ms. Shovan’s mother, like Elizabeth’s, was born in England. Ms. Faruqi came to the US from Pakistan, and her children were born here.)

The conversation wasn’t about the book’s plot specifically. Instead, the story served as a springboard into a deeper exploration of diversity and inclusion. Sparking thoughtful discussion, awareness, and empathy is, after all, a book’s purpose, and A Place at the Table is an engaging read that will instill a sense of empathy in young readers. —Ann H.

Auggie y yo

Auggie y yo: tres cuentos de la lección de August
de R.J. Palacio (Ficción)

Somos dos hermanas escritoras de la Ciudad de México que hemos tenido la fortuna de colaborar por más de 20 años en Renaissance. Les compartimos esta aportación conjunta sobre la saga de Auggie, que logró cautivarnos por la trascendencia del tema y por su lectura ágil.

El primer libro, La lección de August, te lleva a recordar el cuento clásico del escritor danés Hans Christian Andersen, El patito feo, porque también trata el tema del rechazo a alguien por su aspecto físico. Auggie es un niño víctima de bullying o acoso, quien sufre el rechazo de niños y adultos debido a malformaciones de nacimiento, causadas por una rara enfermedad.

Otro libro de esta saga es Auggie y yo: tres cuentos de la lección de August. Podría esperarse que fuera la continuación de la historia del protagonista, sin embargo, no es así. La obra consiste en tres relatos contados por tres chicos relacionados con Auggie: Julien, quien lo acosa; Christopher, su amigo de siempre y Charlotte, la niña que es amable con él. Cada uno percibe y actúa de manera distinta ante su encuentro con este niño de rostro singular.

Ambos libros nos hicieron estremecer porque son relatos cargados de sentimientos y reflexiones que te permiten valorar la amistad, la lealtad, la compasión y la forma de relacionarnos con los demás. El tema principal es el acoso por el rechazo a lo diferente, que te ayuda a entender mejor un mundo real lleno de contrastes. Además, son de los libros que te atrapan desde un inicio y no puedes dejar de leer hasta llegar al final, disfrutando de su lectura.

Recomendamos ampliamente ambos libros para inculcar valores en los chicos, pero también para que los adultos, madres, padres y maestros reflexionemos sobre este tema del rechazo a las personas que por cualquier circunstancia son distintas a nosotros. —Maru G. y Ada G.

[We’re sisters and writers in Mexico City, and we’ve been lucky to collaborate for over 20 years at Renaissance. We’d like to share this joint contribution about the Auggie saga, which captivated us because of the importance of the topic and its clear, engaging style.

The first book, Wonder, will remind you of the classic tale “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen, because it addresses the issue of rejection due to someone’s appearance. Auggie is a child who experiences bullying, as well as rejection by his peers and by adults, due to birth defects caused by a rare disease.

Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories continues the saga, collecting stories told by three children who know Auggie: Julien, who bullies him; Christopher, his best friend; and Charlotte, a girl who is kind to him. Each one perceives and acts in a different way when they meet this child with a unique face.

Both books made us feel strong emotions because the stories are full of feelings and reflections that help you value friendship, loyalty, compassion, and the way we relate to others. Because the main topic is harassment and rejection of what is different, the books help you to better understand a world full of contrasts. In addition, the books engage you right away, and you can’t stop reading until you reach the end.

We highly recommend both books to instill values in children. They are also great for adults—mothers, fathers, and teachers—to reflect on this issue of rejection of people who, for any reason, are different from us.]

Fish Out of Water

Fish Out of Water
By Joanne Levy (Fiction)

My kids have used Accelerated Reader for years, so I’m fortunate to get to see the product in action from beginning to end. When my daughter was in third grade, she challenged herself to beat the school’s reading goal for her grade level…and she did (with the help of the Harry Potter series)! Her name is posted on a huge sign in the cafeteria. She was so proud, and she advanced her reading skills tremendously that year. I love that the work I do helps to motivate my children to read.

One of my recent finds is Fish Out of Water. This book is about a twelve-year-old boy named Fishel who likes knitting and doing Zumba—activities that are stereotyped as feminine. He wants to pursue his passions and can’t understand why his peers and the adults in his life ridicule him. Eventually, he finds a teacher and a rabbi who encourage him and are proud of him. They teach him that treating “girly” or feminine things as inferior is an insult. Fish Out of Water is an inspiring story with a sweet ending. It has a wonderful message and brings to mind some tough questions.

When I read this book, I envisioned children seeing themselves in the story and feeling a sense of belonging and acceptance. They’ll understand that it’s okay to be passionate about something that isn’t considered “typical.” I recommended the book to the wonderful librarian at my children’s school, because I thought everyone should know about it. If you pick up a copy of Fish Out of Water, I challenge you to read it without shedding a heartfelt tear. —Jennifer B.

Books to inspire students in grades 9–12 (interest level)

Fish Out of Water

Dragon Hoops
By Gene Luen Yang (Nonfiction)

Years ago, my dad came home with a book called American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. It was a cheery-seeming graphic novel, full of bright colors and an easy, readable style. It was also an engrossing exploration of what identity and assimilation mean in America. Now, fifteen years later, if I spot Yang’s name on a list of titles, I jump at the chance to write the AR quiz.

Dragon Hoops—a memoir in graphic novel format—tells the story of the varsity boys’ basketball team at Bishop O’Dowd High School and their quest to finally win the state championship. The premise is a springboard, though, as Yang blends the students’ stories with cultural evolutions in basketball and world history. AR content designers will confess that we encounter scores of forgettable sports books every year. But Dragon Hoops takes a teen sports drama and artfully weaves in topics like racial integration, respectability politics in women’s sports, the history of NBA broadcast rights in China, and the experience of Sikh Americans. If this sounds like a textbook, it shouldn’t: Yang’s charm and drawings keep everything afloat, and the book remains focused on the lives of Coach Lou and his team.

Dragon Hoops also has crossover appeal. Readers unaccustomed to graphic novels will find the art accessible. For readers uninterested in sports, Yang himself serves as an avatar—a sports agnostic who learns to love the game by embracing the human sagas and anxieties of sports fandom. He also walks us through his decision to leave teaching in order to write graphic novels full-time. His hopes and dilemmas echo the athletes’, and the book offers something that’s not often explored in YA: a portrait of how adults continue to make life-changing decisions just as teenagers do—by taking a brave step forward. —Dana G.

Fish Out of Water

The King of Crows
By Libba Bray (Fiction)

I write a lot of AR quizzes for fantasy novels, and The King of Crows is one of my favorites. It’s the fourth book in the Diviners series, and the first three volumes are great as well. The book’s heroes are a diverse group of characters who have special powers. I’ve rarely seen so many groups represented in a single book—different genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities.

The story is set in the 1920s, and the author paints a vivid and accurate picture of that historical period. Readers will be transported to a different era—but with supernatural elements added to make things even more interesting. I even learned a few things about American history. For example, I had never heard of “Sundown Towns” before, but they really existed.

This book has everything: action, adversity, romance, and humor. The characters are complex and well developed, which for me is the key to a good book. They face challenges they must overcome, including discrimination and prejudice, which were the norm at the time, as well as ghosts, ghouls, and floods. The heroes must also overcome their differences to work together, and each character brings different strengths to the group.

For me, the most rewarding part of writing the AR quiz for this book is that it’s not just an entertaining and enjoyable read, but will also engage kids in learning more about history. It helps them to either view history from the point of view of someone who is different from them, or to see themselves represented by a character they can identify with. —Jennifer Y.

Fish Out of Water

Sprawlball: A Visual Tour of the New Era of the NBA
By Kirk Goldsberry (Nonfiction)

During my childhood and adolescence, I had a keen interest in sports. When I became a young adult, I began to develop other interests too, such as literature, history, and music—while still loving sports. As an adult, I’ve been fortunate to explore these interests, mostly through reading. Reading is a skill that enriches my life. All of my other interests depend on it.

In college, I majored in English. After teaching for a while, my love of learning and reading led me to Renaissance. In my nearly twenty years of designing AR quizzes, I’ve read many great books: novels, biographies, histories, and, of course, books about sports. It’s hard to pick one that stands out above all others. However, one recent book does come to mind.

Sprawlball is authored by a sabermetrician and fellow sports fan named Kirk Goldsberry. In it, he details—using charts, graphics, visuals, and excellent prose—the profound change in the game of professional basketball set in motion by the NBA’s decision to put a three-point arc at each end of the court. Since then, the game has moved from the paint to the perimeter, not unlike how people have migrated from cities to the suburbs. The three-point arc has profoundly affected the game in ways unforeseen in the 1970s.

It was a fascinating read for the sports geek who still is very much a part of me. So fascinating, in fact, that I recommended it to an old friend, who is a high-school teacher, coach, and basketball junkie. In doing so, I mentioned how cool it is that I get to read sports books (as well as other interesting books) for a living. And it’s all thanks to Accelerated Reader. —Frank D.

Looking for more great titles to explore with your students this year? Check out What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual survey of K–12 student reading habits. And to see everything that today’s Accelerated Reader has to offer, click the button below.

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