Reading fiction is good for your students. Shocker. 21 lists to get you started

I’ve got a problem for you to solve. So go find your thinking cap.


Here’s the problem. In 60 seconds, list all the ways that reading fiction is good for you.

And . . . go. (Feel free to Google it. I’m okay with that.)

Ready to compare lists?


Fiction can expand our view of both ourselves and others:

The humanities interrogate us. They challenge our sense of who we are, even of who our brothers and sisters might be.

“It could have been me” is the threshold for the vistas that literature and art make available to us . . . education is not about memorizing poems or knowing when X wrote Y, and what Z had to say about it. It is, instead, about the human record that is available to us in libraries and museums and theaters and online. But that record lives and breathes; it is not calculable or teachable via numbers or bullet points. Instead, it requires something that we never fail to do before buying clothes: Trying the garment on.

Art and literature are tried on. Reading a book, seeing a painting or a play or a film: Such encounters are fueled by affect as well as intelligence. Much “fleshing out” happens here: We invest the art with our own feelings, but the art comes to live inside us, adding to our own repertoire. Art obliges us to “first-personalize” the world. Our commerce with art makes us fellow travelers: to other cultures, other values, other selves.

So what’s our conclusion?

Reading good, not reading bad.

But I get it. It takes time and you’ve got very little of that. And maybe you’re not entirely sure what integrating fiction into social studies can look like. (These might help with that: Why and How I Teach With Historical FictionUsing Historical Fiction to Connect Past and Present, and A Balanced and Critical Approach to Historical Fiction. Or jump in deep with this Google Search.)

But maybe you’re just not sure what books to read. We’ve got you covered. Check out the 19 lists below to start exploring a huge variety of fiction that can help your kids make sense of content, widen worldviews, connect with others, become civically engaged, and generally make them better people.

You’ll want to start with the National Council for the Social Studies Notable Trade Books list. If you’re a member, sweet. You can access the latest 2017 list. Not a member? Well . . . you still get access to the 17 previous versions all the way back to 2000.

I know it costs money but the book titled Every Book is a Social Studies Book is a goldmine for K-8 folks. Dozens of specific lessons focused on one book that’s tied to social studies content. It also has an extensive list of other books.

Yesterday, Mary Johnson from the Western TPS region, shared a Tweet with me highlighting an awesome list from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year with over 200 books focusing on social justice and equitable learning. You get all age groups up to adult with books addressing racism, sexism, religious persecution, xenophobia, and LGBTQ issues.

Katherine Bassett NNSTOY President:

We are living in interesting times, with issues of fairness, equity, equality, and social justice often conflated as our nation faces new and ongoing challenges concerning the rights of all of the people who live here.

School is a place where many issues facing our nation rise to the forefront. As teachers, how do we best prepare our students to face and discuss social justice concerns? For many of us, books offer a solid place to start. As teachers, we use books to start conversations, spark ideas, present challenges and brainstorm solutions.

The Library of Congress has a great sampling of suggested books that spark the imagination and transport readers to new and exciting places. They’ve also provide links to matching online LOC resources.

The American Library Association is an obvious place to find all sorts of book lists:

Together with Colorín Colorado, the NEA has compiled several book lists focused on diversity. Your kids need these types of books and resources – do not blow past these!

Need a list of Best Books for Every Year of School? This is perfect for finding books by grade level.

How about 19 New Books That Aren’t on High School Reading Lists But Should Be?

And definitely don’t forget graphic novels and comics:

Novels and fiction are just too good not to use. We need to find ways to incorporate them into what we do. These lists are a great place to start. Then head over to Glenn’s History Tech page with 15 Resources for Using Comics in the Social Studies.

That’s probably enough to get you started.

About Glenn Wiebe

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

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