30 Books Every Teacher Should Read, Part 1

Summer is upon us, and for many teachers this means some extra time to relax, and to read. Light reading for a day at the park, thrillers for stormy evenings, audio books for road trips; the choices are endless.

As we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Free Spirit Publishing, we asked our authors to name the books that they felt all teachers—be they student teachers or experienced supervisors—should read. Their suggestions are drawn from literature to classroom management texts, and cover nearly all aspects of teaching. We are certain that this list of 30 books every teacher should read will inspire your teaching next year, and entertain you as well.

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Note: Authors and books are listed in no particular order.

Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner

Otis Kriegel, author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know

Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner is a great book for all K–5 teachers about methods designed to use the relevancy of life experiences outside of the classroom to teach literacy and other skills inside the classroom.

Ann Camacho, author of Bookmarked

To Kill a Mockingbird

I can’t read, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’” without choking up, even after teaching Harper Lee’s novel for well over 20 years. Even now, tears sting my eyes, because everything in me longs to be that kind of person, that kind of parent, who can claim that kind of respect. To Kill a Mockingbird gives us a blueprint for parenting, and thus, can greatly impact our interactions with students. Lee’s novel shows us how to maintain our integrity of self while being there for our kids and is proof that raising children in a village is still the most effective and loving approach. It’s a must-read for students and teachers alike!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is well on its way to becoming the new Catcher in the Rye. Both feature a teen male protagonist struggling with coming-of-age issues and past personal demons, and both have a tone that many adolescents of its generation can relate to. However, the differences are notable as well, for the overriding motif of isolation and loneliness in each young man is handled entirely differently in each text. It seems indicative of the emotional direction of the different generations, as well, and sheds light to many difficult issues. Insightful and sensitive to the modern teen, Perks is a must-read for any high school teacher.

James J. Crist, Ph.D., CSAC, author of Mad and What to Do When You’re Scared & Worried and coauthor of Siblings

Elementary School Discipline Handbook

I still recommend the Elementary Discipline Handbook: Solutions for the K–8 Teacher by Richard E. Maurer. It’s an oldie but goodie and gives many useful tips for handling students in the classroom. I like the section on Reality Therapy and the inclusion of surveys for students to complete, rating their feelings about the teacher and other students in the class. Too often, teachers take a “hard line” approach on discipline, forgetting that developing a positive relationship with students while at the same time setting firm and fair limits works best. Kids won’t listen to you unless they are motivated to, and the relationship you establish with the students—and the relationships you help them build with each other—makes a huge difference.

Teaching with Love and Logic

Too often kids tell me how hurt they feel by comments and actions from their teachers. This leads me into another recommendation: Teaching with Love & Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom by Jim Fay and David Funk gives a comprehensive description of how “love and logic principles,” which I use all the time in my therapy with kids, teens, and parents, can be used to create a positive class atmosphere. Four principles of love and logic from the book: “Share the control, share the thinking, balance consequences with empathy, and maintain self-concept.”

Erin Frankel, author of the Weird series

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire

I gave a copy of Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith to my daughter’s third-grade teacher last year because she lit a spark in my daughter and reminded me of the book’s author. They both share a vision for what their students can achieve and understand that achievement goes far beyond standardized test results. They strive to make learning meaningful and fun while cultivating an awareness in students about choices and what it means to do the right thing. They bring passion and energy to the classroom, and as the title goes, teach like their hair’s on fire. Their message to students is loud and clear: “There is no place I would rather be than right here with you. Our work is important. Our work matters.” This book was truly inspirational and made me want to be a better teacher myself. It reminded me that the sky is the limit when it comes to teaching and learning.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

I would also recommend Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The book gives a fascinating account of what it means to be an introvert in a society that hails extroverts. I was particularly interested in Cain’s observations and tips regarding introverted kids and the dominant group-work culture that prevails in classrooms today. I found myself wondering if we are teaching only to the extroverts and whether we are sensitive to cultural differences when it comes to how students learn. Cain made me reflect on the false assumption that introverted children are shy children. And I was surprised to learn about all of the great thinkers, inventors, authors, and others who considered themselves to be introverts and whose greatest ideas or inventions came at moments of quiet contemplation and reflection. Truly inspiring.

Judith Galas, M.S., author of The Power to Prevent Suicide: A Guide for Teens Helping Teens

To Kill a Mockingbird

I can’t imagine a junior high reading experience that doesn’t include To Kill a Mockingbird. I have taught it in seventh-grade English for many years, and never a year goes by when students don’t tell me that the book was the first serious book they had ever read—no vampires, no fantasy, just real people, in real struggle, doing the right thing. My class also included a yearlong examination of the virtues, and each student would give a short talk about his or her virtue. As part of the exercise, the speaker had to pick one fictional character that demonstrated the virtue under discussion. Virtues like honesty, courage, compassion, empathy, and integrity almost always included one name: Atticus Finch. This fictional man loomed large in the impressionable minds of my young readers, which delighted me.

The Little Prince

Moving toward fantasy, I also love The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This small book has had millions of devoted fans since its publication in 1943, all drawn in part to the lessons gently delivered about love and loss, childhood innocence and adult intransigence, responsibility, sacrifice, and an engaged life. Most readers don’t expect to find the book a portal into discussions about World War II, Nazis, Jews, adventurous pilots, romantic love, bullying, heaven, and the Harry Potter series, but all those topics and more lie in wait for those willing to look.

Les Miserables

When I taught the theme of love in literature to sophomores, I plucked from my reading shelf a book I discovered when I was fourteen—Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Like I did, my sophomores felt a major sense of accomplishment when they read through to the last page. The book pulses with love on every level—man for God and for country, parent for child, neighbor for neighbor, lover for lover, idealist for a cause, and to the foundational love—love and acceptance of self. It helps immeasurably that this dauntingly huge book also has been recreated as a world-famous musical and now as a movie, making the text and its rich characters even more accessible. I know of no other work of fiction—other than Shakespeare’s plays—that teaches so much about the human condition and how profoundly people impact others’ lives.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Advancing Differentiation

A Different Mirror

Ronald Takaki’s book, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (2012 revised edition), is one of my favorite looks into the complexities of American history. As schools become more and more diverse, it is essential that teachers familiarize themselves with the burden many of our families carry as they try to achieve the allusive American Dream. Takaki, a preeminent multiculturalism scholar, masterfully retells the stories of minority people’s struggles within early America. From colonization to current events, this book will help us better understand our children, their families, and their cultural past.

Brain Matters

As a teacher, I often analogized my role to that of a race car driver. The track was the school year time I had with each student, and each student was a car I drove. The fuel I used to run the car was the curriculum and instructional practices to “put into the car’s tank.” The one part of my car (students) that I had little to no understanding about was the engine (their brains). Therefore, I spent many years trying different fuel types (instructional practices) within my classroom that either worked or didn’t work. I would never be sure if it was the fuel, the track, the car model, or me (the driver) that won or lost the race. Therefore, I started my own journey to learn about how children learn. Patricia Wolfe’s Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice transformed my teaching. She lays out the fundamentals of how our brains process information and learn. Her book is full of useful strategies for teaching and learning. Dr. Wolfe’s work has helped thousands of teachers gain a better understanding of how to efficiently and effectively tune our children’s engines for greater learning achievement.


Very few books have truly had an effect on all parts of my life outside of Carol S. Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck is a world-renowned psychologist out of Stanford University in California. For over 25 years, she has studied the hows and whys behind the achievement or lack of success. She found that two types of “mindsets” are in play: either a fixed mindset (I am what you tell me I am) or a growth mindset (as long as I work at it, I can achieve). Important for teachers to know is how to assist students in moving from the fixed (I can’t) mindset to the growth (I can) mindset. Her book, though not specifically written for educators, provides useful information in refocusing how we work with students to assist them in gaining greater achievement.

Differentiating Instruction

Finally, Diane Heacox’s book Differentiating Instruction in the Regular Classroom: How to Reach and Teach ALL Learners is THE best book for introducing teachers to doable differentiation. Dr. Heacox draws on her wealth of experience in education from a classroom teacher to program manager to university professor to lay out manageable ways to meet the needs of all students in the widely diverse classroom. This book is never far from my reach! I refer to it so often that its pages are dog-eared and tattered—the true sign of a useful text!

Alison Feigh, author of I Can Play It Safe

Protecting the Gift

My recommendation is Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (And Parents Sane) by Gavin de Becker. De Becker handles concerns about the personal safety of children in a proactive and positive way. This book allows parents and caregivers to reexamine issues around abuse prevention using real-world scenarios and current research. The second appendix, titled “Questions for your child’s school,” is a great way to self-check that your school is taking personal safety seriously. Examples: What are the student pickup procedures? If there is an emergency in a classroom, how does the teacher summon help?

The In-Between

Have you ever felt stuck and not sure if you will make it to the other side? The In-Between by Erica Staab helps define that stuck feeling and reminds the reader that healing takes time and the help of others. Some of the best conversations I have had with high school students have been after reading this together. The reassuring words of hope are framed with gorgeous nature photographs to create this calming, hope-filled book. It can be used as a conversation starter or as a sit-quietly-and-breathe resource.

Read Part 2 of this list, posted on Monday, July 8, 2013.

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