Teacher Recommendations: What Should Be On Your Bookshelf?


All opinions contained in the interviews represent the views of those interviewed and do not necessarily represent the views of the Spyglass, its editors, or its writers.

By Ella Stoneman and Adam Rainbolt

If you’re missing that feeling of going to the library and bringing home a book to cuddle up and read, there are plenty of amazing finds at our library. Whatever kind of escape you’re looking for, our librarian, Ms. Hagwood shared her advice and recommendations for an inspiring experience with The Spyglass:

“So many books inspired me in high school (everything new to me seemed to inspire me).  My HS had exceptional English teachers who, while making sure we had a firm grasp on what good writing looked like (we read armloads of what were then, or are now considered classics), allowed us to branch out on our own by providing book lists for us to choose from. 

I learned that I loved the writing of William Shakespeare, Joan Didion, Taylor Caldwell, Toni Morrison, James Michener, and anything I could get my hands on that’d been written or uttered by Dorothy Parker. 

All of these authors wrote about people, places, and things I’d not experienced, and I was in-love with their take on life.  

Note: During my last year in HS, I purchased a book to give as a gift, and ended up reading it to the person I’d given it to (she said that she hated to read). It was Bridge to Terabithia, and although it wasn’t written for my age group, it most certainly touched my heart, and is probably the most memorable book I read during my 4 years of HS ….probably because I was reading it aloud to someone who was convinced that they hated reading, but ended up being riveted to the story (the experience was happy-making).

Normally, I’d advise every MBHS student to stretch their wings and read something new and different; exploring the world and other people’s lives through books. However, maybe they’re feeling as I do at this point in time; they need the comfort of the sameness of an author they loved when they were nine or ten or fifteen…If that’s the case, veer out of your present lane and read that childhood favorite!  

Be true to yourself. Read what YOU like. Read what feels good to your heart and soul. 

Here are some titles of new books on our shelves in the MBHS Library that I’d absolutely recommend:

The Lonely Dead by April Henry
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Deathless Divide (sequel to Dread Nation) by Justina Ireland
Sea Witch by Sarah Henning
The Year of Living Awkwardly: Sophomore Year by Emma Chastain
Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
Driving by Starlight by Anat Deracine
Rebelwing by Andrea Tang
The Lighthouse Land by Adrian McKinty
The Edge (sequel to Peak) by Roland Smith
The Grand Escape by Neal Bascomb
Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X.Kendi”

Personally, I haven’t read any of these books or even heard of any of these authors. As a hungry reader, I really appreciate these new recommendations. Sometimes I’m busy enough with assigned reading and homework, but it would be really nice to have some fun new books by the side of my bed for the long weekends and breaks. I haven’t had a favorite book for a while and I am excited at the idea of feeling totally enveloped in a good story again. 

Books are like music, everyone has their own style and taste. Sometimes what you like depends on your mood. 

“During this pandemic, I find myself reading books that are more familiar to my own life than unlike my own life (which had heretofore been my pattern).  Perhaps I need the familiarity as a reminder of what normal-to-me feels like? I liken this to ‘comfort food’ in book form. 

I’m not sure if these are really and truly “favorites”, but they’ve been very good company during the pandemic!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins …nearly all of Jeanine Cummins books feel like a sure bet to me.
Magpie Murders (and Moonflower Murders, though I found it to be not quite as good) by Anthony Horowitz
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
The Cormoran Strike Series by J.K.Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith
The Coyotes of Carthage by Steven Wright
The Searcher by Tana French …I’ve liked most of what I’ve read from this author…though there seems to be a designated “creepy” space in each story…an area easily skimmed without losing the rhythm of the story.
And always Dorothy Parker (as well as certain books by Anne Lamott, Kate DiCamillo, Elizabeth Berg, Robert B. Parker, James Lee Burke, and Adriana Trigiani that I read for each author’s perspective).
(For what it’s worth, I’m including this parting shot: One thing that I love about the high school experience in general is that there are so many opportunities to learn and grow and experiment safely with new genres or styles or ways of viewing the world by virtue of simply coming into contact with loads of people that you might not otherwise have access to if left to your own devices: you have multiple classes every.single.day, filled with teachers and students you may/may not know…every person who is in each class has their own story, and their own life experiences and backgrounds, and their own wishes/plans/dreams.  Every class, a microcosm, whether we’re all paying attention or not!  We learn so much from others — whether they provide positive inspiration, or they’re more of a cautionary tale — we’re gathering useful information from every corner.)”

A fabulous librarian like Ms. Hagwood is kind of like a DJ, they know how to help you find your jam. Don’t be shy about asking for help, once you tell her what you like, she can help you follow your tastes and interests. To narrow down your search, consider what makes you want to read. If you read to escape who or where you are, like me, it’s fun to read biographies and novels about people who aren’t you. Those kinds of books are helpful because, like Ms. Hagwood was saying, you can learn from people. Reading makes us better writers, but also better people because it’s possible to learn from their mistakes without having to make them yourself. If you’re bored with other people, maybe try having fun with books in the science fiction or fantasy genres. 

Even outside of the library, literature can be a powerful tool for connecting to people and finding interesting stories to engage in. Morro Bay High School teachers Ms. Haener, Mr. Gade, and Mrs. Dowell offered their personal favorite novels, both in the past and today.

Ms. Haener was inspired in high school by “Rain of Gold” by Victor Villasenor, a long but very entertaining historical fiction about the Revolutionary war in Mexico. Her favorite book about art and multimedia is about Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian painter from the Baroque period, who she taught about when she used to teach art history. She also recommends “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Bean Trees” and “Animal Vegetable Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver, and any of John Steinbeck’s work.

Mr. Gade’s favorites are “The Song of Ice and Fire” series, “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck, “Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey, “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurty, “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck, and “Dune” by Frank Herbert. 

Mrs. Dowell’s favorite in high school was “The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy and she has lots more valuable recommendations: “I have a long list of book recommendations for students. It depends on what they are interested in and what length of book they can stick with reading. I usually read historical fiction or true stories. Some books I have read in recent years include Educated, Where the Crawdad Sings, The Glass Castle, Wild, The Nightingale, All the Light You Cannot See, Looking for Alaska and Orphan Train. The list is long, but not long enough. I truly love a good story and love it even more if I have someone to discuss it with.”

Reflecting on her ideas for other books she could teach, Dowell said, “if we had more time I would teach Of Mice and Men. If we had more time and money to buy more books I would teach something newer, such as The Hate U Give.”

Mrs. Dowell also really enjoys teaching “Romeo and Juliet” because “once students get comfortable with the language, we are able to have fun with it. I love it when students make real world connections with the literature and react to the crazy antics of Romeo and his posse.”

While Morro Bay High School students move through the pandemic, literature can be helpful to keep our minds active and connect us to one another. Our favorite books can be an important part of our lives, and sharing these novels can help us to better understand one another. So, next time you don’t have a lot to do, consider checking out one of these recommended books.

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