At this time of the year I’m often asked by parents and students in the 5th – 8th grade range for summer reading suggestions. Fortunately, Anita Silvey’s 500 Great Books for Teens eases the selection process. I recommend this book as a great family library standard for readers in the 12 – 18 age range. In some ways, browsing Silvey’s book is as much fun as spending time in a bookstore.
I’ve had terrific feedback from my students who have used 500 Great Books for Teens. Students have chosen books they never would have considered, in genres not previously to their liking, simply because Silvey’s summaries intrigued them. This alone – stretching a student into new territory – should have parents and students running out to buy this book NOW.
Silvey has selected contemporary and classic adult and young adult titles that meet her criteria for exemplary writing and wide appeal. However, what I like most about 500 Great Books for Teens is how useful it is to the readers themselves. This is not just a compilation of lists.
First, Silvey goes far beyond the usual two- or three-sentence annotation summing up a plot. She writes short summaries for each book, making certain that everyone understands the major focus of each title.
Second, the book is divided into twenty-one sections, representing different reading tastes and genres. She includes in each section several books that have set the standard for the literature. Then she tries to balance each section for the age of readers, reading skills, and backgrounds. Beyond the classics, she has tried to include the best titles of the twenty-first century.
Silvey makes the usual divisions such as “Adventure and Survival,” “Autobiography and Memoir,” “Fantasy,” “Historical Fiction,” “Horror, Ghosts and Gothic,” “Humor,” “Mystery and Thriller,” “Romance,” “Realistic Fiction,” “Science Fiction,” and “Sports.”
She then goes on to entice the reader with newer subject offerings such as “Edgy, Trendsetting Novels,” “Graphic Novels,” “Many Cultures, Many Realities,” “Poetry and Poetic Novels,” “Plays,” “Politics and Social Conscience,” “Religion and Spirituality,” “Short Stories,” “War and Conflict.”
Silvey’s explanation of why she added the “Information” section convinces me that she has an abiding faith in the teen-age reader’s interest in real events and real people, and putting their world in context. She suggests books that have some of the best literary writing available. A sample from this section includes Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West; Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies; John Fleischman’s Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science; and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.
500 Great Books for Teens guarantees continual reading adventures for students and a chance for parents to remind themselves of favorite books read long ago.
Houghton Mifflin, 2006