Area High School Librarians Note 35 Books That Are Big With Students

By Sam Rosensohn

Faye Prendergast has had some of the best dinner conversations with her sons based on books they were reading, while Anne Easton, a self-professed bookaholic, has traveled the world from a hammock.

Prendergast, the head librarian at Hopkins School in New Haven, and Easton, head librarian at Valley Regional High School in Deep River, along with high school librarians from Branford, Daniel Hand, Haddam-Killingworth, Lyme-Old Lyme, Morgan and Old Saybrook were good enough to take some time last week to offer a list of 35 books that work for students.

Prendergast picked four books that “literally fly off the shelf even during the school year.” Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a glorious tale of 16-yeare-old Pi Patel, son of an Indian zookeeper, who emigrates with his family to Canada. On the way, there is an accident that sinks the ship and leaves Pi trapped in a lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. How does Pi survive for 227 days lost at sea?  Which of the two stories that Pi tells his rescuers is the truth?

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a wrenching story of two Afghan boys, one a servant, the other master, set in the turmoil of contemporary Afghanistan. This one has it all: fear, loathing, loyalty, betrayal, doubt, family secrets, guilt, forgiveness, love and redemption. Most importantly, it has characters that the reader cares about deeply. It’s unforgettable.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a curious title for a very unique novel. It begins, like all good mystery novels, with a dreadful murder of which the narrator is wrongly accused.  The hero is Christopher Boone, an autistic 15-year-old math genius who immediately wins us over with his humor and impeccable logic.  In the process of trying to solve the mystery of who actually murdered his neighbor’s poodle, Christopher discovers a great deal about himself and brilliantly kindles our own understanding of what it means to be like him.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is a novel about personal identity.  Gogol Ganguli is the first-born son of wealthy, educated Indian immigrant parents.  Lahiri tells the story of how he came by such a strange name, what it symbolizes and how Gogul comes to terms with himself by painting a rich, realistic background of culture clash and divided loyalties between self identity and family.

Easton, the library media specialist at Valley Regional High School in Deep River, has been helping students choose books for 21 years. “Without doubt the most popular book at the high school this past year has been The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown, Doubleday) 198 students in 10 groups discussed it last fall in our follow-up sessions of our summer reading program. Brown’s puzzler takes the reader from the Louvre Museum into the historical world of the Roman Catholic Church.

“So it is no surprise to find the earlier book Angels and Demons (Dan Brown, Pocket Books) just as popular and on the list for 2005. Take out your guide book to Rome as Brown races through the Vatican and the complexities of the papacy in breathless suspense.

“My favorite novel of the year was written for adults, but is so true to the young adult voice I couldn’t put it down. The Usual Rules (Joyce Maynard, St. Martin’s Griffin) follows 13-year-old Wendy in the year following the disappearance of her mother in the 9/11 terrorist attack, and touches the moments of love and loss in all our lives when none of the usual rules apply. It is an ‘unexpectedly hopeful’ story of healing and forgiveness.

“Raising three daughters would have been a lot easier with Queen Bees and Wanabees (Rosalind Wiseman, Three Rivers Press) around to decode the secret world of girls’ friendships. We all want to parent girls through adolescence to wiser choices and a sense of empowerment.”

Cynthia Schneider the library media coordinator at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, cleverly picked three books based on three classics that many students read during the school year.

“High school students spend a fair amount of time reading the classics, so I sometimes recommend a book that is based on one of them for their pleasure reading.  They find it fun to know all of the insider references in a book.

“After you read Jane Eyre, read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Forded. It is a detective story with a science fiction twist that changes the sad ending of Jane Eyre. This is the first of a series.

“John Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius comes from the stories on which Hamlet is based. This book tells the back story about relationships among Gertrude, Claudius, and Hamlet Peer. It ends at the start of the plot of Hamlet,” she notes.

Jake Reinvented by Gordon Koran is a young adult novel based on The Great Gatsby.  It takes place in a high school and centers around themes such as love and responsibility,”  Schneider added.

Christine DiNoto, the library media specialist at Old Saybrook High School, was so inspired by Lance Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike, that she traveled to France to watch Armstrong win his fifth Tour de France.

“This is an inspirational book everyone should read.  It takes you from Lance’s early childhood through his battle with cancer.”

“If you like fantasy, you’ll love Eragon by Christopher Paolini,” DiNoto notes.  “This is the first volume of a trilogy in which 15-year-old Eragon discovers a dragon egg and takes you on many airborne adventures.

Ironman by Chris Crutcher brings you into the life of a very angry young man who faces many struggles with a chip on his shoulder.  He decides he is going to get out of his rut and turn into an Ironman.  An easy and inspirational read.

Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien is about the journey of a young soldier gone AWOL.  This is a story of fear and heroism.  If you liked The Things They Carried you’ll love this one,” DiNoto said.

John Byrne, the library media specialist at Lyme-Old Lyme High School, was busy doing last minute work for the Costa Rica trip he was about to take with a group of students when we caught up with him the other day. These were his suggestions:

All The Way To Berlin by James Megellas.  Megellas was the most decorated soldier in the 82d Airborne during World war II. He was a recent visitor to our school with some of his fellow soldiers sharing their stories of WWII with our students.

Devil at My Heels by Louis Zamperini.  Zamperini is another member of the Greatest Generation. Olympian Zamperini tells an unbelievable story of how during WWII he survived 47 days at sea after his B-24 crashed into the Pacific Ocean, his rescue by the Japanese – only to face two years in a POW camp, and his recovery back to civilian life.

The Mapmakers Wife by Robert Whitaker is a story of a ten year journey by Isabel Grameson, who sets out in 1769 across the Andes and down the length of the Amazon with a scientific group of mapmakers to rejoin her husband in French Guiana. Like Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the American west, their amazing mission reveals the mysteries of a little known continent.

Linda Gworek, head librarian at Morgan School in Clinton, said, “Girls and boys have different interests of course, and there are so many titles that it is hard to pick just a few but here goes!

Girls are finding The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants along with the sequels: The Second Summer of the Sisterhood and Girls in Pants by Ann Brashares fun. They are stories about a magical pair of jeans, but more importantly about special lifelong friendships.

Jodi Picoult’s The Pact is a moving story about the Hartes and Golds, longtime neighbors whose high school children Chris and Emily, are best friends who eventually fall in love. The relationship between the two families becomes strained when one of the teens is tragically killed. Picoult has written Keeping Faith a story about a young girl involved in a custody battle who suddenly seems to be able to miraculously heal the sick.

Nicholas Spark’s The Notebook introduces us to Noah Calhoun, who sits at the bedside of an elderly Alzheimer’s hospital patient and reads to her a classic love story hoping that some of it will invoke some distant memories.

Boys are reading ever popular author Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, The Lost World and SphereLord of the Rings is still a big winner. Chris Crutcher also appeals to boys with books like Whale Talk and Ironman that feature main characters that many boys can relate to.

For both boys and girls Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie, has written The Five People You Meet in Heaven, a story of a bitter elderly man who after his death finds himself in heaven where five people explain to him how he affected their lives by his actions on earth.

Pam  Roy has been the librarian at Branford High School for 21 years. Her first pick is The First Part Last by Angela Johnson. This book tells the story of Bobby, a black high school student, whose carefree teenage life changes forever when he becomes a father and assumes total responsibility for his beloved baby daughter.  It is a short book and reads very fast because the reader wants to know what will happen to Bobby, the baby’s mother and the baby.  It is a hard-hitting and unromantically accurate portrayal of what it is like to raise a baby, go to school, and try to have a life.  This book is very popular with BHS students, both boys and girls.  I have had students read it and ask for more stories about boys who are involved in raising their babies.

Firehouse by David Halbertstam is a true story about thirteen men from Engine 40, Ladder 35 on the Upper West Side of New York City who were initial responders to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11.  Of the original thirteen, only one survived.  The book talks about the individual firefighters and their families.  This is another book that is never on the shelf.  Boys love it, especially the volunteer firefighters at BHS.

Ok, the last one is my pick.  It is a book I love and it is on the list for incoming seniors.  It is not an “easy” book to read, but appeals to certain older students because of the way it talks about what education should truly be and the rebelliousness and subversive attitude of the main character’s “alter ego.”  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Persig tells the story of a father and son trip across country on a motorcycle, but that is only the surface story.  It is also a story about the character’s quest for truth, quality, self knowledge, and healing.

Dave Matthews, the library media specialist at Haddam-Killingworth High School who has been helping students pick books for 18 years, offered the following choices and thoughts:

The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor by Ken Silverstein. David Hahn was not your typical Boy Scout working on a project for a merit badge.  With an outdated science textbook and with letters he has written to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Hahn was able to gather and refine enough nuclear materials to make a nuclear breeder reactor.  His green hair and his burns did not alert his naïve parents to what he was doing in the backyard. (He was extremely lucky that he did not kill himself.) Hahn was intent on conducting research and no one – not even the US government would slow his progress.

Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson and Hoop Dreams: a True Story of Hardship and Triumph by Ben Joravsky. Now that the NBA playoffs are in full swing – these two books are excellent sports books that high school boys should enjoy.  In Sacred Hoops Jackson discusses his philosophy of coaching and how he got his players to think collectively, play as a team and not dwell on petty jealousies. Hoop Dreams is the second basketball book. The book showcases two Chicago boys as they aim to play basketball in college. The book is a book about survival in the slums of Chicago and basketball is the tool they used to survive.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Year in and year out On the Road is a book that flies off the book shelf.  This beat generation classic follows Kerouac and friend Neal Cassady as they travel the roads of the United States in the 1950’s. Read this book to experience the energy and passion of the era.  A classic “novel” that everyone should read at least once.

Reading for pleasure ought to be a part of every student’s daily life – besides being a quick round-trip ticket that can mend the worst day – it’s a painless way to prep for the verbal SAT. The 1600 point verbal portion on the SAT is basically a reading test.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the New SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at