Genre Fiction for the Classroom

From You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, Tom Gauld, 2013

In the world of literature, there’s often prejudice against genre fiction. This becomes especially pernicious when it’s applied to children’s fiction: Students’ love of reading can ebb when they’re told or showed that the things they love to read aren’t “good” or worth reading.

Not all children love genre fiction (in fact, teachers have shared that many students who aren’t regular readers love realistic fiction because it’s often shorter and easy to jump right into). Yet for those who find their interests awakened by worlds with magic, special powers, kid-led adventure, romance, action, and more, it can be easy to assume that their favorite genres aren’t valued when they don’t see it in their classrooms. And it can be hard to sustain a habit of reading when much of after school reading is assigned books that you don’t care about.

I see that as a wasted opportunity: So much children’s genre fiction is rich with big ideas and powerful themes, transcending the label. Its authors want their books to please on the surface but also provide opportunity for discussion and deep exploration underneath.

I know some teachers don’t read a lot of children’s genre fiction and may not be aware of the depth of literature out there in that field. In September 2019, I put out a call on Twitter for recommendations from teachers, librarians, and authors. With the incredible response I received, I’ve begun a list of genre fiction for the classroom.

These are stellar examples of middle grade and young adult genre fiction, most recommended by teachers and librarians. Where I could, I included themes and links to teachers’ guides. The purpose of this list is to spread the word of how genre fiction can transcend genre and, I hope, give teachers and school librarians a few more options to add their book group selections for the kids who would prefer this kind of story.

This is a working list for elementary through high school teachers. It’s not even close to being a complete resource, and I plan to keep expanding it for as long as I have time. Please comment on this post if you have middle grade and young adult titles you’d like to suggest. Share the author, the title, year of publication, genre, and themes (not what the publisher defines as themes, but themes that would apply specifically to a classroom’s use of that book), and a link to any discussion guide or Teachers’ Guide. And if you’ve used this in your classroom, please share some of the topics or themes that you’ve discussed (you’ll see I have some teachers who did so on the list). Thank you!

One last request: Please share this post in your schools and on your own social media so that we can add to this list and reduce some of the hesitation people may feel about using genre fiction for serious purposes. I hope we can ensure that children in our schools always have a broad selection of books to choose from. Imagine a world where deep work of genre fiction is the subject of essays—and also the book read for pleasure late at night.

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