There are few professions in which you can receive the deep satisfaction that comes from sparking a love of something that you are truly passionate about. As an English teacher, I live for the days when students tell me they "love" the book we are reading. Or, even better, that they’ve sought out another text to read by the same author.
Little did I realise when I embarked on this most marvellous career that there was another reciprocal joy to be had: having my students spark a love of something new in me.
Compiled here are 11 books that I discovered through my students and now love. Some were direct recommendations, others took a more winding road, but I am confident that none of the titles on this list would have crossed my path if it hadn’t been for my students.
1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Heartbreakingly sad and poignant, this book was recommended to me by a student after we had studied Hosseini’s better-known tome, The Kite Runner.
2. My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass
If you’ve ever taught Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, you’ll know its power to awaken a love of reading in even the most reluctant of students. Keen to fan this flame, I was searching for non-fiction texts to tie in with the theme of injustice when a colleague directed me towards this first-hand account of slavery in America. I now return to it regularly for its powerful and emotive rhetoric.
3. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
You will not find me sneering at any book that is part of teen culture. Teenagers huddled around a paperback is a thing to be celebrated and when you see it you should make it your duty to go and read that book. Read and enjoy a glorious bit of silliness that helps keep us all young.
4. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
This cynical take on American culture, in the vein of The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye, was discovered by an A-level student researching texts for their coursework. We both read it and loved it.
5. Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Any school worth its salt will have a lively Carnegie-shadowing group, which I heartily recommend you join. Books five to eight on this list are just a selection of the texts students have thrust into my hands over the years, as part of our own reading group, before urgently telling me why I should read them.
The first, Maggot Moon, is a strange and emotive book about the universal theme of friendship. I loved it so much that I had a passage read at my wedding – surely the ultimate English teacher compliment for any text.
6. The Weight of Water / One / Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
I love this writer’s books so much I had to choose three. Crossnan is a new talent and her books do a brilliant job of celebrating diversity in all its guises, whether it be to do with immigration, physical difference or family circumstances.
7. The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean
A glorious romp. I’ve chosen this for its wonderful cast of larger-than-life characters, including a cross-dressing sailor.
8. The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks
A book that puts the ‘adult’ into ‘young adult fiction’, this darkly disturbing tale tells the story of a group imprisoned within a bunker and the choices they must face to survive.
9. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
This was a school book-club read that sent me spiralling off into Mitchell’s glorious back catalogue. Weirdness abounds.
10. Sad Book by Michael Rosen
If you ever thought picture books were lightweight, think again. A cursory mention by a Year 7 student made me pick this up and I’m very glad I did.
11. The Hiding Place by David Bell
A terrible book. To be clear: this one makes its way onto this list not thanks to its literary prowess, but due to its provenance. In the summer term, a Year 7 student bought me a copy, as she thought I’d like it. Teachers don’t need presents, but if a student is going to buy you one, I don’t think it can get better than this.
Caroline Spalding is an assistant headteacher. She tweets @MrsSpalding