Staff Picks

What We're Reading

Our book reviews can help you keep your practice fresh and informed.

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio Illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb, tells the story of Billie Holiday’s haunting, iconic song “Strange Fruit.” A young and prominent jazz singer, Holiday had been unsure of how her audiences would respond to the song’s vivid lyrics. But she chose to sing it anyway in protest of racial injustice in the United States, particularly the lynching of African Americans in the South. That choice came with a hefty price, but she continued to sing it to voice the suffering of her people—and helped galvanize the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

elementary school

“Explore the power of music to challenge injustice.”

Gabriel A. Smith

City of Grit and Gold by Maud Macrory Powell | Staff Picks

Maud Macrory Powell’s City of Grit and Gold vividly portrays the harshness and uncertainty of immigrant life in 1886 Chicago during the Haymarket Affair. Addie, a 12-year-old Jewish girl, struggles to keep her family intact as her beloved uncle joins laborers’ protests for fair treatment while her father tries to assimilate in hopes of achieving the American Dream. This book provides a clear connection to the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards as it explores the themes of family, nationalism and standing up to injustice.

middle school

“A powerful story guaranteed to get students talking and making connections to current events.” 

Hoyt J. Phillips III

Pedagogy of Teacher Activism: Portraits of Four Teachers for Justice by Keith Catone | Staff Picks | TT58

Michael Jackson once said, “The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.” In his book The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism: Portraits of Four Teachers for Justice, author Keith Catone gives readers the opportunity to watch teaching masters at work as he paints dynamic portraits of four teacher activists. Each portrait shows an educator’s unique journey to activism and education, as well as their daily classroom ideologies and practices. In each vignette, readers will understand that becoming a teacher activist is complex, continual and—most of all—possible. 

professional development

“An excellent resource for educators committed to changing the world.”

Jarah Botello


Vanilla by Billy Merrell | Staff Picks | TT58

Billy Merrell’s Vanilla gracefully chronicles the twists and turns of the emotional chemistry between two male high school lovers who inhabit an environment where they are more or less allowed to be who they are. Even still, a wrinkle in the boys’ romance develops: One of them isn’t yet ready for sex. An ingenious work of prose poetry, this story realistically captures the internal worlds of adolescents as they inquire into homosexuality, asexuality and nonbinary gender identity. 

high school

Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender and Friendship written by Jessica Walton and illustrated by Dougal MacPherson | Staff Picks | TT58

This touching, simple story about a boy named Erol and his teddy bear is sure to leave a mark on your heart. After a few days of feeling down, Teddy reveals to Erol that she feels more like a girl than a boy. But her fear of speaking up is quickly turned into self-confidence, as Erol and his friend Ava embrace the newly-named Tilly just the way she is. Through author Jessica Walton’s delicate verbal gestures and Dougal MacPherson’s beautiful artwork, Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender and Friendship evokes empathy and joy.

elementary school

“A tender story of acceptance and love for readers young and old.”

Lauryn Mascareñaz

Mia Lee Is Wheeling Through Middle School by Melissa  and Eva Shang | Staff Picks | TT58

Mia Lee is beyond ready to take on her sixth-grade year. Her goals? Make new friends, convince her mom to give her more freedom and become president of the video club. But Mia faces some challenges—some typical and some specific to her life as a girl with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a form of muscular dystrophy. Despite the embarrassment of a socially awkward best friend and the antics of a competitive classmate, Mia keeps her eyes on the prize as she shows middle school what she’s made of. Find out how she does it in Melissa and Eva Shang’s Mia Lee Is Wheeling Through Middle School.

middle school

“A coming-of-age story by a young author with firsthand knowledge of what it takes to navigate school as someone with a physical disability.”

Adrienne van der Valk

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson | Staff Picks | TT58

Just once, Jade would like people to see her as someone who doesn’t need “an opportunity,” but instead as someone who can give and doesn’t always need to receive. But it seems like so many adults in her life think otherwise. As Jade navigates the intricacies of living in a low-income household, being one of very few black kids at a private school, and becoming friends with Sam (a white student who doesn’t always understand her), she owns her voice as an artist and develops a fuller sense of herself. Dive into Jade’s journey in Renée Watson’s Piecing Me Together, and use this free discussion guide to explore the book’s themes of race, class, gender and intersectionality with your students.

high school

When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise by Linda Nathan | Staff Picks | TT58

In the book When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise, author Linda F. Nathan debunks the five foundational beliefs on which our college-access “myth of meritocracy” is built: money is no obstacle; race doesn’t matter; just work harder; college is for everyone; and if you believe in yourself, your dreams will come true. While persistence may pay off and determination can generate success, Nathan argues that these attributes do not account for the structural barriers that black and brown and low-income students face daily. She presents a piercing critique of the exaltation of “grit,” which “no-excuses” schools push as an imperative to success and which they allow to absolve educators of the responsibility to examine unjust sociopolitical systems.

professional development 

“A sharp, well-researched and thoroughly convincing read.”

Jey Ehrenhalt

Professional Development

Juárez Girls Rising: Transformative Education in Times of Dystopia

By Claudia G. Cervantes-Soon


High School

The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland

By Dan Barry


Middle School

As Brave As You

By Jason Reynolds


Elementary School

Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh

By Uma Krishnaswami

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