Using the 2016 Teachers’ Choices, Young Adults’ Choices, and Children’s Choices Books to Meet the Common Core

By Carolyn L. Carlson, Ph.D., J.D.


The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) require teachers to provide opportunities for students to be engaged in a range of reading experiences. Teachers will need to incorporate high quality literature as a part of their literacy instruction. There are various ways to identify exceptional texts, including examining Appendix B of the English/Language Arts CCSS document. However, this list has been criticized for its outdated and/or non-culturally diverse texts (Moss, 2013). Therefore, teachers may need to rely on other “lists” of recommended texts to use in their classrooms. While the Newbery Award and the Caldecott Award are two of the most recognized awards given to literature each year, three other lists offer teachers additional recommended texts that can be used in the classroom. Each year, the International Literacy Association’s Teachers’ Choices, Young Adult Choices, and Children’s Choices provide teachers with books recommended by classroom teachers and students across the United States. To provide teachers with additional information on some of the outstanding texts from the 2016 Teachers’ Choices list, the 2016 Young Adult Choices list, and the 2016 Children’s Choices list, selected reading specialists and classroom teachers in Midwestern public schools were asked to read and evaluate these texts and their connection to the Standards. While there are numerous books recommended on each of the lists, the following were chosen by the reading specialists and classroom teachers as outstanding – both in their content and in their ability to meet selected CCSS standards.

Teachers’ Choices

The 2016 Teachers’ Choices is a recommendation by teachers and other literacy leaders in schools of exceptional books for students (age 5-15). The following were noted as high-quality texts able to meet the CCSS.

A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen (Recommended Grade Level: 7-8)

Summary: The night the wall went up between East and West Berlin young Gerta’s family had no warning. Gerta, her oldest brother, and their mother were left defenseless in East Berlin. They begin to dig a tunnel in an old air raid shelter. Time is running out and they must escape or die trying.

CCSS Standard Meeting the Standard
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.2: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text. This book gives the reader a peek into the world of East Berlin during the cold war. It tells of a family all working their hardest to pacify the government by their actions while still trying to be true to themselves. 
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.3: Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision. This story contains numerous passages that build tension – an example of tension and the resulting character traits revealed involve Gerta and a member of the military who threatens her on different occasions, but then does not arrest her after discovering the tunnel. His character represents how humanity can change within a person.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.6: Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.) Students can compare and contrast the viewpoints of Gerta and her friend, Anna. One supports the Eastern views and the other the Western. This divide not only breaks up their friendship but ultimately brings it back together again.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. (Recommended Grade Level: 5-8)

Summary: Ally is a 6th grade girl who is able to cover up her inability to read. Labeled a behavior problem, a freak, and loser, she has tricked everyone into believing she does not care about school – until she meets Mr. Daniels. He guesses that she has dyslexia and uses strategies to help her overcome the barriers to becoming a proficient reader.

CCSS Standard
Meeting the Standard
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.2: Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges… This story centers around the main character learning to believe in herself and overcome bullies, disability and low self-esteem issues.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language… This book is full of figurative language, including the title. The characters talk about “Silver Dollar Days” being good and “Wooden Nickel Days” being bad. Many chapter titles are also good examples of literary elements that are explained within the chapter.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña (Recommended Grade Level: K–2)

Summary: On Sundays, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town to their stop on Market Street. This day, CJ questions why they have to wait in the rain and why they don’t have a car. His grandma opens his eyes and shows him the real beauty in the world around them – the spirit of the bustling city, the music in everyday life, and the magic of their often overlooked neighbors.

CCSS Standard
Meeting the Standard
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.2: Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson. The central message of this story is clear – and students can discuss it using the experiences and interactions of the characters in the story.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.7: Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events. The award-winning illustrations and vivid descriptions bring this story to life – students can use these to identify the development of the characters (especially CJ) as the story progresses.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL1.9: Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories. The main characters in the story interact with a variety of characters in the story. Students can easily compare and contrast the experiences of the characters to identify their similarities and their unique qualities.

Young Adults’ Choices

The 2016 Young Adults’ Choices list provides an annual list of new books recommended for young adults by young adults (grades 7-12). The following are examples of outstanding texts and how they can meet some of the CCSS.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. (Recommended Grade Level: 9-12)

Summary: Finch, a young man struggling with bipolar episodes, saves Violet from jumping off their school’s bell tower after the death of her sister. Battling bullies, their futures, and their dark pasts, these two teens become romantically involved. Then Finch begins a downward spiral into depression. He disappears and mysterious clues begin appearing in Violet’s inbox.

CCSS Standard
Meeting the Standard
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain. This text leaves many things unsaid. Readers must use the clues and insights the author gives to piece together how characters are feeling, why they feel that way, and why characters have these reactions to events in their lives
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.2: Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text. This book has several themes: love, grief, recovery, mental illness, death, suicide, and exploration. Each theme twists and tangles, flows, rises and ebbs with the story, allowing for thoughtful analysis by students.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.3: Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed). The author makes the characters worth saving. Students can examine how the author pulls readers in and makes them care for each of these individuals.

When by Victoria Laurie. (Recommended Grade Level: 9-12)

Summary: Maddie has the supernatural ability to see the “deathdate” of people. After the loss of her father, her mother encourages Maddie to give “readings” for extra money. While giving a reading, she tells a woman that one of her children is going to die. When the woman’s son is murdered, Maddie is thrown into the middle of the investigation. Maddie is forced to prove not only her innocence but that of her best friend, Stubby.

CCSS Standard Meeting the Standard
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme. Students can examine either Maddie’s or Stubby’s characters in the novel and analyze their complexity and development throughout the story.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.5: Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise. The author uses flashbacks that help surprise the reader and explain the main character’s discovery of the meaning of the numbers she sees. Further, the manipulation of time becomes critical during the climax of the action.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.10: By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. The book encourages readers to break out of the realm of realistic fiction and tap into a light “sci-fi story.”

Children’s Choices

Each year, children throughout the United States select 100 books for inclusion on the Children’s Choices list. The following are two titles recommended and a few of the CCSS the texts can address.

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat. (Recommended Grade Level: 6-7)

Summary: Isabelle and Giselle were born holding hands (“twined”). But, Giselle's entire life changes after a car accident leaves Isabelle dead. In the aftermath of the accident, Giselle is left suffering from a severe concussion and she fades in and out of consciousness while having flashbacks before she became “untwined.”

CCSS Standard
Meeting the Standard
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.2: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text. This book has themes that revolve around loss, death, and grief. It is easy for readers to find elements that support these themes and analyze how they evolve throughout the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.3: Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot). This story has multiple flashbacks for the first several chapters while Giselle is suffering from a concussion. This blurring between reality and memories of the past give the reader an experience of jumbled thoughts and confusion as the main character is dealing with her brain injury.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.4: determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama. The author talks about twins in several cultures and how there are names for the first-born, second-born, and even what to call siblings of twins. Giselle tries to define herself after the loss of her twin. She thinks of the metaphor of untwining, just as the doctor had to do to their hands at birth.

Tom Gates: Everything’s Amazing (sort of)by Liz Pichon. (Recommended Grade Level: 3-6)

Summary: Tom Gates is a young boy living in England with a great imagination. He gets into a little trouble, forgets (or chooses not) to do his homework, and argues with his school enemy. This book is written in a diary format with notes, pictures, and stories about himself and his friends.

CCSS Standard Meeting the Standard
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.3: Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events. Tom’s actions in the story lead to several outcomes: Tom failing to do his homework leads him to have to stay after class (and almost miss buying an ultraviolet pen from the school’s office); Tom doodles the nickname he gave his teacher (“Mrs. WorthingSTASH”) which he is then punished for; Tom’s daydreaming also gets him into a little bit of trouble.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language. This book has several slang words and idioms that belong to English language in the U.K. Context clues and pictures in the story help readers understand words by investigation. Also, there is a mini glossary in the back of the book for additional reference.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.7: Explain how specific aspects of a text's illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting). Tom’s creative and often silly doodles enhance the story and allow the readers to see the doodles referred to in the story and to understand what Tom is picturing in his daydreams.


To meet the Common Core State Standards, teachers must include high-quality texts in their instruction. However, finding texts that are both appealing to readers and can effectively meet the standards can be challenging. These books have been chosen by teachers or students across the United States as excellent texts to use in classrooms. Further, classroom teachers and reading specialists in the Midwest have reviewed and recommended them as well to meet specific Common Core State Standards. Teachers can use these texts in their classrooms knowing that they have been identified as exemplary texts capable of meeting the Standards.