WSIRN Ep 150: I have a confession… I’m not a reader

Readers, I’m so excited about today’s episode.

You might expect ALL Language arts teachers to be huge bookworms, but today’s guest shatters that stereotype. Until recently, reading was a means to an end in Julie Mushkin’s life—and the type of book that totally turned things around for her may surprise you. Today we’re chatting about serious book projects, what to do when you have no reading stamina, and infiltrating the not-so-secret world of teens, PLUS recommending books perfectly suited for both teens and adults.

What Should I Read Next #150: I have a confession... I’m not a reader with Julie Mushkin



Books mentioned in this episode:
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If you’d like to support your local indie, check out And by all means, go grab one of these from your local library!

• To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Author John Steinbeck (try The Grapes of WrathAmazonBarnes and Noble)
Scythe, by Neal Shusterman (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Thunderhead, by Neal Shusterman (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Giver, by Lois Lowry (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Aristotle and Dante Discover the History of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Simon Vs. the Homosapien Agenda, by Becky Albertalli (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Girl in the Blue Coat, by Monica Hesse (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Son, by Lois Lowry (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Uglies, by Scoftt Westerfeld (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, by Jean M. Twenge (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Martian, by Andy Weir (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• In The Country We Love: My Family Divided, by Diane Guerrero (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Relish, by Lucy Knisley (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Nyxia, by Scott Reintgen (AmazonBarnes and Noble)

Also mentioned:
The Alex Awards


What do YOU think Julie should read next? Let us know in the comments!


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  1. Dawn says:

    So much of this conversation hits home for me now as I’m in the middle of reading How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims. So many great opportunities to pass responsibilities to our kids and be available for them without doing it for them.

  2. Katie says:

    I LOVED Scythe! I didn’t like the second book as much – though it was still a great book. I can’t wait for the third to come out. I was originally interested in this book because I loved the cover art.

  3. Anne, you’re always warning us that we’re going to yell at our devices when we hear the choice of an unloved book, but today was the first time I actually did. Becky Albertalli’s books resonant with me more than any other book about the high school experience; I feel like I’m back in high school, but (unlike many YA books) in a way that’s more nostalgic than painful. I adore all of her characters and her books literally make me laugh and cry throughout. I have also read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and while I liked it, I thought the writing fell flat at times and the ending was unrealistic, rushed, and predictable. Clearly, every reader is different! Just wanted to encourage other listeners to give both books a chance 🙂

    • Grace says:

      I felt the exact same thing as you when I heard that part! Simon vs the Homo-sapiens agenda is the ONLY ya book I have every found relatable when it came to my own experience with realising my sexuality, and I think if I had read it as a teen I would have struggled less. Aristotle and Dante just didn’t quite do it for me. It’s always interesting to hear about everyone’s different preferences though!

  4. Ashley T. says:

    I feel like Julie would enjoy The Ember in the Ashes series (by Sabaa Tahir). They have been my favorite YA reads of the last couple of years, and I was devastated when I got to the end of the third book and realized that it wasn’t the end because I so desperately want to know how it resolves… but now I get to be excited that I still have another installment to read in the future. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is another one that comes to mind; the protagonist is slightly younger, but its a really interesting realistic take on growing up during the end of days.

    I also just wanted to note how special this conversation was. Pantsuit Politics and WSIRN back to back are my Tuesday morning ritual, and I’ve gained so many interesting insights as well as the obvious benefit of growing my TBR (and learning about books I should avoid!)… but every now and then, these conversations provide a missing piece for me in the larger puzzle of life, and this was certainly one of them. Julie’s discussion of the hero journey of adolescence and the role of the parent in supporting that journey from the periphery until called into the action almost had me in tears; it is a parenting lesson that I will carry with me as my preschool girls grow into their own heroes. Thank you both – I adore this community; it really is good to be around people who are reading.

    • Libby says:

      In a similar vein to Age of Miracles (which I loved by the way!), Julie and her students might enjoy Ashfall. It’s about the volcano under Yellowstone erupting and the downfall of civilization that ensues, through the eyes of two teenage protagonists. I read it years ago so I don’t remember the quality of the writing super well, but the story was fascinating and is entirely accurate for how the disaster would unfold if said volcano does erupt again.

      • Gena Prickette says:

        I recommended Ashfall to my daughter after reading about it here and she LOVED them! She’s read all three this month. Thank you for the great rec.

  5. Erin in CA says:

    Such a fun episode! I co-run a 7th grade book club (which started as a 6th grade book club), and it is so much fun. Our summer read was When Dimple Met Rishi, and we are reading Ender’s Game next (which I predict won’t be as popular, but will still lead to a fantastic discussion). My daughter loves Relish! Julie, if you haven’t read One of Us Is Lying, that was ALL the rage for the 12-15 year-olds this summer. Quick and fun. My personal fave YA of the year so far is Far From the Tree by Robin Benway — it’s excellent on audio! (Teen pregnancy is front and center, so fair warning for younger teens.)

    I am not a fan of When We Were Yours — too cloying and preachy for me. I am definitely going to listen to Aristotle and Dante, thanks for that recommendation!

    • mary says:

      I am sorry you did not enjoy When We Were Yours. Although I could see why some would see the need for editing and a more intense telling, I must state that I feel the story was point on about the real, horrifying situation that few today realize. I lived in the area when and where the case was revealed and heard the traumas on tv and radio and read about it in the newspapers. The evil reached to the top echelons of government and health care. I know of a family directly affected who 50+ years later are finally getting their lives sorted out. If there is one regret, I wish it had been written as non-fiction as opposed to fiction. May this situation never repeat itself.

    • Julie Mushkin says:

      I haven’t read One of Us is Lying, but a TON of my students have. It is definitely on my list. I have to push myself to read more mysteries.

  6. Fiona says:

    An unputdownable fast paced novel is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I think Julie will love it. I’m not going to describe it – just read it. I could not turn the pages fast enough.

  7. Trisha says:

    I highly recommend Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum. I related to Julie’s comment how she was crying, not because The Nightingale was so sad but because of the humanity of it. I don’t cry often when reading but Tell Me Three Things had me in tears at moments it wasn’t sad because I found it so incredible touching. (For the record, The Nightingale was the only other book I’ve read this year that also had me in tears). A great YA read!

    • Agreed! Tell Me Three Things is one of my favorite YA books I’ve ever read. I would also recommend What to Say Next, which is also by Julie Buxbaum. I didn’t like it as much as I liked Tell Me Three Things, but I know others really enjoyed it.

    • Julie Mushkin says:

      Thank you for the recommendation. I actually checked this out from the library and had to return it before I could read it. If we had the same response to The Nightingale, I will definitely pick this book back up.

    • Julie Mushkin says:

      Thank you for the recommendation. I actually checked this book out and didn’t get to it. I will definitely pick it back up.

  8. Susan says:

    I love the Illuminae series—Fun to read but even better on audio. Very much a hero journey for the teens in those books. Neal Shusterman’s Unwind dystology (I think that’s what the author called it) has some interesting discussion points.

  9. Kate says:

    I was also pleasantly surprised by Scythe. I listened to it on audio after reading The Giver for the first time and going off on a little dystopian kick. I thought the relationship between the two leads would have been better as a close friendship, but that’s a nitpick.

  10. Jessica Tidmore says:

    Uglies is a great book-it’s part of a trilogy, which makes it even better!
    I’m so glad you said The Nightingale is your favorite. As I was listening I was thinking about what MY favorite book is, and it is currently The Nightingale.
    I recommend Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. It is such a sweet story. It contains three stories that are related by a common item. It is kid lit, but very enjoyable. I’m a fourth grade teacher and I’m challenging my students to read this book-it’s about 400 pages, but I read it in a day.

    • Julie Mushkin says:

      My list is always evolving, but here are the selections I have for this year so far:
      1. Hero’s Journey: either The Good Thief, The Inquisitor’s Tale, Goldeline, A Tale Dark and Grimm, Howl’s Moving Castle or The Graveyard Book
      2. Dystopian Fiction: either The Hunger Games, City of Ember, Ender’s Game, Uglies, Scythe, or The House of the Scorpion
      3. Historical Fiction: either The War that Saved My Life, Fever 1793, Projekt 1065, The Passion of Dolssa, Salt to the Sea, Between Shades of Gray, Chains, or The Book Thief
      4. Verse/Play: The Crossover and Rebound, Monster and A Long Way Down, Brown Girl Dreaming, or One
      5. Identity/Morality/Bullying: Lily and Dunkin, Ghost, Wolf Hollow, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Hate U Give, Holding Up the Universe, or Mockingbird

      • Julie Mushkin says:

        Here are our 6th grade selections:
        Unit 1: Humanity (focus on civil/human rights, social justice, and civil disobedience)
        Same Sun Here by Neela Vaswani and Silas House
        The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
        March: Book One by Andrew Aydin and John Lewis
        The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Sims Levine
        Unit 2: Belonging (focus on family units and the individual in society)
        The Giver by Lois Lowry
        One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
        Miracle’s Boys by Jacqueline Woodson
        Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
        George by Alex Gino
        Unit 3: Perseverance (focus on resilience, teamwork, and overcoming adversity)
        A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
        Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury
        The Boys in the Boat (YA edition) by Daniel James Brown
        Unbroken (YA edition) by Laura Hillenbrand
        The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
        Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
        Unit 4: Freedom (focus on reconciliation, liberation, self-determination)
        Son by Lois Lowry
        The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan
        Refugee by Alan Gratz
        Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

        • Shelby says:

          Hi from Spreckels! (I was happy to hear that you were from Salinas!). Thank you! I was going to ask the same question about sharing your list. I want to read the books that my girls (ages 10 and 7) are reading for many of the same reasons you mentioned in the podcast. It was an enjoyable podcast!

      • Katie Sampson says:

        Thank you so much for sharing your selections! I can’t wait to show these to my sons! Finding new interesting reading for them seems to be a challenge. I love all the choices I. The list & am
        Hopeful that since the recommendations aren’t coming from Mom they’ll find something they love!

  11. Josey says:

    First of all, after realizing I’ve been mispronouncing ‘Scythe’ my ENTIRE life, I read the Kindle sample. It was amazing. And I’m now I’m sitting on my hands waiting for the library copy to come in and trying not to buy the full Kindle book.

  12. Kat C says:

    Hi Julie,
    Based on the two YA books you loved I would suggest They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera in which two Latino boys in the Bronx get the call from a mysterious service that predicts the day you will die. There is so much to talk about involving the ending and both boys have a strong connection to their parents–even though the parents aren’t physically present in the book.

  13. Julie,
    I loved your interview and all the wonderful things you’re doing with your students. When I was teaching full-time, I was reading for pleasure, but it took me a really long time to finish a book. It’s been eleven years since I quit teaching high school, so my recommendations are old. The books may be hard to get or expensive, but I loved The Icemark series by Stuart Hill. The Cry of the Icemark is the first one. It’s a fantasy series. When fourteen year old Thirrin’s father dies in battle, she becomes queen and must defend her tiny kingdom. She enlists the help of ghosts, and sentient polar bears from kingdoms far to the north of hers. One of her advisors, Oskan is a young wizard, (I think he’s a wizard. It’s been along time since I read the book.) So, there is some role reversal. Thirrin is a warrior and practical, Oskan is sensitive and wise. They end up being a great team.

    Another book I loved was The Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale. It’s a Newberry Award winner. I just now discovered that this is also a series. I’ll be reading this one again. The basic story is this: Miri lives in the mountains in a community of stone masons who live simply. The King’s priests have divined that the King’s son should marry a girl from Kiri’s home region, so all the teenage girls are sent to the Princess Academy to learn to become a princess and eventually queen. Get a bunch of teenage girls together competing for the honor of becoming a princess and there’s going to be tension. Kiri is a wise young woman, however, and has some amazing abilities passed down to her by her ancestors.

    I’m sure you’ve got lots of recommendations, so if you don’t read these books, I understand. My TBR stack is quite large.

    Thanks for sharing what you’re doing with your students.

  14. Priyanka C says:

    Hello readers! I’m putting together a book club based off of recommendations from the podcasts. For anyone in the Houston TX area who would like to take part, please feel free to reach out! 🙂

  15. K.D. says:

    Someone may have already suggested this one, I haven’t read all the comments yet. What about Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card? It’s a wonderful sci-fi novel that can be enjoyed by adults and teens.

  16. Cheryl says:

    I loved your discussion. The reason I started my Mother-Daughter Book club when my daughter was 9 was so I could read the books she wanted to read and to get her hooked on books. Best years of my life spent finding books they could read that were “age appropriate” but as we got into the 7th grade and high school the YA books were always for me. I love them and still read them. One I think was one of the most discussions we had as teens was “I am the Messenger” by Marcus Zusak. I would encourage all parents to read these books as the themes are so true to current life. One of my favories are “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell. Thanks for being such a great and current teacher!

  17. Laura Schwartz says:

    I loved this episode. I wanted to leave a dystopian recommendation (not YA but I think works for both adults and teenagers): Hugh Howey’s “Wool”. Also known as the Silo series, it was a series of short stories turned into a book series, centering around the same dystopian world, where the outside world is uninhabitable and civilization lives in a silo, buried underground.
    It’s quite mysterious and great for discussing social issues.

    • Laura Schwartz says:

      Back to thank you for introducing me to Ari and Dante. It is so much better than Simon vs the Homo Sapiens agenda! Someone mentioned the book’s tone as being flat, and I can see how it can be, but it does not detract from how wonderful these characters are, and I actually did NOT see the ending coming! It was a lovely two days spent with these boys and I wished I had more!

  18. Erin says:

    I picked up Nyxia because of this episode and I just finished reading it. It was a really fun and easy read! I can’t wait to read the next installment! Thank you for recommending it and I have Scythe on my list to read next. Looking forward to reading it!

  19. Susan Bishop says:

    I read “The Storyteller” by Jodi Picoult. Another story about WWII, Nazi , etc. I found it way too heavy of a read and I’m hesitant to read ‘The Nightingale’ for that reason. Do you still recommend ?

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