Tips and ideas for teaching high school ELA

image of three women writing; text overlay reads 11 female authors to read today

March is Women’s History Month – the month when teachers try to make a more concerted effort to read more texts by female authors (although it could be argued that, like Black History, this really should be taking place year-round).  So much of the “canon” in English classes is dead white guys. No disrespect to these texts – some of my favorite stories to read and teach fall in this category. But as we strive to incorporate more diversity into our classrooms, it’s important that we don’t neglect women and their contribution to a rich literary history. 

Looking to incorporate more female authors into your classroom and/or personal TBR list (which, if you’re like me, is about four miles long)? Keep reading for some of my favorite female writers – both old and new. 

YA Female authors

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Holly Jackson of the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series is the first of the YA authors to add to your classroom library. Part traditional prose, part podcast transcript, the GGGM series breaks with the typical formatting, making it a refreshing read. 

What starts as a final project for high school senior Pippa Fitz-Amboi turns into a search for answers and a fight for her life. 

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Karen M. McManus is another staple in YA mystery writing, best known for her One of Us is Lying series. The series has spawned a tv show as well as several standalone novels. 

Reminiscent of (and inspired by) The Breakfast ClubOne of Us is Lying follows five high school students serving detention. Five walk in. Only four walk out. What happened to Simon? 

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Continuing in the mystery theme – The Inheritance Games series by Jennifer Lynne Barnes.  The series reminds me of The Westing Game with its riddles and misdirections. Avery Kylie Grambs receives the shock of a lifetime when she learns that she has inherited billions. The catch? She has to live in Hawthorne House (the family home of her mysterious benefactor) for a year. 

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Another YA female author I recently discovered is Natalie C. Anderson, author of City of Saints & Thieves. I read this book over summer break, as it was one of the book club options for our next textbook adoption. 

The story centers around Tina, an orphaned teen who’s been living on the streets since her mother’s murder. Set in Kenya, this crime thriller follows Tina as she seeks revenge against the man she believes murdered her father. But as she does so, she finds help from the unlikeliest of sources. 

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A final YA author I’ve recently  Elizabeth Acevedo.  This Dominican-American writer is the author of novels such as The Poet X and Clap When You Land. I recently read Clap and used an excerpt from the first chapter as a mentor text for my students to write their own poems. One thing that sets Acevedo apart is that her novels are written in verse, giving them a spoken-word poetry vibe not found in traditional novels. 

I’ve also used her piece “Brief but Spectacular” for a rhetorical analysis close reading. 

historical fiction female authors

As a general rule, I’m more of a fiction person than nonfiction. However, I do enjoy historical nonfiction. One of the nonfiction authors I enjoy is Kate Quinn. I’ve read three of them – all set in WWI and WWII. What makes these a perfect choice for Women’s History Month is not only are they written by a woman, but they’re about women doing incredible and dangerous things. 

The Alice Network details the lives of female spies during WWI. The Rose Code follows three female WWII code breakers (and references the real-life Bletchley Park, inspiration for The Bletchley Circle tv show).   The Huntress follows a Nazi murderess (and includes a cameo by a character from The Alice Network.) 

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Another historical fiction female author I enjoy is Fiona Davis. Her books are typically a mixture of historical fiction and mystery. 

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Both authors are prime examples of the use of multiple perspectives to add depth to their writing. While not marketed for YA, these books could be a great addition for readers who enjoy historical fiction. 

mystery female authors

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Louise Penny is a Canadian author best known for her Armand Gamache murder mysteries series – a series that contains a whopping 18 novels. Each novel is set in the quiet, remote town of Three Pines. What’s nice about this series is that each novel is a stand-alone, so you don’t have to read them in order – although that might be helpful in establishing some backstories and relationships. 

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Tana French is an American-Irish writer known for her psychological mystery novels. 

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Lucy Foley is a British contemporary author. While she has written some historical novels, I’ve only read her mysteries. If you’re looking to escape to foreign lands for a mystery, Foley’s your gal. Paris. Ireland. The Scottish highlands. All highly romanticized. And perfect backdrops for murder. 

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Another author I recently discovered is Sulari Gentill, author of the crime/mystery novel The Woman in the Library. What sets this novel apart from so many others is its format. Like Good Girl’s Guide to Murder mentioned above, the novel is mixed media – part prose, part letter. 

So there you have it. Eleven female authors to add to your reading list. 

Who’s your favorite female writer? Hit reply and let me know. 

Until next time. Happy teaching! 

Heidi 

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