An independent day school serving grades K-12 | St. Paul, MN

12 Book Recommendations from Librarian Kate Brooks

With activities limited due to COVID-19, Randolph Campus Librarian Kate Brooks put together a list of book recommendations for the community. Happy reading, Spartans!

The first set of books are available on the School's EBSCO platform, which is restricted to SPA affiliates. As a reminder, username and password to access EBSCO off-campus directions can be found here.

  1. The Other Side of the Wall by Simon Schwartz (trans. From German)

    Publisher’s Description: Simon Schwartz was born in 1982 in East Germany, at a time when the repressive Socialist Unity Party of Germany controlled the area. Shortly before Simon's birth, his parents decided to leave their home in search of greater freedoms on the other side of the Berlin Wall. But East German authorities did not allow the Schwartzes to leave for almost three years. In the meantime, Simon's parents struggled with the costs of their decision: the loss of work, the attention of the East German secret police, and the fragmentation of their family. In his debut graphic novel, Simon Schwartz tells the true story of his parents' coming of age in East Germany, their rejection of the communist way of life, and the challenges of leaving that world behind.

    Find on EBSCO.

  2. I, Claudia by Mary McCoy

    Publisher’s Description: Disaffected teen historian Claudia McCarthy never expected to be in charge of Imperial Day Academy, but by accident, design, or scheme, she is pulled into the tumultuous and high-profile world of the Senate and Honor Council. Suddenly, Claudia is wielding power over her fellow students that she never expected to have and isn't sure she wants. Claudia vows to use her power to help the school. But there are forces aligned against her: shocking scandals, tyrants waiting in the wings, and political dilemmas with no easy answers. As Claudia struggles to be a force for good in the universe, she wrestles with the question: does power inevitably corrupt?

    Find on EBSCO.

  3. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

    Publisher’s Description: 'This is East Texas, and there's lines. Lines you cross, lines you don't cross. That clear?'New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive. Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

    Find on EBSCO.

  4. No Crystal Stair : A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and R.Gregory Christie.

    Publisher’s Description: 'You can't walk straight on a crooked line. You do you'll break your leg. How can you walk straight in a crooked system?'Lewis Michaux was born to do things his own way. When a white banker told him to sell fried chicken, not books, because 'Negroes don't read,' Lewis took five books and one hundred dollars and built a bookstore. It soon became the intellectual center of Harlem, a refuge for everyone from Muhammad Ali to Malcolm X. In No Crystal Stair, Coretta Scott King Award–winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson combines meticulous research with a storyteller's flair to document the life and times of her great-uncle Lewis Michaux, an extraordinary literacy pioneer of the Civil Rights era.'My life was no crystal stair, far from it. But I'm taking my leave with some pride. It tickles me to know that those folks who said I could never sell books to black people are eating crow. I'd say my seeds grew pretty damn well. And not just the book business. It's the more important business of moving our people forward that has real meaning.'

    Find on EBSCO.

  5. Kindred. A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy and John Jennings

    Publisher’s Description: Octavia E. Butler's bestselling literary science-fiction masterpiece, Kindred, now in graphic novel format. More than 35 years after its release, Kindred continues to draw in new readers with its deep exploration of the violence and loss of humanity caused by slavery in the United States, and its complex and lasting impact on the present day. Adapted by celebrated academics and comics artists Damian Duffy and John Jennings, this graphic novel powerfully renders Butler's mysterious and moving story, which spans racial and gender divides in the antebellum South through the 20th century. Butler's most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana's own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him. Held up as an essential work in feminist, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement, there are over 500,000 copies of Kindred in print. 

    Find on EBSCO.


The second set of books were chosen because they are available to everyone right now.

  1. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo Freely available via Ebooks Minnesota

    Because of Winn-Dixie was chosen for One Book One Minnesota, a new statewide book club that invites Minnesotans of all ages to read a common title and come together virtually to enjoy, reflect, and discuss. For more information on the program and related events, see their website.

    Publisher’s Description: One summer’s day, ten-year-old India Opal Buloni goes down to the local supermarket for some groceries – and comes home with a dog. But Winn-Dixie is no ordinary dog. It’s because of Winn-Dixie that Opal begins to make friends. And it’s because of Winn-Dixie that she finally dares to ask her father about her mother, who left when Opal was three. In fact, as Opal admits, just about everything that happens that summer is because of Winn-Dixie.

    Find Because of Winn Dixie on Ebooks Minnesota.

  2. Beginner’s Illustrated Guide to Gardening by Katie Elzer-Peters Freely available via Ebooks Minnesota

    Maybe like me, the stay at home order has you appreciating your backyard like never before. This book can help get you started!

    Publisher’s Description: Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening is a one-stop, easy to understand, beautifully designed book with step-by-step instructions and photographs for every important gardening and landscaping technique. New homeowners with no prior knowledge of landscape care will learn how to turn their yards from weedy, overgrown patches to gorgeous landscapes that are the envy of their neighbors. 

    Find Beginner's Illustrated Guide to Gardening on Ebooks Minnesota.

  3. Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood

    Before the Netflix series there was the book series. Phryne Fisher is an adventurous and unconventional detective in 1920s Australia. 

    Find Phryne Fisher Mysteries.


The following are books that I’ve read recently and would whole-heartedly recommend even though they’re not available on any of our own ebook platforms. Consider checking your public libraries to see if they’re available as ebooks there.

  1. Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

    This collection of short stories is at turns dreamy, surreal and unsettling. Many reviewers compare her to Franz Kafka, which is quite the compliment and hints at the power of her writing. (Translated from the Spanish)
  2. How Long ‘til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin

    Jemisin is perhaps best known for being the only author to receive the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a row for her Broken Earth Series. This short story collection is a wonderful introduction if you haven’t read anything of hers before, it’s sure to make you into an appreciative fan.
  3. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

    Grounding for the reader in uncertain times, this book weaves together traditional Native wisdom and science to show how the former enriches the latter. 
  4. Maybe Esther: A Family Story by Katja Petrowskaja

    Petrowskaja was born in Ukraine, but grew up in Russia and later moved to Germany where she has had a successful career as a writer in German. This autobiographical novel employs language that is deeply poetic and mysterious as it investigates her family’s history through many regimes and multiple tragic histories.