I love when I get the chance to sit down to read a good book. It doesn’t happen as often as I like, but when it does, I’m always drawn to science fiction. Here are books that are a must for your teacher summer reading list paired with STEM classroom activities that you can try next school year!

1. The Martian by Andy Weir

I bet you’re not surprised to see this one on the list! This book was an instant hit when released and was stellar enough that it was adapted into a movie starring amazing actors like Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. But I’m not here to talk about the movie. This book had me hooked from chapter one; I read it in its entirety on a flight from Baltimore to San Diego. What I enjoyed the most about it was how scientifically accurate it is.

The author, Andy Weir, has worked as a computer programmer for most of his life, and his attention to scientific detail does not go unmissed in The Martian. It’s a perfect story for picturing a possible future on Mars, while including the drama of a mission going awry. It’s this generation’s Apollo 13 and a must read for any STEM teacher!

STEM Activity Idea: Challenge students to build their own Martian rover with various materials. The rover must traverse a distance you specify. To make the activity more challenging, assign a cost to each material and have students stay under a budget. This CreateKit and FabricationStation have the perfect supplies for a challenge like this.

2. The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky

I recently wrote about this book in my article The Science Behind 3 Kid-Friendly Space Books, but I would be remiss if I didn’t give it another plug here! Basically, The Countdown Conspiracy is The Martian for kids. This is a great book to read this summer if you teach elementary or middle school STEM courses because it’s completely appropriate to have your students read next school year. This is a more suitable age-level book to read than The Martian but has all the excitement and scientific accuracy.

The author, Katie Slivensky, is an educator at the Boston Museum of Science and she knows her stuff! As an educator and science-enthusiast, she knows how to communicate complex STEM principles in a way that’s tangible and easily digestable for young readers.

Student STEM Activity Idea: After reading this book, students could easily do the challenge I described above with The Martian, but since this book has a heavy robotics and circuits slant, I would check out this Rover Kit from Snap Circuits. Students can build their own motorized rover that they can control around the classroom.

3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Okay, enough about space – even though I have a million of other recommendations like 2001: A Space Odyssey, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, and The Martian Chronicles! The latter book shares its author, Ray Bradbury with my next recommendation—Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury is a master at science fiction usually under the guise of dystopian worlds and events. When I was in middle school, Fahrenheit 451 was required reading and I remember thinking “boring!” and wanting nothing to do with it. I think this happens when we follow up great STEM books with essay assignments and tests instead of hands-on activities!

This book is about a fireman whose job is to start fires instead of putting them out. Books are banned in this world, and the temperature that they burn is 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Somewhere along the story enters a mechanical dog/spider hybrid, making it interesting for robotics enthusiasts!

Student STEM Activity Idea: Have students build a tower of books like the piles described in Fahrenheit 451. Their tower should have the most books without toppling! Additionally, you can discuss the chemical properties behind the temperatures at which different materials burn and safely test these with a Bunsen burner in your science lab. Or explore the robotics behind a mechanical spider like this inexpensive BinaryBots Spider Kit.

4. My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese

This is a book that I would recommend for a teacher, but not a student as it contains adult language and topics. Nevertheless, this non-fiction “Doctor’s Story” written in 1994 has themes that are very relatable to today’s current events. Dr. Verghese is a doctor of infectious diseases (kind of a Dr. House) who studied HIV before it even had a name. This book is a fascinating retelling of what it was like to study a disease we couldn’t really understand at the time, from the way it was spread to what impacts it had on the human body and consequently, the world. You’re sure to draw parallels to this story and everything you see on the news today!

Student STEM Activity Idea: While the themes in this book are geared towards adult readers, there are lots of appropriate STEM activities that can be done to study epidemiology and virology. This Contagion Crushers kit has everything you need to conduct a full-blown investigation into the spread of disease. Additionally, its included curriculum is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards.

You could also try shorter virology activities with low cost items from your pantry. To do this, students swap samples of flour with each other, unknowing who has an infected sample – one that secretly contains baking powder. At they end, they put some vinegar in their sample and if it bubbles, they were infected. I have a full write up of this activity on STEM Universe here. Follow up by watching this awesome video of how we can repel germ spread just by washing our hands!

What’s on your summer reading list as you prepare for teaching in the next school year? Share your favorite STEM reads in the comments below!