Feature: Read Across America Month, Sharing Books from 50 States!

By Michele Mathews

Back in 1998, Read Across America Day started as a way to get children to read, and it coincided with Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2. Since then, the day has evolved into Read Across America Month and a year-round program.

Thinking about this program, I wondered what books I’ve read that are set in our 50 states, and much like my travels, I discovered I’ve read at least one book from nearly half of the states. Below, I’m sharing the list of the books I’ve read over the years.


The Story of My Life by Helen Keller: 

The story of Helen Keller has always fascinated me because I can’t imagine what it was like to be both deaf and blind. She wrote this memoir to tell her journey, and this book was later made into a movie called The Miracle Worker.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: 

During my brief years of teaching high school English, I taught this novel to juniors. When I’d read it as a high school junior years before, I didn’t find it as interesting, but as an adult, it’s become one of my favorite books. Nine-year-old Scout tells the story about racial injustice in a small town in Alabama during the 1960s.


Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer:

I haven’t read a nonfiction book quite like this one. It’s about the journey of Christopher Johnson McCandless, who lived in the Alaskan wilderness for four months before he died. Krakauer used his journalism skills and investigated McCandless’s story so he could write this book.

Call of the Wild by Jack London:

As a dog lover, I can’t say I loved this book, but since it is considered one of the classics in American literature, I did finish it. Buck is a 140-pound mix who is stolen from his family and sold as a sled dog. He goes on a journey to adapt to the wilderness.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou:  

One of the many books I read in college, this book is about Maya and her older brother being sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. She takes us on her transformation from a victim of racism to a young woman who deals with it in a dignified way.


Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck:  

Based on Steinbeck’s own experiences, this novella is about George and Lennie as two migrant workers. They move from place to place during the Great Depression looking for jobs. I felt like this book gives us a good look at what it was like during that time in our history.


Divergent by Veronica Roth:  

After reading Hunger Games, I gave this one a try and enjoyed it. This young adult novel takes place in Chicago after an apocalypse. The citizens, including the teens, join one of the five factions. They aren’t allowed to show any independence. There is a romance subplot between the main character and one of her group’s instructors.


The Fault in our Stars by John Green:  

This book is another young adult novel about two teenagers who meet at a cancer support group and fall in love. Set in Indianapolis, Green does a decent job of taking us around the city describing various tourist attractions as the teens get to know each other.


In Cold Blood by Truman Capote:  

As a criminal justice major in college, a creative nonfiction book like this one fascinates me. Capote tells the story of a family who were brutally murdered in Holcomb, Kansas. He and author Harper Lee traveled to the town where they did interviews to learn more about what happened.


A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines:  

This is another book that fascinates me because Jefferson is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is a young black man who is sentenced to death, and a teacher helps him become a man.


Carrie by Stephen King:  

This book was probably one of the first ones I read by horror author Stephen King. He has lived most of his life in Maine, so it didn’t surprise me that this story is set there. Carrie is a misfit who is bullied, and she begins using her telekinetic powers to seek her revenge.


The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares:  

As you can probably tell by now, I do enjoy reading young adult novels, and this one is no exception. Brashares writes this coming-of-age story about four teen girls who live in Maryland. They find a pair of jeans that mysteriously fits all of them even though each girl is a different size. They share these jeans as they travel to different parts of the world one summer.


The Help by Kathryn Stockett:  

I also enjoy historical fiction, so this one was a must-read for me. A recent college graduate tries to make a difference during the 1960s in a Mississippi town. The book gives a good portrayal of what it was like for African American women working in white households during that time in the South.


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain:  

This book is another of my favorites—probably because I enjoy a story told in first person. Huck tells us the story of his adventures to be civilized by his guardian and her sister.


Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume:  

As one of my favorite books from my childhood, this book tells the journey of teen Margaret Simon through adolescence. She is not only dealing with her lack of religious affiliation but topics about growing from a girl to a young woman.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:  

I had to read this one in high school, and I can’t say I am a huge fan of it. But I do realize it is a well-known book by Fitzgerald, especially after the movie. It takes place during the Jazz Age on Long Island and is the story of Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy Buchanan.


Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks:  

I haven’t read many of Nicholas Sparks books, but this is one I have. A mysterious woman shows up in a small North Carolina town and befriends a shop owner. She finds herself falling for him and his two children.


The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton:  

This classic book is another of my favorites. Set in Tulsa, Ponyboy tells the story of the two rival gangs—the Greasers and the Socs. This book deals with some serious themes, such as gang violence, underage drinking, and family dysfunction.


My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult:  

This book was the first one I read by Jodi. It takes place in a fictional town in Rhode Island where Anna was born as a savior sister because her older sister was diagnosed with leukemia. When their parents ask 13-year-old Anna to donate a kidney, she sues them for medical emancipation.


The Firm by John Grisham:  

This book was the first one I ever read by John Grisham. Mitch McDeere figures out his job at a law firm in Memphis isn’t what he thought it would be. Soon, he must choose between the law firm or the FBI.


Holes by Louis Sachar:  

This young adult novel was a book I taught to freshmen. Stanley is sent to a juvenile detention facility in a Texas desert after he’s wrongfully convicted of theft.


Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson:  

This book is a classic among younger readers, and it’s another one at the top of my list of favorites. It tells the story of two friends who view the woods by their houses as a magical kingdom.


An American Childhood by Annie Dillard:  

When I took a creative writing class in college, this memoir was one of the books I had to read as we studied writing styles. Annie shares about her childhood doing things like playing baseball and brings her stories to life with her writing.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold:  

Most of the time, I try to read the book before watching the movie, and I’m glad I did in this case. Susie is a 14-year-old girl who is murdered. She tells the story from Heaven.


Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder:  

Growing up, I read all of the books Wilder wrote. This autobiographical book is the first in the series. Wilder tells us memories of her early childhood growing up in Pepin, Wisconsin, in the 1870s. 

I’m sure I have more books to share, but the list is a good start. Now it’s your turn. How many books have you read that take place in each of the 50 states? 

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Article originally Published in the March / April / May 2024 Issue: Indie in Bloom.

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