20 Really Good Books for Youth Workers – A Mix

What links all the books below together?  Each of the books below in some way changed how I understood my work or life in a fundamental way, provided an invaluable skill, tool, or piece of knowledge, or proved to be incredibly insightful regarding how to live, teach or work.  They all apply to informal or formal educational settings, experiential education, and very often to life in general as well.  I haven’t rated them, though at some point down the line I may.  I’d love your thoughts.  Please, post below or email me. Enjoy.


How To Talk So Kids Can Learn by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish – the ideas in this book are straightforward, immediately implementable and effective.  While the concepts and techniques they present are largely focused on kids and the framework is a classroom, I have used all of the techniques and taught many of them across formal and informal settings & with a variety of ages. The tools in this book instantly changed how I interacted with just about everyone and with young people, in particular.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina – Just a great book about how our brains work and concepts related to teaching and memory that when used can help us as individual learners or as teachers sharing information.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath – Probably the best book I’ve read related to making ideas sticky and presentations memorable.  While it is not comprehensive, it is focused on core, useful ideas.

Check out the Love and Logic books.  I’d say that Teaching with Love & Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom by Jim Fay and David Funk is probably the most applicable to our work – The Love and Logic approach as shared in this book provides tools for managing a classroom, working with kids of any age, etc.  The overall concepts work really well when you are with a group or an individual over time.  Many of the specific techniques can be used even in new situations. You can visit Jim Fay’s Amazon Page for many more Love and Logic resources. David Funk’s Amazon Page has two additional books related to Love and Logic with special needs children.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck – The core concept of this book – the power of a growth mindset – is one of the most important I’ve come across in a long time.  I’m also struck by the surprising ways in which it can potentially play out in our settings, particularly those related to praise and goal setting.  This applies equally to adults and children, informal and formal settings, and the role of educator or supervisor.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by Jim Collins – While some of what Jim Collins and his team found has become cliche (in part because of the incredible success of the book and the proliferation of the terminology Collins used), the core ideas are worth considering deeply, especially if you read this and follow up with Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great by Jim Collins, a short and impactful translation to the non-profit world.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer – A really fun book about how we make decisions.  His take on NFL quarterbacks is worth the read alone AND Lehrer frames counter-intuitive ideas regarding decision-making with clarity and applicability.

The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben-Shahar – Whether you read this for yourself, for the young people with whom you work, or both, Ben-Shahar’s story, practical ideas, and exercises provides a third way between “perfection” and “good enough”.  Seeking the optimal rather than perfection has power to improve our lives and the lives of the young people with whom we work.  Wow.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman – An amazing compendium of different recent, mind-shifting ideas about children.  From the “right” kind of praise to better understandings about only-children, this book is filled with great information worth considering.

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition by William Bridges – We so rarely do transitions well in the world of youth.  We’re really great at moments in time – graduations, b’nai mitzvah, etc., but we rarely do the transition from before the event to after the event well.  Whether you are going through a transition in your life or you are looking to make transitions work better in your work, this is a worthwhile read.

The Soul of Education: Helping Students Find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School by Rachael Kessler – Just a really cool book.  I think the title captures the core ideas.

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by Arbinger Institute – This was recommended to me by a staff member at Kutz camp.  He had read it in a business class and thought that it was incredible.  I totally agree.  I think about the book often as I get stuck in my boxes, catch myself and gradually work my way out.  A classic business book which focuses in the realm of business, it’s really a book about personal growth, the inter-connectedness of life, and our relationships with others.

The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel – A modern classic on parenting.  Mogel’s vision for raising self-reliant children is both deeply loving and incredibly strong.  She helps bring focus to what many youth professionals feel and believe instinctively.  She also provides tools for us to grow in our professional and personal roles.

The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living by Joseph Telushkin – Telushkin brings Jewish values to life, providing stories, vignettes, Jewish text, and a thoughtful interpretation of Jewish ethics to guide just about anyone in how to approach very real every-day situations, relationships, and internal struggles.  I love this book.

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books) by Norman Doidge – I almost didn’t include this one, but I just had too.  This book has deeply changed how I understand learning, our ability to grow as human beings at any age, and my responsibility to the people around me tap into our deep ability to flex our brains.  Brain Plasticity and the ability of the brain to make huge change may no longer be the wow-idea that it was ten years ago, but the ways in which this concept plays out in our lives and world continues to amaze me.  Doidge does a terrific job explaining the science and the practical, non-scientific elements with stories, metaphor, and clear entertaining prose.

The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything by Steven M.R. Covey – I’m still working to develop my trustworthiness.  Covey’s take on trust helped me understand that there are different types of trust and that both are important.  While I am pretty good with one type of trust, the other continues to be a struggle.  Where are you when it comes to the different types of trust?  Do you score really high on one, but miss the mark on the other?  How can you continue to grow in ways that allow others to deeply and fully trust you?  An important read.

Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships by Daniel Goleman – Wonderful insights into how we operate socially, how what we are born with and what we learn interact in social settings, and how we can help ourselves and others become more socially intelligent.

A Couple of Patrick Lencioni’s Books – I really like virtually all of Patrick Lencioni’s books, but the two I’ve listed here have been the most impactful on my work and are the two I feel the most confident in recommending.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (J-B Lencioni Series) by Patrick Lencioni –   The Five Dysfunctions of a team and the strategies to overcome those dysfunctions have been invaluable and, while I still have a long way to go, I’ve made strides and better understand where and how to focus.

Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business (J-B Lencioni Series) by Patrick Lencioni – Death by Meeting is one of those books that is really simple, but forever changes how I approach and understand something as basic as a meeting.  Since reading the book, I believe that meetings I’ve run are more productive, focused, meaningful and worthwhile. I’ve adapted the ideas that Lencioni shares while sticking with his core ideas.  I’ll never see meetings the same again.

*By the way – If you’re looking for something more specific or that fits particularly well with your style, please let me know and I’ll see what I have.  More lists to come.

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