Great stories about Real people in real places

ESL Literacy Resources -- Literacy Fiction Reading Books -- Teaching Adults to Read Books
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Bee Creek Blues
It is 1934, in the middle of the Great Depression in America. There is no work, and times are hard. Adrian Cooper, a young African American college student from Ohio, has had to leave school because there is no money. He joins CCC Company 1827 to help build roads, dams, and parks. And he belongs to a rare “integrated” CCC company where African Americans work side by side with white Americans. CCC Company 1827 is sent to Meridian, Texas where it is hot, and the sun shines hard all day. The government wants them to build a dam, by hand, to bring water, and hope, to the ranchers and townspeople of Meridian. Not all goes smoothly. Some whites in Meridian don’t like the idea of African Americans working on the dam. Will CCC Company 1827 build the dam? Will Adrian ever go back to school? Will good times ever return? Follow Adrian as he works alongside his friends and rebuilds his future.

Meridian
It is present day Meridian, Texas, and the Meridian Tribune, the tiny local newspaper, needs a new reporter. Young Mr. Bill Wells, fresh from the University of Texas, takes the job. Moving from the big city to a small town (Meridian: Population 4,445) brings some surprises, but Bill Wells reports on who he meets, and places he visits, and brings to life this small and diverse town. He battles alongside the townspeople to keep the local school open and encourages young people in town to learn photography. Written as a series of newspaper advertisements and stories, we follow young Mr. Wells as he begins to call Meridian his home.

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Cecilia’s House

Cecilia lives in tiny Sunflower, Texas. There aren’t many jobs in a country where the towns are small and far apart. But Cecilia has built a good house-cleaning business with her business partner Franny. But one day, Cecelia drives over to visit Franny, who has been sick. When she gets to Franny’s house, a police car is waiting with flashing lights. What Cecilia learns next will change her life. Cecilia's adventure continues in "The Storm."

 

The Foraging Class

High school student Shana can’t believe she has to spend her Spring Break on a camping trip at a Texas state park, attending something awful called a “Foraging Class.” The class will teach them about eating things that look like grasses and weeds! But she has no choice. So Shana, her mother Alice, and best friend Kristen drive off on their adventure into the green pine forests of East Texas. Then everything changes one night, deep in the park. And none of them will ever see the world the same way again.

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The Cell Phone Lot

Jessica Vasquez had worked hard to get where she was. Though some in her family had despaired of her future, she put herself through cosmetology school and landed her dream job: overseeing the beauty department for a chain of drugstores. But her fortune abruptly changes. A manager’s daughter, on a mission of her own, puts stolen makeup and perfume in Jessica’s bag. The girl lies to her dad about what happened, and Jessica is fired. It seems that Jessica’s life is over.
 

But is it really?
 
Needing to pay the bills, Jessica begins driving for a ridesharing company. It’s scary at first, and she doesn’t make a lot of money. But soon she gets the hang of it. Follow Jessica as her father and her new friends at the airport cell phone lot help her to find a new life—and, just maybe, get some of her old life back.

Review on Goodreads: "Contemporary high interest story with diverse characters. Great for literacy learners, but I enjoyed it as well."

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Key City on the River

On a cold November afternoon in 1833, two wagons are about to cross the dark Mississippi River into Iowa Territory on a tiny boat. Penny Cooper, Nate Tilden, Aunt Sunday, and Jonathan and Ella Butterman are full of questions. Aunt Sunday just wants to know if they’re going to drown. Jonathan and Ella wonder if they will succeed in the new Territory. And Penny and Nate are eager to learn if they are going to be free―to marry, to prosper, to live as free people.

Aunt Sunday, Penny, and Nate were slaves in Kentucky, not a year before. What will the new Iowa Territory decide on the question of owning human beings? No one yet knows.

The little group survives the Mississippi crossing and settles in Key City. There isn’t much to the town: a few log cabins and modest buildings in a forest opening. And very rough, very tough lead miners, including the mad Ginn brothers who hate Nate and his dark skin. They can’t forget he stopped them from stealing Jonathan’s horse. Storm clouds are brewing.

Key City on the River is based on fact and takes place in a real town. It explores a little known time in early American history as well as the timeless issue of otherness mixed with hope for the future.

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Even native-born Americans don’t know the Deep South well. It’s a beautiful, deeply forested region, with diverse people and a long history. These stories set in Mississippi and Louisiana deal with two mysteries. How well do we know a place? And how well do we know our families?

Lights at Chickasaw Point
Brian Longfield is a campground host at Trace State Park in Mississippi. The campground is full of elderly Americans. Many of them have no money, and so they live in old trailers that are falling apart. Brian does his best to repair their old, broken homes, but Brian has his own problems. His beautiful wife is in a nursing home in a town nearby, and each day she slips further away. Then some strange things begin to happen. It begins with mysterious lights at Chickasaw Point, a dark and wooded and mysterious place across the lake. What will Brian find when he goes there one night? READ THE SEQUEL: "Living at Trace."  Brian Longfield's adventure continues in "Living at Trace."

The Two Garcons
Jeff Garcon’s parents have done something really crazy, and Jeff doesn’t know what to make of it. Leaving their home in Minnesota, in Jeff’s junior year of high school, they move to Jeff’s father’s hometown of Monroe, Louisiana. For the first time in his life, Jeff, who is white, is in the minority. But things get even more interesting. On the first day of school, there are two Garcon boys in the same homeroom. Jeff is surprised to find Corey Garcon, who shares his name, and who is African American.

Living at Trace (SEQUEL to "Lights at Chickasaw Point")
Brian Longfield’s life has somehow gone in the wrong direction. His wife has died, and he wonders whether he will ever feel happy again. But life does go on, and in unexpected ways. Now he works as a campground host at a beautiful state park in Mississippi, and spends his time helping families at the campground.

But strange things happen at the park, too. Brian finds a small, hungry dog left behind by a family and takes him in. And that is not all the family left behind. The father dumped his oldest son, 14-year-old Tellman, in a nearby town without food or money. Together with Park Ranger Jack Madison, Brian tries to find Tellman’s evil father, Dave Sykes, who still has Rio, Tellman’s little brother. When Dave Sykes does return, something shocking happens.

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The Night Telephone

Dr. Tarak Kapoor cannot sleep. He has just taken a job as a telemedicine doctor in Texas. Garnet is two days and five airports away from his home in Mumbai. Tarak is so tired, but his body thinks it’s lunchtime in India. By 2:30 a.m. he is wandering the empty streets. To his surprise, he finds a brightly lit pay telephone next to a set of broken traffic lights. Even though it’s the middle of the night, people drive up one by one and make calls. Why on earth are they here at this hour? Who are they calling?

The mystery deepens when Tarak retraces his steps the next day. All he finds is an empty lot covered with dirt and trash. Perhaps he has made a mistake. His jet lag is pretty bad. But when he returns that night, the phone booth is back in its spot, glowing brightly. Tarak picks up his courage when an old man stops his car to make a call. Tarak questions him about the phone. The man asks, “Is there someone you want to call?” and drives away into the empty night. As Tarak looks at the phone, it begins to ring. Will he answer the night telephone?

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Post Office on The Tokaido

In Japan, nothing is more familiar than the neighborhood post office, with its big red box in front and bright, welcoming windows. The post office has been Siya’s favorite place since she was a child. Now a young woman, Siya is delighted to have a job at the Shindori Post Office in Shizuoka City, even though it is temporary.

But her boss is a jerk. Born in Japan of a Japanese father and an Indian mother, Siya looks just a little different. The boss won’t believe she is a native speaker and gives her a hard time every day! Adding to her worries, a motorbike bandit is stealing money from elderly customers who use post offices to do their banking.

Shindori Post Office is right on the Tokaido Road, an ancient path that follows the sea. As Siya explores her new home in Shizuoka City, she finds history hidden away in this modern city. Siya is strong, and she notices things. One day, as she stands on the old road, with modern cars zooming by, the motorbike bandit strikes. And what Siya does next surprises everyone...even herself!

Review on Amazon: "The description of landscape in provincial area called Shizuoka city is so beautiful, which tempted me to visit the historic road, “Tokaido”. Also, the warmth and shyness of each character is written realistically. The interaction with the local people around Siya makes her experience joys and sorrows, which leads up to her making something of her life."

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Queen Serene

Meet Queen, who drives a garbage truck in little Garnet, way out on the plains of West Texas. Tall and beautiful, Queen wonders what will become of her. What should have been a good life didn’t work out. Her cold husband locked her out of the house and dumped her boxes in front of the house with a note. She had few job skills. Yet like a tender plant after a terrible winter, she puts out roots and makes a life for herself. Her ex-brother-in-law gets her a job with the City of Garnet Solid Waste Disposal Department. Her boss and co-workers are all men, and they tell third-grade jokes all the time, but they’ve got her back. When Queen gets enough money to move into a little 1937 house, they help her move in. Even better, Queen gets to live across the street from her 87 year old grandmother, Betty Cope. Betty needs assistance with small, day to day things, and Queen is happy to help…unlike Betty’s three daughters, including Queen’s own mother Lila. Betty Cope’s sudden trip to the hospital throws Queen right up against Lila and her Aunt Reba, a rich, awful woman from Dallas. And while Queen struggles to stay serene, her mother and aunt do something unbelievable. It’s up to Queen to put things right.

Review on Amazon: "It's a suitable read for youngsters, and written at a very easy reading level that disguises some level of depth. I particularly liked the lightly figurative image of Queen driving her garbage truck through the alleys to see the private, more personal side of local family's homes, all of which is carefully hidden and concealed behind the immaculate facade people display from the front of their houses."

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The Storm (SEQUEL to "Cecilia's House")

Cecilia Hunter has gone through some changes. She lives in Sunflower, Texas, a little town sitting alone under the big West Texas sky. She’s changed her house-cleaning business into a home health care business for the elderly living in the area. Wearing her orange I Take Care of It t-shirt, she visits old Mrs. Gold and cleans her house and drives her to the supermarket. Then she visits Mr. Harrison, an 87-year-old farmer, and helps him with his banking. And finally she visits sweet Mrs. Lee, who tells her in a strange voice that “a storm is coming.” Even after a long day at work, Cecilia drives many miles to Lubbock to attend a home health care class. She cares about the elderly people she works for. And she wants to do her job right. That night, while driving home in the darkness through empty country, Cecilia encounters a terrible storm. It was just like Mrs. Lee said. Terrible wind and rain force her off the road in a small canyon near Sunflower. But she finally makes her way home. In the days to follow, Cecilia sees another storm brewing. Mrs. Lee’s son and his family are moving back to Sunflower. This should be happy news. But Mrs. Lee’s granddaughter Anita, acts strangely. Something is wrong. And then the real storm comes, beginning with a terrible fire in Sunflower. Will Cecilia and the Lee family ever be the same?

Summer in Cimarron
Rhonda lives in a small, old trailer at the Cimarron Highway Motel and Trailer Park. She doesn’t have a car, she doesn’t have a refrigerator, and she doesn’t know anyone. But Rhonda knows trouble. Her husband left her for a woman he met on the internet. He also took Rhonda’s money. But something about the beautiful, lonely, mountain town of Cimarron begins to pull at Rhonda. There is something about the fresh air, the mountains, and of all things, a young black bear who visits the trailer park one night. Rhonda makes friends, and then she makes a decision that will change her life forever.

Lunch at the Dixie Diner
Andrea is no one special. A night nurse in a city an hour away, she drives to work at sunset, drives home at sunrise, washes her truck, and then visits her mother Miley at the Fairfield Nursing Home. And pretty much every day in her life is the same. Some days Miley doesn’t know who Andrea is or why she’s visiting, but every week they still have lunch together at the Dixie Diner. But even though Miley is old and losing her memory, she knows something that may lead to Andrea’s happiness. And the old lady takes action.

Review on Amazon: "As an EFL instructor, I usually struggle with finding the appropriate audible short stories for my learners. I planned to do workshops about extensive reading and I looked at so many reading materials, but they were either too long or without audio records. Now, after finding the American Chapters series, I decided to include them in my next workshop. Thank you so much!"

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The Visitors

by Greta Gorsuch

It is June, 1933 in little Wellington, Texas. The townspeople, farmers, and ranchers just want it to rain. They’re off alone in the Texas Panhandle, and the whole country is coming to pieces around them. But odd things are going on. For a starter, there’s a big, luxurious red V8 Ford cruising around the lonely country highways at night without its headlights on. And a bright blue rubber child’s play ball keeps showing up—and disappearing—as if the thing has a mind of its own. Then, small town life gets really strange when outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow pay a visit.

Review on Amazon: "This is a very well-written depiction of a small Texas panhandle town that is visited by Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree in the middle of the Depression. Money has dried up and so has the rain, but townspeople observe everything carefully. It's made for ESL/EFL and youth with straightforward sentences and careful, visual language; as an ESL teacher for many years I appreciate the ability to get on with a good story, with good visualization."