Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back to School

Today’s RTW Question from YA Highway: If you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?

I love this question because it’s one I’ve thought about a lot; I had a great English teacher for AP English both junior and senior years who introduced me to the classics and I loved (most of) them. But I was that type of student. But for so many teens it’s more important to get them reading a book they’ll find interesting—and find a way to include a bit of a lesson, too. As disappointing as I find it, Shakespeare and Austen just aren’t everyone’s cup of tea!

Here are my suggestions—and yes, I couldn’t help but include a few classics!

Wide Sargasso Sea (Norton Critical Editions)Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
This pairing is so important that both my high school teacher and a college professor taught it. And although I don’t love Wide Sargasso Sea reading the two books side-by-side is a great study in retellings, feminism, racism, and all sorts of possibilities.

YouYou by Charles Benoit
Ever since I read Charles’ debut teen novel I’ve wanted to send it to my high school with a big “USE THIS” note. This is the perfect book for students—especially boys—on in a non-AP English track; it’s compelling, gripping, and gritty. And it’s written entirely in second person, which is a great way for classes to discuss point of view.

Go Ask AliceGo Ask Alice
Or a more contemporary story about teen issues like drug use, suicide, pressures to be perfect. Perhaps Thirteen Reasons Why, or novels by Ellen Hopkins and Amy Reed. Great classroom discussions!

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
We read a lot of Holocaust literature in my middle and high schools—The Diary of Anne Frank, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Night, Dawn, and Day by Elie Wiesel. By the end of each Holocaust unit I felt desensitized because the discussions were so repetitive. The Book Thief, though, adds a really interesting and new perspective to this literature.

And, in addition to Jane Eyre you’d have to keep some Shakespeare, at least one Dickens, one Austen, The Canterbury Tales, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, a poetry unit, and I’m sure there are other classic curriculum choices I’m forgetting!


  1. It's funny, but tons of others have included THE BOOK THIEF as well. I guess it's really not that funny after all. You know what this means: I have to read it now. :) Great choices!

  2. So many people are mentioning The Book Thief--I need to finally read my copy.
    Also, I've been meaning to read Wide Sargasso Sea for ages. Very cool that you picked that pairing!

  3. THE BOOK THIEF is on my list as well, and it's such an amazing perspective on the Holocaust. Now, it's often easy to paint the Germans with a broad brush in WWII discussions, but I love how Zusak shows the German people in a different light.

  4. It's always interesting to see when one book really pops up on a bunch of lists. Sometimes I think all of us YA Highway folk read all the same books!

  5. Not that they're flat on the page, but the characters in The Book Thief truly came alive for me on audiobook. It's way too long on audio to use for a class assignment, but I'd love to hear if anyone has ever used it as a teaching tool.It would definitely suck in those reluctant readers!