Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Required Reading for Teens.

When I saw this week's topic over at The Broke and the Bookish, I knew I had to post, even if I would be sneaking it in late in the day.

As a "teacher," I see reading in the classroom as something that needs to be constantly changing. Obviously I am an advocate for the classics, but I think there needs to be a mix. Today's teenagers need something to grab them-they need drama and action. And while I might adore Austen, I can think of many of my students who would absolutely despise that kind of story.

I approached coming up with this list by thinking about the students I have had and the issues they could relate to. I also had to think long and hard about trying to cover a variety of topics and decades. It was really hard. Eventually, it came down to picking the ten books I would be most excited to teach to students. I think my list covers a broad spectrum and would hopefully have something for any student in my classroom.

So basically, if I could teach any ten books to teens in MY classroom, this is what I would pick. Enjoy!

1. Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Ben Alire Saenz: I cannot say enough about this YA novel. Set in a barrio in new Mexico, it follows the story of Sammy and his friends. Together they battle loss, marginalization, racism, war, and family issues. It is a YA novel that no one seems to know about, but it is absolutely riveting. I think this would be a great novel to read with any teenage group, especially those who don't have a lot of diversity in their lives.

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry: I picked this to fit the bill for a dystopian novel and one that will give us all a lot to talk about. I created a unit plan for this one in college and I am itching to teach it to a class. Discussing memories, how society functions, etc. It would also be great to discuss this with an older group considering this is often classified as middle grade.

3. Macbeth by William Shakespeare: While I have no big issues with Romeo and Juliet, I do think it is rather overdone. My Shakespearean pick (because yes, WE NEED SHAKESPEARE) would have to be Macbeth. It is dark, gloomy, violent, and has witches. I love the witches. And wouldn't it be great to talk about the influence of power on individuals? And what we do to hold on to power? Way more fun than that icky love stuff.

4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: This classic is one of the most influential books I have ever read. I have read my copy so many times it is falling apart. My favorite quote about the power of books is included in this novel and would create so many great discussions, especially now and the loss of physical books with the influx of new technology. (Here is the quote I LOVE: "There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.")

5. The Odyssey by Homer: None of my lists are complete without Homer's epic. :) I would prefer to teach that full version rather than the water-down version many find in their textbooks. I can picture reading this out loud with classes of students and discussing all the fun and gory language. I would also want to transition away from talking about Odysseus' journey to talking about how Telemachus comes of age-something that gets ignored. What better issue to discuss with teens that that?!

6. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: This is probably the "hardest" novel on my list, but I think that if taught in the right way, this can be an extremely influential novel. From a literary standpoint, there is so much in here to discuss. But it is also a little wacky and out there, which would definitely hold the attention of some readers.

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: I put this one on here solely for the scene with the green light. I never understood that green light as a teen and I would love to be able to explain how significant it is. How it symbolizes that desire in ALL of us to reach out for the thing we want most.

8. The Crucible by Arthur Miller: Funnily enough, this is the only title on here that I HAVE taught, and I would love to teach it again. I think this is a great play for teens to read. There are so many issues here that are great discussion topics-lies, hypocrisy, etc. It was a favorite of my students, so it is definitely accessible.

9. Germinal by Emile Zola: This is definitely a wish-list book. I think the action and pace would hook readers, and while it is long, it has everything a teen could want. There's romance, danger, a corrupt company, rioting, profanity, etc, etc. It is definitely a mature book, but hey, this is a dream list, right?

10. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: I really wanted a Victorian novel on the list, and since Dickens is usually the standard, I wanted to switch it up. Mysteries are a genre usually ignored by required reading lists, but this one is wonderful. There are likeable and wonderful charaters, amazing villains, and lots of language to discover. I also like the idea of making teens read something that is lesser known.

There you have it. My list does veer away from the topic, but I think these are all great novels that I think some teens would love. Obviously there are some harder titles on here, but in a perfect world, every teen would be a reader and be moved by everything I like, right? :)

What would you put on your list?


  1. LOVED The Crucible in high school. Good call. I would have added that one if I had remembered! Loved Gatsby. Most of these I have on my TBR list/already own but will be checking out a few that I don't know too much about!

  2. Oooh good list. I loved The Giver, and even now love it as an adult. Sadly, I've really never read most of what's on your list - just The Crucible and MacBeth.

    I'd add to it: Nineteen Minutes & The Pact, both by Jodi Picoult.

  3. I saw Ben Alire Saenz give a reading, but he didn't have any copies of Sammy and Juliana for sale. I really want to read it though. Great list.

    Come visit me at The Scarlet Letter.

  4. I read The Giver, Macbeth, The Odyssey, Fahrenheit 451, and The Great Gatsby as required reading in high school, or middle school for The Giver. I have never read any of the other ones you listed.

  5. +JMJ+

    I'm more familiar with the Iliad than the Odyssey, which is why I always rush to recommend the former and seem to ignore the latter. A few years ago, having to teach the Iliad gave me the reason I needed to sit down with the text for a week and give it a properly thorough read. It was one of the best reading experiences of my life! I really, really wish I could have an excuse to do the same with the Odyssey, but as it is, I'm too busy. =( It's things like this that make me think that school is wasted on students. =P

    As for Shakespeare, I agree with you that we DO need him . . . and that Romeo and Juliet is seriously overdone. =P My own pick was A Midsummer Night's Dream because it's one of my favourites. I once had a great lesson plan on "the lunatic, the lover and the poet" up my sleeve, but I think I've forgotten it now.

    And I love Ray Bradbury, too, but I think Fahrenheit 451 is overdone! I'd love to teach Dandelion Summer, though. It might not have the heavier themes of his more famous Dystopian novel, but it's lyrical, nostalgic and (I daresay) good for the soul.

  6. Great list! I'm not familiar with the first one, and haven't read a couple of the others, but I like the variety. I actually had to read Macbeth in high school (senior year, along with Hamlet). Of course, we read Romeo & Juliet freshman year--which does have, I think, the advantage of being relatable to teens.

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