Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Every High Schooler Should Read.

Hi everyone!

It's been quite some time since I've participated in a Top Ten Tuesday (or blogged....but that's another story), but I loved this week's "Top Ten Books Every ____________ Should Read."

As a high school English/history teacher, I am forced to teach books to my students. Sometimes, I totally see the merit in the books we are required to teach. And sometimes...I think there are so many others worth our time. So, here is my list of books that I think high school students should read. Please note-this is based on my own experiences as a high school teacher and knowing what the majority of our students love. Most of these books ARE taught in my building in varying classes...and some are not. And, this is just my top ten. There are quite a few books I have VERY strong opinions about that are not on this list. ;)

In no particular order...

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: I think this is the quintessential book that all high school students should read-and most do. Lee's masterpiece is a part of our ninth grade curriculum (one of the many reasons I wish I taught that course), and the students usually love it. It's very much a book about losing your childlike innocence and it definitely brings up adult topics. I think that for ninth graders, who are struggling with that very thing, this book speaks to them in a way that many cannot.

2. Othello by William Shakespeare: If I had to pick just one title by Shakespeare for high schoolers to read, it would definitely be Othello, not the overdone Romeo and Juliet. Personally, I think that today's high schoolers can handle the darker and more mature themes found in Othello, and it offers much more textual complexity than the other. Sadly, Othello is not a part of my Shakespeare class curriculum, as it is taught in a senior English class, but I do think it is one every high schooler should read.

3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: Our district teaches the much shorter Steinbeck novella, Of Mice and Men to our sophomores, and while that has some similarities to The Grapes of Wrath (the Great Depression, migrant workers, etc), it pales in comparison to this tome. And while we talk about the loss of the American Dream when reading Of Mice and Men, it pales in comparison. I also think that The Grapes of Wrath captures what it means to be an American more than many other texts that are often taught in high school.

4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: Although I have only read this title once, I was struck by how much it could potentially teach a high schooler. As we all know, many high schoolers struggle with identity, appearance, and the perception of themselves by others on a daily basis. I think this book teaches, not in an overly preachy way, to value yourself for what you truly are.

5. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien: This was a title that I thankfully did read in high school (as a free choice read in an honors English class), and I do think it's a necessity for all high school students. It is one thing to teach about the horrors of war-the futility of fighting for something without a real purpose, and the dangers that faced very young men and women. O'Brien manages to capture all of this in many of his works, but this is an incredibly raw account of Vietnam. I think that for many of today's high schoolers...well, they have a jaded view of war. I think this is an eye-opening and necessary read.

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Hand's down, The Great Gatsby is my favorite book to teach. I love pulling apart the beautiful language and discussing the prosperity and excess of the Jazz Age with my sophomores. They love the vapid nature of Jordan and Daisy, and the hopeless love between Gatsby and Daisy. They also love the ending...and the lessons that life, even with the best laid plans and all the dreams in the world, sometimes has a mind of its own. And for my kids, they need that lesson.

7. A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn: Every summer, my fellow AP U.S. History teacher and myself assign portions of A People's History as summer homework to get the kids ready for the year. We've modified the assignment every year, but the book remains constant. What I love about Zinn's take on U.S. history is the alternate viewpoint. All textbooks are biased, and none more so than U.S. History textbooks. This challenges our students to think beyond what they already know and introduces them to historical perspective. I love this title, and have already decided to integrate it more into my curriculum next school year.

(I also wanted to mention that Lies My Teacher Told Me comes in a close second to this title. I have my students read the intro to that book on the first day of school to get them thinking-I highly suggest it as well).

8. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: Competing with Moby-Dick, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is THE American novel. Sadly, it is not a novel that is currently taught in our district, and it is the subject of frequent challenges across the country. However, I think it's an incredibly important book for every high schooler to read-it truly encapsulates an era of our country that we shouldn't be proud of. And that is the single most important reason why it should be taught.

9. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: Many of the students in my district come from fairly wealthy backgrounds. Many of them have been sheltered from the outside world as they live in the "bubble" of our city. That's why I'm glad the district added this title to our twelfth grade curriculum a few years ago. This memoir strikes a chord where many others do not. As a memoir, students have to accept that these things actually happened to Jeannette Walls and her family. It opens their eyes in a way that other book "horrors" cannot.

10. The Odyssey by Homer: I cannot leave any list about favorite books or high school reads without the addition of my favorite epic. Since Homer was pretty much the beginning of literature as we know it, The Odyssey is also pretty key to any student's literary education. Odysseus and Telemachus face many challenges and battles on their separate quests, but they face them down and succeed. I think that level of determination and hope is important for high schoolers to experience.

There you have it-my top ten. I did leave off quite a few titles that I also think are important, but these just claimed the top spots. What would you have on your list? Let me know below.


  1. The Glass Castle also made my list! Out of all the books I had to read in High School, I think the only ones I really enjoyed were Othello, and The Odyssey. Great Top Ten!
    My TTT.

  2. The Things They Carried and The Glass Castle are ones I have never read. I love to Kill A Mockingbird. I am also very curious about A People's History now. T

    Thanks for sharing! I did the Top 10 Books Every History Nerd Should Read: https://authorfallonwilloughby.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/top-ten-tuesday-ten-books-every-history-nerd-should-read/

  3. Excellent top ten! I'm sorry to say I read exactly ONE of these in high school (To Kill a Mockingbird) -- yes, I graduated without ever reading Fitzgerald OR Steinbeck! However, I've since read the rest except Homer, Zinn & O'Brien (which I hope to read someday). I did read Othello as a freshman in college and it is my very favorite Shakespeare -- very timely with themes about trust and jealousy and, oh, abusive relationships! I agree, I think teenagers could definitely handle it and might even relate to it more than lovers torn apart by feuding families.