November 16, 2011

RTW: Required Reading

Road Trip Wednesday is a 'Blog Carnival' where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This Week's Topic:
In high school, teens are made to read the classics - Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Brontë, Dickens - but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?

I've mentioned this before, but I went to an all-girls uniform high school for the better part of my teen years. As such, it seemed that the required reading list by unspoken agreement - or spoken, I can't really say - was chock full of books and plays with 'strong female leads'. We read Shakespeare sure, but they chose plays like The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew because they had strong female characters (Portia, Kate, and Bianca respectively). We also read Jane Eyre (which I LVE) and books by both Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood (the two 'Margarets' represented Canadian content - also, super crucial). Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed most of what we read with the exception of the Margarets' rubbish. I just think that it might have been nice to read some of the things that some of you got to/had to read., or all of the following:

1.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Aside from being completely fantastic, this book would spark some really interesting discussion on the topics/issues that it raises while keeping students riveted. What more can you ask for as a teacher?

2.  Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult and/or Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher
I chose both of these books because they deal with two different reactions to long-term torment, bullying, gossip, and so on. The former deals with a school shooting and the latter a suicide. I think it's important for students to understand that actions and words can have horrible and lasting consequences and what better way to make this point in a way that isn't of the preachy, 'The More You Know', public service announcement variety?

3.  Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
When I was teaching junior high Language Arts (AKA 'English') , Ender's Game was actually on the approved reading list for grade 9 students (doesn't 'approved reading list' sound totally dystopian???). I had read it and loved it, so I was thrilled that my students loved it too. They were glued to their seats, begging for more Ender. Plus, it sparked some really interesting discussions. I only wish this had been on my own required reading lists as a teen. Then maybe I would have started liking sci fi a heck of a lot sooner than university.

4.  Harry Potter... by J. K. Rowling
Do I even need to say anything about this? No? Didn't think so, but I will. Not only are these books wonderfully magical and creative, but the writing is great too. Students could learn a lot about writing just from reading Rowling's books. There is also important discussion material tucked inside these pages, and not just a whole lot of fun (eg. Muggle borns & Half bloods vs. Pure bloods, etc.).

5.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Okay, this one I haven't actually read yet, but I know already that I'm going to like it (as much as a person can like anything dealing with the Holocaust). I know that Night by Elie Wiesel is on a lot of high school reading lists here in Alberta (for grade 12 students), and it's an important read. But something like The Book Thief seems like an entirely different take on the subject. I'm all for new ways of approaching something, especially when it's difficult subject matter like the Holocaust.

P. S. This AWESOME tee is on its way to me in the mail from I'd wear this while I taught The Hunger Games to my just as awesome students (in a perfect world - the reality was all too often the total opposite in my experience *snort*).


  1. I picked a lot of the same ones as you! Good choices.

  2. It's so interesting to hear from you and Kathleen Peacock how different the required reading was in Canadian high schools!

    I'm glad you brought up Harry Potter---they were just starting to teach that at my university when I left, and I've always thought you could spend an entire year parsing those books. Pretty much any theme you want to name is in one of the seven books!

  3. Yes, The Book Thief is well worth reading...and good required reading too.

  4. Ooo! T-shirt! I love t-shirts! And it's THE HUNGER GAMES inspired! Bonus points. You're right, we did include a lot of the same books. Great minds, Jaime. Great minds. Haha! :)

  5. Ender's Game FOR THE WIN :) You know that book actually *was* required reading for me in high school? I still have the same copy I read as a freshman--and I reread the entire series every few years!

  6. Melanie & Bailey: Yes, great minds really do think alike:)

    Sarah: Canadian schools must have that Canadian lit quota! (*eye roll*). Wish we'd had better reads.

    Jennifer: Glad you like the tee (it's limited edition, so it's only available for 24 hours). I'm nervous, though, about anything that says "Down With the Capitol". I'd hate anybody to think I'm an anarchist or something lol.

    Sara: You are so, SO, lucky to have read Ender in high school. So jealous :)

  7. I have a copy of The Book Thief--I just need the time to read it!
    Your high school sounds kind of awesome.

  8. Rebecca: It totally was in so many ways (just not so much the required reading LOL)!

  9. I think the only ones of those I haven't read yet are Nineteen Minutes and Thirteen Reasons Why. But I've been told several times I need to pick up Thirteen Reasons Why, so I need to go do that!

    Great list!

  10. Francesca: I didn't exactly love Thirteen Reasons Why, but I still feel it's an important read.

  11. Great choices! I picked THE BOOK THIEF as well--it's definitely a modern classic, to me. And HARRY POTTER would be awesome to learn in school. I bet that if we put HARRY POTTER in the curriculum, we'd see a lot more excitement about reading :)

  12. SO far, from your list, my daughter had read two of those books: Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. And she wouldn't completely love that t-shirt. That gives me a good idea! I should buy her a Hunger Games shirt for Christmas! :)

  13. Yay for Nineteen Minutes! Such a powerful book! And now I'm wishing I would have included HARRY and THE HUNGER GAMES on my list. They're both so wildly entertaining, I often forget about the lessons they're capable of teaching. Great choices, Jaime!

  14. I wouldn't have minded some Atwood--depending on the book. I dimly remember reading Lady Oracle in high school, but I read it outside of class.

    The Stone Angel, on the other hand... *shudder*

    And I love that so many people have put THG on their lists--it makes me feel less like a bad influence :)

  15. Must bump Ender's game up the TBR. Must, must, must!

    And I think I'm going to have to pick up Nineteen Minutes over Christmas. Sounds way too good.

  16. Oh, great list. I haven't read Nineteen Minutes, either, but it sounds really good. And yes, the Book Thief! I forgot that one, but yes yes yes!

  17. "Approved reading list" really does sound dystopian! Great picks. I have to check out Nineteen Minutes because Jodi Picoult is awesome.


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