As a high school teacher, I teach the same books to my students that I was taught 20+ years ago in high school. These classics are timeless for sure, but they don’t typically make students excited to read. So, here are a few of the required readings for my students and a few contemporary suggestions that might entice them to enjoy reading more.
Pride and Prejudice
Listen, I know LOTS of people who simply love and adore this book. I am not one of them. I think it’s rubbish. I have maybe one student a year who enjoys it. The boys all hate it. Want to get boys to read more? Having them break down the themes and motifs of Pride and prejudice is not the way.
So, what would I rather have them read? First and Then by Emma Mills. It’s a modern retelling that has high schools and football. While the motif of prejudice is still prevalent (Its high school, so they know prejudice), it’s done in a way that is accessible to teens.
Of Mice and Men
This is another book I was never a fan of; however, I do think it’s great for teaching themes of male friendship in unlikely places and disability treatment. I think that these are more important that the theme of the American Dream during the depression. Students get that in history and while reading a novel of a time period is good, that isn’t really the focus of the book. The book has a few “shock factor” moments that are great for getting students’ attention!
What do I wish I could have them read instead? There are a couple options. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas would be great for showing how teens deal with current issues (just like Lennie and George were having to deal with the Depression). Wonder by RJ Palaico is another possibility. This book launched the “Choose Kind” movement and really showcases people with disabilities in a more relatable way to students today.
To Kill A Mockingbird
I adore this book and this it is absolutely essential for all students to read. I think that after they read that, teachers should provide them with contemporary issues of this theme of racism. This allows students to connect the past and present in a meaningful way.
The Hate You Give is a great follow up that discusses the modern struggles with racism. Another great choice is Dear Martin by Nic Stone. I think students will enjoy reading these because they are real life struggles they see playing out daily in our communities.
Other books I think would be great to introduce into the HS curriculum
- I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
- One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
- Heart of Darkness-the graphic novel by Joseph Conrad and Mairowitz
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
- A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
- Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (my students read other Bradbury books including Fahrenheit, which I love)