Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Required Reading for a New Generation

It's that time again. Big yellow buses are cluttering the highways. It's now safe to go to the mall in the middle of the day (just stay away after 3:00 p.m.), and, my favorite, high school football teams are suiting up for games.

It's back to school time!

Another way to tell that it's back-to-school time? Just go to your local bookstore. You'll see copies of Hamlet, Moby Dick, Jane Eyre, and a number of other familiar titles front and center. Required reading lists for junior high and high school students will, and probably should, always consist of classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Great Gatsby.

More modern classics like Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street (which I loved and still have a copy stashed away somewhere) and Toni Morrison’s Beloved have found their way to many lists as well. But I’ve began to wonder, is it time for a makeover?

I’m not sure if there is certain criteria a book must meet to make the required reading lists. If someone out there knows, fill me in. However, with the popularity of Harry Potter and the Twilight series, it seems to me that teens and tweens are thirsting for a different kind of book. So why aren’t schools using them in the classroom? If more of those types of books made up the list, maybe we could get even more kids hooked on reading. Am I being naive here?

I've got two questions: What would it take to make popular fiction a part of the required reading for students? And secondly, if you could add one book to the list of required reading, what would it be. If you’re feeling chatty, tell me why you picked it.


Stefanie Worth said...

Farrah --
My kids are avid readers. I think that's due in part because I've always let them read what they want. They're all fantasy/mystery buffs (guess it comes natural), so while they've had required reading at school, at home they're free to read all the Narnia, Potter and Goosebumps they want.

And things may be changing. My son's summer reading list offered up not only "traditional" grade school authors and titles, but a huge selection of the fantasy he loves including Inkheart and Inkspell. He was able to choose his three authors and finish the books in just as many weeks. The requirement was enjoyable and not a chore, which made it so much easier to complete.

I don't think required reading and a broader range of books-of-choice should be mutually exclusive options. The outcomes of a combined effort are far better, to me.

Melody said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phyllis Bourne said...

I'd add Joan Brady's, "God on a Harley" to a list for high school girls.

God comes to a burned out, bitter nurse in the form of a cool, Harley-riding hunk. He teaches her through a personal set of commandments he came up with just for her to love herself.

Not religious, but self-esteem building. One of my favorites.

Charles Gramlich said...

I might add Cormac McCarthy's "The road." I really didn't like being assigned books in high school, because I was already a reader, and some of the books we were assigned just weren't good books to create a love of reading.

Genella deGrey said...

Nope, Farrah. Not naive at all. Trust me; the school system desperately needs a fresh perspective - even though they wouldn't admit it.

Way back when I was in junior high & high school, I couldn't get into any of the books you mentioned - they are not about teens and bored me to tears. I don’t remember the endings, so I must not have finished them. How sad.

Harry Potter and Twilight would be perfect for today's readers - and the fact that most have already read them anyway might put some kids who need extra help as far as reading and comprehension ahead of the game.

A makeover for required reading is exactly what the system needs. Now to find a way to get them to listen to and implement a brilliant idea . . .


Farrah Rochon said...

Phyllis, that book sounds cute.

I'm in the same boat with many of you. I was already a reader, so the required reading didn't float my boat. I liked classics like The Iliad and Beowulf, but I wasn't your average teen, at least when it came to reading. I actually felt sorry for classmates who had to read such heavy stories, and didn't realize there were many other books out there to enjoy.

Liane Spicer said...

I think one reason the reading lists are classics-intensive is that students seek out the popular novels on their own but tend to regard the classics with deep suspicion. My sister tells a story about her friend picking up A Passage to India and dropping it like the proverbial potato when Sis informed her that I was reading the text for A Levels. (For you USAers, that's the Cambridge Advanced Level Examinations, the post high school, pre university stage per the UK ed system we inherited).

I know I'd never recommend substituting Harry Potter for Macbeth, which is partly unfounded bias because I haven't read the former.

If I had to add one popular contemporary novel to the list it would probably be Holes by Louis Sachar. The author and I share an agent and I was curious about his work so I borrowed it from the library. My teenage niece screeched when she saw it and said it was the best book she'd read in her life (um, this was before her Twilight obsession, and yes, she's prone to hyperbole and dramatization). But I have to admit it was a helluva good story.

Phyllis, God on a Harley sounds terrific. It's going straight to my list.

Shauna Roberts said...

I'll bend your rules a little and recommend that the kids get to pick at least one book from a list of 25 or 50 books both worthwhile and teen-friendly. If it were divided up by genre and/or reading level, even the most book-hating teen might be able to find something to try and like.

Harry Potter for sure. Perhaps Maria Snyder's Poison Magic. Patricia McKillip's Alphabet of Thorn. Gene Wolfe's The Knight. Kelly Parra's Grafitti Girl (which I haven't read but heard is great).