My Favorite Books to Teach

[this cover is perfect! I'd never seen it before]

This my tenth year of teaching, and during that time I've been able to teach some really excellent books to students, even at the primary level when I was there for four years. One major limiting factor has always been the school's inventory, since you have to work with what you have. This was much, much harder at the elementary level, since the assumption is that little people don't read novels, just excerpts. At the high school we have a ton of older classics, but lack contemporary texts.

My curriculum for IB is fairly prescribed, based on what we do have available, but I have had some wiggle room. When I taught English 2 I had a lot of flexibility, as well as when I wanted to add in an easy book for CAHSEE prep (a remedial class taught to those that hadn't passed the high school exit exam). When trying to decide what book to read my first question is simple: do I like it? Teaching something you hate is torture and is resonates in your lessons. The next question is common sense, too: will the kids like it? Trying to pull a group through something they hate it not a good time for any party involved. I also have to consider the level of the group, length of the book, available copies, and how to incorporate it into the curriculum and state standards. 

Here are a few of my favorites from my career so far:

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit (fifth grade)
I taught this to a group during a tutoring session between "tracks" when we were year round. I remember immortality being a really interesting thing to talk to ten-year-olds about! 

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (fifth grade)
I have always adored this book, probably because I am such a journaler. I love watching how he changes as he grows up and there are so many fun activities that we did (including a contest to design a lunch box security system)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (regular tenth grade English)
The students always really love this book, which makes teaching it even better. The racial implications, the role of the outsider, and family dynamics are all great things to dive into. I think it would be really fascinating to teach it now, with the current racial tension we unfortunately have going on right now in the United States.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Remarque (regular tenth grade English)
I generally do not like war novels, but I actually enjoy the coming-of-age aspect of this. I also appreciate the fact that it's a novel for the guys- the males of the "regular" classes can often be reluctant readers, so it's nice to have something they can appreciate. 

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (AP Language, 10th grade)
First of all, I didn't make the decision for the students to read this, and am not sure it worked in terms of what the hope was, but nonetheless it was a great read and the students found it really interesting. 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (AP Language)
A good old classic! I primarily use this as a way to teach humor, satire and wit. We also take some time to look at dialect and talk about how it impacts the reader. It's a bit lengthy for sophomores, but I love that it's broken into really short chapters that read pretty fast. I do it in the spring of tenth grade, so it sets them up nicely to transition into IB English as juniors, which is literature heavy (as opposed to AP Lang, which is mostly expository texts). 

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol (IB English)
I used this short story once when we finished everything we needed a few weeks ahead of schedule. I love Russian literature and magical realism, so this story is perfect. The main character loses his nose and must find it, only to realize it has taken on a life of it's own. It's a little challenging for some students to suspend belief quite as much as is necessary, but it provokes some great conversations.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (IB English, 11th grade)
Speaking of magical realism, the master himself! This book has some great moments and a lot of things that seem risque to students (sex, murder, alcohol, and even prostitution), so it's usually pretty popular. Plus it's a novella, which they appreciate. God forbid we read long books.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin (IB English, 12th grade)
Is Edna a feminist or a spoiled pain in the ass? I love hearing the students go round-and-round on this one. I've read this books several times between high school, college, and my own teaching career and always approach it slightly different, contingent on my own place in life at the time. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (IB English, 11th grade)
If I were to describe this book in just one word it would be "rich." The language, characters, and subject matter are wonderfully dense and there are so many layers. The kids are always fairly split, though, about whether or not they like it (maybe more girls do than boys?).

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (IB English, 11th grade)
This isn't my favorite book and I think it's overrated, but I think it's a great text to start off the IB program with in the fall of junior year. The kids love it because they really like the book or they love it because they enjoy hating Holden. We do a fun activity called "Diagnosing Holden" where they have to psychoanalyze the kid and discuss whether or not they relate. 

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