Updating schoolbooks

As a student, I was most definitely a reader. I read everything I could get my hands on, but I rarely enjoyed the books that were assigned in school. I found that reading the classics didn’t really help my classmates and I learn to live in the world, which is what I think good books are all about. Which is why the Top Ten Tuesday meme sounds really interesting this week. I didn’t manage to actually post on Tuesday, but I still thought it was an interesting post and I wanted to put in my two cents. Maybe next time I’ll be a bit more timely.

The top ten books I wish had been assigned in school:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

It’s time for snooty academics to get off their high horse and get on board with this series. Students can learn many lessons from the challenges Harry and his buddies most overcome. I think what teachers forget is that they should also be tasked with encouraging a love of reading in youth, not just teaching them some lesson they will eventually forget. And there is no better place to start than this series.  Introduce this to fifth-graders and it might no longer be a huge battle to get students to read in the future. Suggested Grade: 5

The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-time

As I wrote in my review of this book, I absolutely loved this novel from Mark Haddon. Why do I think it should be on school book lists? Well it is unique in that it is written in first-person from the perspective of a young autistic boy. It also grapples with some heavier topics (such as divorce) – topics that youths nowadays are all too often facing. I think the biggest problem with books taught in schools is that the main characters are not relatable because the stories are not set in the present. Suggested Grade: 8

Life of Pi

This is incredible book of loss and survival, of friendship and courage. It is easy to read, and far quicker to speed through than many of the books with similarly easy-to-read language but difficult-to-push-through-story-line. Things Fall Apart is my go-to example here. It took me forever to finally force my way through that book, despite it being fairly easy to read. The book also is great in exercising a student’s developing abilities of literary interpretation, with most people finding they get different messages from the novel. Suggested Grade: 9

The Age of Miracles

As I wrote in my review of this book, this novel is a stunning look at coming-of-age in uncertain times. It tackles topics – such as depression, first love, death, bullying and divorce – that the youth of today face. And it packages them in a cleverly imagined and beautifully described vision of apocalypse. Suggested Grade: 9


Kurt Vonnegut is a mainstay on the school book reading list, but all of his books are so different that we are doing students an injustice by not adding an additional book with completely different themes and intriguing plots. Galapagos is fun and holds true to Vonnegut’s “simple” writing style. True to Vonnegut as well are some pretty heavy themes of human violence, evolution and survival. Suggested Grade: 10

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The book combines two genres popular in school book lists, but features modern settings and relatable situations. Combining magical realism and bildungsroman (coming-of-age) genres in one quick book, this novel would make for some great discussion on these topics. I would put this on a high-school reading list. Suggested Grade: 11

Night Circus

Night Circus is one of those rare novels that I read in one go and then turned around and read again. It combines genres of bildungsroman and fantasy to tackle topics that include free will, love and the consequences of our choices. The characters are both relatable and interesting and the settings so detailed and intriguing that it does have something for everyone. It would probably attract readers who developed an interest in magic due to the Harry Potter novels, though it covers different themes. Suggested Grade: 11

Ishmael & My Ishmael

Ishmael is a little strange, but it’s wonderfully strange. It tells the story man who answers an ad for a student only to discover that the teacher is a gorilla hoping to impart a lifetime of knowledge. With themes of environmentalism, ethical responsibility, judging others and the value of knowledge, it is a wonderfully surprising and witty book. It’s sequel, My Ishmael, tells a similar story, only with a 12-year-old girl forming the role of pupil and Ishmael being reluctant to teach someone so young. Suggested Grades: 10 (Ishmael) & 7 (My Ishmael)

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel sets a familiar tale in the context of Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. It is a heart-breaking novel of sacrifice, survival, discrimination and war. These themes are quite dark, however, and readers would need to be further along in their development to truly understand this book. Find my review hereSuggested Grade: 12

Cloud Atlas

This is definitely for older students, but when I was in high school I loved this book. It touches on so many viewpoints and genres, societal and ethical themes that it is a treasure trove for teachers and class discussions. It’s complicated, though, meaning it would probably only work for advanced students. Suggested Grade: 12 – AP


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