Skip to main content

The Teacher Creates a Classic Literature Reading List for Middle School English

Kathleen teaches small English classes for homeschool students. It gives her an excuse to line her house with bookshelves.

The Teacher is on Summer Vacation!

Now that the I'm done classes for this year, I can start mulling over next year's books for the Middle School class.

There are a few I'm definitely going to use in class, and a few I need to read again and think over. Below is my list. I thought they might make fun summer reading for kids on summer break, and maybe their parents too.

Book We Are Definitely Reading

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith This is a charming coming of age story set in England in the 1930’s. The author also wrote 101 Dalmatians.

The Giver by Lois Lowry Winner of the Newbery Award, The Giver is a dark futuristic story inspired by the author’s experiences living abroad as a child.

Anne Frank’s Diary, The Graphic Novel Adapted by Ari Fulman This is more than a graphic novel – it is full color, and the artwork is detailed and amazing. It beautifully captures Anne’s thoughts and feelings. Due to limited space, it includes only some of the text of the original book. I didn’t think I would be able to do this graphic novel in my classes because the cost was prohibitive when it first came out, but Amazon is now selling this hardcover full color book for a very low price. My plan is to do the graphic novel this year, then the full Diary of a Young Girl the following year.

Books Under Consideration

In general, I want to expose the Middle Schoolers to a range of literature, and especially books they would not otherwise run across. I’m looking at things like 19th century children’s classics, earlier 20th and classic Sci-fi and fantasy books. Some of these books I’ve read, but want to go through again with an eye to whether they work for teaching this particular class.

Scroll to Continue

The Water Babies Written by a Victorian clergyman and social reformer, this book is similar to A Christmas Carol in that it is a compelling story, but was written to expose problems like child labor. The protagonist is a boy apprentice chimney sweep who falls into a river and ends up having all sorts of adventures with the water fairies.

Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs Many students are familiar with the figure of Tarzan; the original book is rich in detail. I last read it right after graduating college, which means I haven’t reread it since approximately the Victorian era.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs I read this just recently, and discovered it is the grand-daddy of the sci-fi we have today. The way the author envisioned alien/human interaction shaped other authors’ stories, and now the movie industry. I showed a clip of the recent movie to the students, and they were very positive. Of course, the language is old fashioned, since it was written 100 years ago, so I am curious how the students will react. While the writing style is not what they are used to, the action being described is just like something from Star Wars or Avengers, making this a very interesting juxtaposition.

Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis I had no idea how much Lewis’ descriptions of a human traveling to Mars owed to Burroughs’ books. Lewis also plays off Burroughs’ ideas in interesting ways: his Martians are both similar and very different. And Lewis pokes fun at both human beings and aliens, while Burroughs rarely cracks a smile. Reading the two books back to back would be interesting for the students.

The Earthsea Books by Ursula LeGuin The second book in the Earthsea trilogy, published in the 1970’s, is so similar in structure to the second Burroughs’ Mars book that I have to think LeGuin was playing off the earlier novel, the way Lewis did. Both books describe a journey into what the characters believe to be an Underworld, which turns out to be a part of the real world – well, it depends on how you look at it. What’s real and what isn’t is part of what these books are getting at. Reading both novels could be very interesting, but I have to take some time to think about it. I’m not sure if the students would need to read the first Earthsea book to appreciate the second, which means the class would end up reading two Burroughs books and two Earthsea books. I would also be able to talk about the Hero’s Journey, which is a popular way of understanding stories from all cultures. Part of the Hero’s Journey is the Voyage to the Underworld, where the hero confronts things like fear, death, and so forth. These books would illustrate this idea better than any others I can think of.

Arthurian Legends Stories about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have shaped our ideas of heroes, heroines, and adventures. I just have to find an edition I'm happy with. Hopefully one with some great illustrations, as well as winning prose.

Mythology and Fairytales Middle School is the time to get a solid grounding in mythology and fairytales – by high school, students are expected to be familiar with these cultural ideas. Both literature and modern psychology are built on the foundation of mythology. The trick is finding a version that preserves the heart of the stories while remaining accessible to students of this age. I’m going to be looking at versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Norse Mythology, Celtic Mythology and anything else I come across.


© 2019 kathleenschwab


Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on June 03, 2019:

Proof that an educator never stops thinking about his or her pupils or how one can improve their curriculum for the coming year!

Related Articles