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What One Book?

by Miriam Downey 24. August 2012 07:06

I begin this blog posting with a fair amount of fear and trepidation. I recently watched my 13-year-old grandson struggle through his 8th grade summer reading list, which included Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Watership Down was his favorite. My other teenage grandson is reading a book about Malcolm X for his summer reading. He is visiting this week and is supposed to be reading two chapters every day. He rebels against it every day, but when he gets into it, he becomes totally engrossed. He did tell me, however, that the best book he had to read was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Unless your kids are voracious readers, there can be a fair amount of coaxing needed to get them to read the things they need to read to be well educated. And in the age of increased visual stimulation, sitting down and reading is a difficult task for jittery teenagers.

Why then require a student to read a book? My feeling is that there is a group of books that every well-educated person should be exposed to . . . whether they like it or not! I generally am an advocate of readers choosing what they want to read, but there are a few books that readers will always remember, and these are the books that will come up again and again in reading, discussions, sermons, and lectures for the rest of their lives. Knowing about these books is called cultural literacy.


I polled my friend Gayle, a high school English teacher, about what she considered the most important books for high school students to read. She suggested: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare for 9th grade; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for 10th grade; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for 11th grade; and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger for 12th grade. I thought her advice was sound.

I might suggest that one of the good things about reading a book is talking about it. My daughter-in-law is reading the summer reading books along with her son and then having discussions with him about the books. This is a wonderful way to help young people relate to the books they are reading.

The following is a list of books that are discussed in FWU's English and Language Arts curriculum for high school. These are some of the books that I would include on my list of the books that everyone should read. Remember, please, that these are only recommendations. Please share your ideas about books that every teenager should read in the comments section along with the reason why you think your book should be included.

I have also included movie versions of the books. It is fun to compare the movie to the book after you have read the book.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. (Many feel that the best and most faithful version was made in 1968).

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Movie version 1974 is faithful to the book. There is a new movie version coming out in 2013.)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. (There are two films--1963 and 1990. Many think the 1963 version is the best.)

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. (Movie version 1998. The musical version of the story is coming out as a movie at the end of 2012.)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. (The classic film version is 1946. There is a new film version soon to be released.)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. (The 2011 film version is a good one.)

To this list: I would include as necessary reading:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. (There is only one. It was made in 1962. It is a must-see movie.)

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. (1951 movie version.)

1984 by George Orwell. (There is a version made in 1984, but a new version is coming out next year.)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. (Film 1973.)

The Odyssey by Homer. (Classic film version 1997. The 1955 move Ulysses is a literate version as well. For fun you might watch O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000), which is a comedy retelling of the Odyssey story.)

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. (Salinger never gave permission for a movie to be made.)

Add your opinions to this discussion.



by Miriam Downey 20. August 2012 07:57


The boy and his father were riding home from Boy Scout camp. It was a long ride, and both were tired. After a while, the boy said to his father, "If it's okay with you, I'm just going to sit her and daydream for a while."

This story comes from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal about the benefits of daydreaming. The author, Danny Heitman, suggests that like his son, everyone needs to drift off into daydreaming once in a  while, and summer is the perfect time for this activity.

It is probably essential to a child's brain development that he be allowed time to just daydream; time that isn't regimented or regulated or entertained. Playing on the beach or the sand box, sitting and rocking on the front porch, swinging in the hammock, hiding out in a tree house.

In my family, after a long day of play at the cottage, everyone gathers at the beach to watch the sunset. It is a magical, mystical time where everyone is quiet, lost in his or her own thoughts--daydreaming or sunset dreaming. On a warm summer evening, the children like to walk into the reflection of the sunset in the water. You probably had those daydreaming moments yourself as a child.

While the books I am recommending this week aren't all about daydreaming, they evoke the quiet kind of moments when children can dream and discover themselves. As Heitman says in his article: "A daydream is a stolen pleasure--a moment or two pleasantly robbed from some more obviously useful task as the brain leaps a fence, goes adventuring and, with any luck, returns to active duty before anyone knows it's been AWOL.

The following books are either available online or at your local library. Enjoy them and encourage your child's daydreaming.

Picture Books

One morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey. This is a classic book about a little girl and her lost tooth and a wonderful summer day.

Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey. All the wonderful summer days. Finding beauty and interest in nearly everything.

What Can You Do with a Rebozo by Carmen Tafolla. A child plays with a rebozo and shows all the many things that can be done with that scarf. An imagination at work.

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold. A little city girl and her dream adventure.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. Harold Creates a dream world with his crayon.

The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse. A little boy chases a red balloon all over Paris. Also a wonderful short movie.

One Sunday Morning by Yumi Heo. A boy and his father spend the day in the city park.

Boy on the Brink by David McPhail. Waking adventures and dreams by a masterful author.


Chapter Books and Novels

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Jo, one of four sisters, is the epitome of a dreamer with her nose always in a book.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Orphaned Mary Lennox discovers a secret garden and brings it back to life.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The heroine in this classic book about life in Brooklyn in the 1910s is a reader and a dreamer.

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. Danny has a magical life living in a gypsy caravan.

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. Newbery Prize book. Leigh Botts is a lonely boy who pours out his life in letters to Mr. Henshaw, his favorite author.

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan. This is a biography of Pablo Neruda, the great Chilean poet. He was a dreamer whose creative dreams turned into great poetry.

Dreams by Day, Dreams by Night: An anthology of Poems and Photographs by Mondo. Beloved poems with eye-catching photographs.

The Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman. A nightmare capturing Dream Stealer starts collecting happy Dreams.

Classic Adult Books About Dreamers

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

 Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

 Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in reverie.

Henry David Thoreau.



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