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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.


Great Adventure Stories

by Miriam Downey 24. April 2012 11:19

As a young boy, my brother was a great reader--still is today. When he was quite young, he had a book about pirates that he read many times over, and mother probably read it to him as many times as he read it to himself. Lately, he has specialized in books about ultimate adventures, like mountain climbing and exploring. He has become a bit of an expert on Shackleton's adventures in Antarctica.

There are many adventure books that have stood the test of time, books like Kidnapped, Moby Dick, and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. These books are addictive. If you can get a young person to begin reading one of them, he won't be able to quit. The books on this list are available online and are included in the FWU library. These are also great books to listen to as audio books. The audio version of your chosen book will most likely be available at your public library. And, for most of these books, there is a movie available as well; sometimes, several movies have been made of the classic adventure stories.

I recently read some interesting advice from Judy Blume, the children's author, about how to get your child to read a classic book. "First, invest in one with a new cover. Even if you like the old, original covers. Second, don't give it to them. Just leave the books strategically placed around the house and then occasionally say: 'Oh, no. You're not raading that--you're not ready for it yet.'" I might also add, make sure you find a version with illustrations. For a book like Moby Dick, illustrations really help. I particularly like the classic illustrations by N.C. Wyeth which can be found in many of the books by Robert Louis Stevenson, like Treasure Island and Kidnapped.

Some of the best authors in history have written adventure books. Children should be exposed to Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville. They should know about Captain Nemo, Huclkeberry Finn, Phileas Fogg and his valet, Passepartout.

The following list of books includes classic adventure stories that can be accessed online. Just click on the book titles, and you will be taken to the book. You can find more classic books in the FWU library. The next blog posting will be about modern adventure stories that you can find in your library or local book store.

Grades 4-6

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. A balloon trip around the world.

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. An expedition descends into a subterranean world.

Heroes Every Child Should Know by Hamilton Mabie. Hero stories.

Kidnapped ; Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Pirate stories.

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Gray. One of many cowboys Gray wrote about the Old West.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Life on the Mississippi.

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne. The story of Captain Nemo and his submarine, Nautilus.

Grades 7-12

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. Time travel in medieval times.

Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. An adventure tale during the War of 1812.

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. The adventures of Jim, a seaman.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. A classic tale of the sea.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. The classic road trip. This is a book for High School students.

The Odyssey by Homer. The adventure story upon all which all adventure stories are built.


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Welcome to the Free World U Library

by Miriam Downey 20. October 2011 12:56

Welcome to Free World U's new library. I am Miriam, the Cyberlibrarian. Every week I will post an article on this blog related either to books or to research and reference materials. Books will be added to the library in either the category of Online Books or Other Great Books. The category Research Resources will contain websites that will help our children find the information they need to develop reports or essays.

I am hopeful that this blog can become a dialog between the librarian (me), students, and parents. I can help with research projects, book selection, and teaching materials related to a book study. You can help by sharing websites that you have found to be useful, book studies that worked particularly well, and by asking questions that the group can help answer. Of course, all the sites, studies, and questions need to be literacy related; this is the goal of Free World U's library and this blog.

Now let me share just a few words about the classic books that are on our list of books available free online. First, you need to know that as long as the copyright holds for a book, it most likely will not be available on the Internet. Copyrights last for seventy-five years, so most of the books that you will find on our classic book list are more than than seventy-five years old. I guess that's what makes them "classics." There are several projects that seek to digitalize these classic books; Project Gutenberg is one such project.

The exceptions to the copyright rule include several websites that contain a lot of picture books. These are usually sites that promote reading, and authors have given permission for one or more of their books to be utilized on these sites. We Give Books is one such site. It has a marvelous array of free online books. Additionally, you might occasionally find a book that is available through a commercial site, or a book that is on a foreign site where the copyright is no longer in effect. You will find a few books on our lists from those sites.

As we developed our list of classic books, we used this criteria for each grade level (beyond picture books):

  • Books of interest to both boys and girls.
  • Both fiction and non-fiction.
  • A book of poetry.
  • A book of short stories.
  • A biography.
  • A play.

Some of these books can be downloaded; some can only be read online. All of these classic books would be available at your local public library if reading them online is too difficult. Most, if not all of them, are available for Kindle or Nook for a small fee.

I might add that most of the classic books (above the picture book level) will have had a movie made of them. Some of these books are really challenging to read. Sometimes it helps to watch a movie, either at the end of the project, or during the project, as a reward.

One more thing...this is a very fluid list. I would suggest that your reader check out the books several grade levels below and several grade levels above his or her age. Reading interest has no boundaries. For young students, parents might consider finding a book at a higher grade level and use it as a read-aloud for your children.

My questions for you are these: What classic books have you enjoyed that appeared or did not appear on this list? Any suggestions for additions to this list? What are you or your children reading now? Be sure to add websites if you found the book online.

So dear friends, welcome and happy reading.


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