Happy Tuesday! This week (we’ll see what happens next week) I’m hopping on the #TopTenTuesday bandwagon. Since I spend my entire life at school, it seems only appropriate to talk about my top ten books on school required reading lists.
I’ve chosen books from all levels of education, elementary school through college. All of these books are near and dear to my heart, and have had a huge impact on my reading life. Some of the books on this list might have not been required reading for me, but they appear on required reading lists around the nation.
When this was assigned my freshman year of high school, I was less than enthused about being force to read a “girl book.” The cover of our school copies had red velvet draped around and all information clearly describes this book as a “tale of romantic suspense.” I dug my feet in immediately. No sir. No way. I was not about to read a romance book. (This also happened to be a particularly dark time in my life during which I read very little, so that did not help.)
When I finally forced myself to sit down and read, I couldn’t put it down. It was exactly what the cover described. It was romantic suspense. It was dramatic. It was intense. A romance was at the core of the story, but this book is not your typical romance novel. I was fascinated that we never learned the protagonist’s name. I was enchanted by the characters. I was obsessed with the titular Rebecca. I couldn’t get enough.
Since that first reading, I’ve read Rebecca five or six times. And it’s always wonderful. And it’s always a struggle to put down.
During my senior year of high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Wheeley gave us a list of AP-approved books to read independently. I selected this book solely based on the title. I didn’t research it. I didn’t look into it. I just called Hastings (may it rest in peace) and asked them to hold it for me. I picked it up that evening, got home, and stayed up all night reading.
I loved it. I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved Price’s voice. I loved his writing style; it was like having a comfortable conversation with a good friend. I fell in love with Raphael. It was a short read and I wanted more and more and more. I remember being intriguingly disturbed by a particular scene in the book, which only made me love it more.
We were assigned to read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in the 7th grade. It was my first opportunity to read about the black experience in America. It was the first time I realized why diverse books were important. It told the story of a black family in Mississippi during The Great Depression. It taught my about racism and experiences that I would never experience firsthand. It opened my eyes to a world outside of myself and caused me to seek more and more books like this. It was not the first book that ripped my heart out (that book is later on this list) but it was a very big book in my reading life.
7. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
This was the first “great work of literature” that I read on my own. Sure, Mrs. Wheeley guided us through it, but I had already finished it by the time we started class discussions. This book was weird, I’ll admit. It was initially hard for me to work through. I wasn’t ready for the slipstream kind of magic realism. I wasn’t ready for this narrative style. But I was so glad when I’d finally read it. It made me feel accomplished and well-read and important.
6. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
I don’t actually remember in what class I first read this. I think it was either in the fourth grade with Mrs. Gilley or the fifth grade with Mrs. Hughes. But it was the first “boy” novel I remember being assigned in class. It seemed like a large proportion of books we read for class had girl protagonists. It didn’t help that by this age, the boys in my class all made fun of me, because reading was a girl’s pastime. Then we read this awesome action/adventure novel about a boy who survives the wilderness and it seemed less feminine to read. (It’s amazing the way young minds think.) It helped me stay grounded and enjoy my reading life when I felt like I was under fire for enjoying it so much.
5. Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J Dubner
Freakonomics was assigned to me in my junior English class in college. We had to read it to see how people can synthesize false information based on data. That entire class was about how to write rhetoric that interpreted data. But it was important we understand data can always be molded to fit our agendas. It was an interesting class (and was filled with even more interesting characters) that really opened my eyes to the necessity of reading data for myself to really understand what it was showing. It was eye-opening, for sure, and led to really interesting conversations in our classroom.
4. The Giver by Lois Lowry
I did not read The Giver for school, but it is required reading at the school where I currently teach. I read it one afternoon after the end of my first semester of college. The orchestra had to stay behind after classes were over, because we played for Fall commencement. It was the best way to spend a few hours, and then stare into the distance trying to imagine what it’s like to be unable to see color. I have since reread The Giver so many times that I could nearly recite it from memory.
3. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
BRB, still crying over this book.
This was a class novel in the fifth grade. We read it with Mr. Bryant–the man who is probably the biggest reason I’m a teacher today–and he was really sensitive in the way he presented this book to us. We read it as a class and he helped us sort through the vocabulary we didn’t know, and he helped us understand the time period surrounding the book, and he helped us understand the difficult topics. It was the first time I remember a book being immersive and all-encompassing. This single experience is what sparked my love of historical fiction because it taught me to learn about the time period surrounding the characters. It made the setting something important and interactive in reading, rather than just a background for a plot.
2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I know what you’re wondering. How can my favorite book, ever, be number 2 on a list? But it’s true. This is not the most life-changing I’ve had to read for school. It’s just my favorite book I’ve read. It’s an enjoyable story. It was moving. It was intense. It became my favorite world to hide in. I’ve reread it so many times that I’m currently on my third copy of the same book.
Ender’s Game was assigned in the ninth grade; it was a good year for reading. We had to read The Odyssey, Rebecca, The Chosen, and Ender’s Game. And I loved almost everything we read. But Ender’s Game was by far the best. I made friends because of this book. I think I harped on it enough in my first post to warrant me moving on.
1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
We read Charlotte’s Web in the third grade and I’m still not over this book. I loved everything about it. I love the characters. I loved the story. I loved the setting. And most of all, I loved Wilbur. This book is probably the sole reason pigs are my favorite animals. And probably the reason I love spiders as much as I do. Seriously. I love spiders and pigs almost to an unhealthy degree. It’s only just now, writing this post, that I realize this is likely the reason.
I can’t tell you why I love this book so much. I just know that I do. And that I love all things Charlotte’s Web. And that I have read this book forty of fifty times in my life. One of my most traumatic memories is leaving my copy of Charlotte’s Web at the laundromat when I was little and it was gone when we went back for it. Somebody had taken my precious, amazing book. (And today, I hope they loved it and gave it to somebody else to read, but at the time I was so upset.)
What are your favorite required reading books? Any fond memories? Tell me all about them!
The Plucky Reader
(Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. “It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.”)