Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What to read??? THAT is the question...

The greatest part of the Danish educational system is also the thing that is sometimes difficult to manage--- the FREEDOM. Now, don't get me wrong; I definitely DO NOT want the system to become less free, but after coming from a system where there is so much can I say it nicely..... "guidance" from those in decision-making positions (i.e.: legislators), it is almost overwhelming when I sit and plan what literature I want to use with my students.

The reason it is overwhelming is that there is JUST SO MUCH from which to choose and I don't want to leave any out! In Texas there is a list of literature that must be read/shared/analyzed at each level of high school and then teachers have choice (within certain parameters) about what other books to use in their teaching, but we only have our students for one year in Texas (usually), so you realize that you have 2 selections MANDATED by the state, so that leaves room for 3-4 other choices within one year.

Now picture this--- I have my A-level English students for 3 years and during that 1st semester, we have them for a very number of lessons because they are in what is called "grundforløb" which is like a "basic, introductory course" that all Gymnasium students take, regardless of their study line. During that semester, you really only have time for MAYBE one novel.
So that means in the 5 remaining semesters, I have to plan out all the VERY BEST literature that I want them to experience. Now you see the overwhelming part.

There are some works that are the NO-brainers....the books that EVERY PERSON on the planet MUST read before he dies....  in fact, in my opinion, there are 3 of those and you can be darned tootin' (yeah, that is a total Texas phrase), we are reading them!

Now comes my dilemma.
I know what I have already read/shared with my students (who are now in their 3rd year) and what I plan to read/share with them for the remainder of the 2010-11 school year before I send them out into the big world.... but I am already thinking ahead to my students who are in their 2nd year as well as the students that I will get next August for a NEW THREE YEARS.....
That is where I need your help....

Here are the "others" on my list (either that we HAVE read or that we are GOING to read), but I feel like I have forgotten some of the GREATS...the ones that ALL people should read. (NOTE: I really want to use Pride & Prejudice as well as The Scarlet Letter, as a way to not only teach literature from those time periods, but because I believe their lessons are relevant for today; however, I want EVERYONE to fall in love with these works that I share, including the boys, so if anyone has a suggestion of HOW to make boys fall in love with Jane Austen, I am ALL EARS!)

1. Lord of the Flies
2. Animal Farm
3. Fahrenheit 451
4. Catcher in the Rye
5. Things Fall Apart
6. Night and/or First they killed my father (as representatives of the memoir and inter-disciplinary connections to history)
7. That was then, this is now and/or The Outsiders (as our literature in the "grundforløb" because all teachers are supposed to focus on the theme of Growing Up during this semester, plus this is their first semester of English at A-level so SE Hinton is a non-threatening way to enter the 3 year study....but I am open to other "Growing Up" novels.)
8. Shakespeare---he appears in the last semester of gymnasium and when you think about 2nd language learners (who are truly bilingual), I need suggestions of the 2 best works to share... I know what Kelli wants to use, but suggestions are WELCOMED!  :-)

So now you see my dilemma.... there are SO many other works....  and I only have 3 years to help them fall in love with English literature and reading.... so I need a good sampling, the RIGHT sampling of the very BEST.

What book would you recommend to a person if there was only book he could read????


Jen said...

Animal Farm is brilliant for understanding allegory. Farenheit 451 is a personal favourite. And as for Shakespeare, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet are the most engaging I think, though Midsummer's Night Dream, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing all have a case. I have to confess I have never read Othello and I should. I think Catcher in the Rye is an amazing book, but one to read personally rather than in the school system, sometimes a book can be analysed so much at school that all the joy is taken out.

Nuno said...

Catcher in the Rye.

Although you might think it's a tad negative ... :-)

Archaeogoddess said...

Strangely enough I have not read Animal Farm. 1984, yes, and Brave New World, but not Animal Farm. Is it wrong of me to say that I read Catcher in the Rye and didn't like it? I am also not a fan of Jane Austin, but this may partly be because I was overloaded with Pride and Prejudice my senior year, we read it in English and did the play in Drama. LOL - you ask me to pick books I like and instead I tell you the ones I didn't!

I think The Outsiders is a good way to start, it's an easy read (says the native English speaker book nerd). But what about Huckleberry Finn? Or Call of the Wild - which is much shorter than Huck, if I remember correctly. Both are Growing Up novels that aren't 20th century works (which you've got a lot of on your list).

While Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorites, perhaps you could get away with some of his short stories to save time to get another novel in? That's how I got into Bradbury - through the short stories.

As for Shakespeare - Hamlet is the obvious choice, but with so many movie versions out there, the temptation is to watch one and not read the text (uh, not that I'm speaking from experience, *ahem*). So pick one that either has no movie version or only a very old movie version that would be difficult to procure.

Toss in some short stories too, to break up the monotony of novel reading. The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Gilman) and A Rose for Emily (William Faulkner) and of course, The Lottery (Shirley Jackson) are fantastic. And your students have to read "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Poe because it's the first detective story and who doesn't love a murderous ape?

I'd suggest only one Steinbeck (I know, I'm a horrible person) and only one Shakespeare because there are so many other wonderful authors in other periods to explore and not enough time to cover them all in class.

I don't envy your decision, it will not be an easy one!

Unknown said...

If it helps any, and if your students go on to study English at the university (here in DK), they will most likely have to read Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice) and Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) and Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet) during their freshman year. We did anyhow. And... Shakespeare does NOT have to be in a unit all by himself. You can work him in throughout other units with themes like "Twisted Love". I've got a lesson plan from a former colleague - I'll show ya!.

abrantley said...

What a great post! It is one I could probably spend hours discussing with you. Off the top of my head, some of my favorite books to teach to students have been Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet or Julius Caesar, Ender's Game, The Once and Future King, Canterbury Tales, Inherit the Wind, Watership Down, The Hobbit, a Dickens piece like A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, or Great Expectations, 100 Years of Solitude, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Kite Runner or 100 Splendid Suns, and of course you have to read some Greek literature like The Odyssey.

Try and think about all the genres/cultures you want to cover and pick a book from each.

You can also do literature circles and have a theme for each one like Shakespeare, Jane Austin, Women's Lit, historical fiction, biographies, etc. Have about 4-6 kids in each groups and enough choices that each group has a different book. Then each group can share with the class.

I am so jealous of all your possibilities!

Jesper said...

Kelli, love this and I wanna be in your mention so many great novels in your post.

My question is, why do you have to two Steinbech novels as a given?

Furthermore, I would suggest some more contemperary literature and maybe some older classics that went in the other direction of Jane Austen...and maybe spoke more to the boys. Franz Kafka's "The Trail" or "America" could be options? Or Albert Camus' The "Stranger"? Or even Herman Hesse...?

As far as the comtemperary goes, I really recommend D.B.C (Dirty but clean) Pierre's "Vernon God Little" won the booker prize a couple of years ago and it is amazing: funny, satiric, moving, chocking, and so many other things. It's like a modern "Catcher in the rye...with a twist". The language is crazy and funky...and I know, from my experience as a librarian at TH. Lang High School, that the students loves it!

May said...

Must it be British or American authors (I can see you have a Nigerian author in there)?

Otherwise I would also like to suggest Kafka. I'm particulary fond of the novella "The Metamorphosis".

Contemporary, Gaetan Soucy, my favourite author, but definitely not for everyone. ;)

As for The Outsiders, as far as I remember we read it in Danish class in Folkeskolen, I don't know if it'll be the same for your students, though.

Also, if they have Oldtidskundskab, then they will cover many of the Greek tragedies.

Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies, loved them. Catcher in the Rye...I'm with the Archaeogoddess here, read it later and didn't care for it. ;)

Anonymous said...

So interesting, I haven't read one book mentioned in this post!

In high school, I read The Pearl by Steinbeck, Little Women by Alcott, Madame Bovary by Flaubert among others, but none of the ones you mention here.

I don't read fiction anymore, I love non-fiction books too much, but my favorite fiction book EVER are The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov (probably would be deemed blasphemous by the DISD, reason enough alone for you to use it in your course) which I LOVE, and Possession by Byatt (possibly the most well crafted tale, ever).

O. Henry is a must as well, and as reading for pure pleasure goes, Hotel New Hampshire has to be on the top ten.

Archaeogoddess - so glad you mentioned The Lottery, I second that (did you ever see the über creepy short film based on it?!).

Anonymous said...

Some other books who also deserves to be mentioned;
From the USA:
"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, Cormac McCarthy - "The road", "No country for old men", James Baldwin "Go tell it on the Mountain", "A heartbreaking work of staggering Genius" by Dave Eggers. E. A. POE:)

From the Irish, "The boy in striped pyjamas" by John Boyne, "Ulysses" by James Joyce or David Mitchell "Ghostwritten".

From Scotland; "Trainspotting" by Irwine Welsh, Iain Banks "Crow road", something by Robert Lois Stevenson?

English : Dickens - anything /Pickwick papers?, Zadie Smith - "White Teeth" Shakespeare; Richard 3 (filmed in 1995 by R. Loncraine with Ian McKellen:)

Wales: "Sheepshagger" by Niall Griffiths (of course:)

HOLMES said...

I love Ayn Rand but her stuff is not easy to read. Anthem is GREAT-- that is one of the prescribed books for 10th grade Phoenix. I love The Fountainhead but it is a tremendously arduous book to get through.

I'm about to read Metamorphosis and The Sound and the Fury... I'll get back to you on those.

If you never read The Log From The Sea of Cortez (Steinbeck), please do. Pat gave me a copy when he was moving out of his room and I have read it three times.

Bleak House is my favorite Dickens novel... great because it really shows the bureacracy of a legal system and the many ways that people are connected, even when they try to lead secretive lives in order to stay DISconnected.

Jane Austen-- Pride and Prejudice is the love story that so many others take their cue from... the character of Darcy is fascinating and within Elizabeth's family it seems that every type of woman is represented. How to get boys to read it? IDK.

Corinne said...

I love me some Kipling, and I think the Jungle Book is a short (if you only use Mowgli's stories) and great coming of age story. There's also some good allegories in these works.

Animal Farm is an awesome book. I also think Twain is a good choice. He is a master of the English language.

Jack London is one of my favorites, too. His lesser popular works like The Star Rover are pretty haunting pieces. But one can't go wrong with White Fang and CotW.

Anonymous said...

Irvine Welsh wrote a great book called Acid House. Actually, it's a collection of short stories. They are very funny and often bizarre. It should be in your school library. I know that at least one set of gymnasium pupils loved the book.

Best of all, you can pick out which stories you think are suitable. Included in the collection is a novella, called A Smart Cunt. This really does have the theme 'growing up'.

Agatha said...

What about Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights? For girls, of course :-). I love Hamlet, but I think Shakespeare's Sonnets might be a good choice too. I would recommend Hemingway, Virginia Woolf or Heller's Catch 22. I guess one book from Steinbeck is enough for a European.

Annarella said...

I can not remember any of the old boring books we had to read in English in the Gymnasium. They were all about far away places, times and problems that I didn't care about back then. There was only one novel I actually enjoyed reading and still remember: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, so I'll suggest that one. :-)
Lord of the Flies is good too but we read that in folkeskolen.

nettielouise said...

I think I must have bizarre taste or something, because as an English teacher there are so many books that while I can appreciate them, I just don't like them!

Anyway, a few standout reads in my mind: Grendel (this was a sequel to Beowulf told from the monster's perspective, so you'd probably have to read that first), Frankenstein, Ishmael...hmmm, never really thought about it, but I guess I have some fascination with the beast's point of view.

I also LOVE the Canterbury Tales. But I'm weird like that. I took a whole class on Chaucer because I love him.

As for Shakespeare...I've always liked Twelth Night and Much Ado. They have the most enjoyable story lines to me.

Ryan said...

Catch-22. For the love of god, Catch-22. Anything by Steinbeck, Twain, or Dickens would be excellent, too.

Ayn Rand is going to make them hate you, and Jane Austen is just plain boring anyway.

MoMo 2.0 said...

Your suggestions are all SOOOO appreciated!!!
Now I feel much more "armed" as I sit down today and write my lesson plans for the upcoming weeks!!!


MoMo 2.0 said...

And Jes.....
if I could, I would use MORE than just 2 Steinbeck novels..... lol. I limit myself to these 2 because I just think both have so many wonderful treasures within their pages....... and although they are both "dust bowl", Great Depression, American Dream lit..
they are SUCH different stories and have so many opps for discussions about right/wrong and humanity......