10 Book Week: The Ones I Loved to Teach

by Camille on July 5, 2012

So if you’ve been following along, you know I’m doing this 10 Book Week thing from Sarah Bessy. I’m supposed to do a list of 10 recommendations a day, but for me, it’s been every other day. Sorry dudes. Yesterday, I had to made a serious decision between doing laundry and becoming a nudist. (Don’t worry, Mom. I opted for the laundry…..this time.)

Then, we took Ellie to the splash pad. I give you her reaction below, and yeah, those seriously white legs are mine. Sexy, I know.

We ended up at Red Robin for dinner, where I snapped this lovely photo of Charlie. Did I mention that Ellie sort of smashed his nose with the iPhone earlier in the day? Yeah…he’s sporting a new look.

I’m glad I have these pictures as the entire afternoon is a bit of a fog for me. After finishing the laundry,  I inexplicably found myself covered in small bumps on my torso and itching like crazy. It happened so suddenly, we assumed it was a reaction to something, and I took two benadryl…hence my zombie-like approach to the rest of the day. I’m still itchy today, but I’m feeling a little better. Conclusions? I must be allergic to laundry! Darn. I’ll have to stop doing that immediately.

Anyway, back to the books promised by the title of this post. Sarah’s Day #3 recommendations were 10 Books by Canadians I Wish the World Would Read. Since Charlie’s family is Canadian (his brothers have large Canadian flags tattooed on their backs, y’all), I may add a few of these to my list. However, since I’m sadly lacking in Canadian literature, I’m going to return to my English-teacher days and share

The 10 Books (or plays)  I Loved to Teach


1. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Best. Book. Ever. I always started the year with this one as it provides textbook examples of all the primary elements of a story. From this one book, I could review the parts of plot, the importance of setting, characterization, irony, foreshadowing, theme, and just about any other curriculum standard. More importantly than that, this is the book I used to win kids over.

First, it’s tiny; my weaker readers weren’t overwhelmed from the beginning, and it gave me a chance to build trust in the classroom before presenting more challenging material.

Second, it’s FULL of curse words, and with my particular group of students, that was awesome. When the tough guys learned that I would not only allow them to curse in class but would encourage them to do so with volume and gusto (while reviewing key passages, of course), their hands flew into the air to volunteer to read. I’ll tolerate a good dam* any day to create an enthusiastic reader.

Finally, for many students, Of Mice and Men was the first time they truly connected to or cared about a story. Spoiler Alert! Every year, I would encourage everyone to wait, and we would read the end together in class. Every year, I had students gripping their desks in horror as they realized what was about to happen, and when George pulled the trigger, tears always flowed. Voices would erupt in a sea of confusion, anger, outrage, sadness, and we would have long discussions about the why. What is merciful? What is right? And kids who never talked would wave their hands, begging for the opportunity to be heard. And saggy-pants, gold-grill-sportin’, gang members would offer thoughtful opinions on Steinbeck’s use of irony.

I need a tissue just thinking about it.

2. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Another BEST book ever. I would always assign this novel in conjunction with an in-class poetry unit, as Bradbury’s writing is saturated with figurative language. Beautiful and effective metaphors, similes, personification, and imagery fill every page. Also, though written in 1953, the book contains themes so easily applicable to modern life. Violence in media and society. Government censorship. Isolation and loneliness. The kids are a harder sell on this one, but by the end, there’s enough torching and bombs to win them over.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Not pictured because I lent it to someone. (Seriously…who has my book?!) I only got to teach part of it one year while working with middle school students as part of my Master’s program, but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, it’s amazing. If Ellie’s name wasn’t Ellie, it would probably be Harper.

4. Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton

South Africa. Apartheid. Eye-opening and beautifully written with ample opportunities to discuss history, social justice, and race issues. However, considering the intercalary structure, complicated dialogue, and length, I saved this one for my Honors kids. They were so appreciative.

5. Twelve Angry Men, by Reginald Rose

One of my most favorite plays. Kids would literally run down the hall trying to beat one another into my classroom to sign up for Juror #3 and Juror #10. (Hint: they get to curse.) We would turn my classroom into a jury deliberation room, and away we went. Periodically, I would hold “votes” in the classroom, and it was always entertaining to watch how every vote would begin as “guilty.” It’s a wonderful play for stimulating engaged discussion about current racial prejudices, racial stereotypes, and potential problems with the current justice system.

6. The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

Constructed of brief vignettes, this book tells entertaining stories in simple language. For classes with struggling readers or ESL students, it’s a wonderful tool.

7. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver

Full of allusions and featuring a feisty, strong female protagonist. It’s an easy read, so I assigned it as a summer reading option.

8. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

Yes, I assigned a comic book to my Honors kids. This autobiographical graphic novel is narrated by Satrapi as a young girl as she comes of age during the Iranian Revolution. I assigned research projects for my students to explore Iran, the Revolution, Islam, and other political and cultural elements in conjunction with the book. Persepolis helped students challenge preconceived notions and stereotypes about Islamic beliefs, and the comic book format led to interesting discussions of modern print media and the power of images versus words.

9. Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare

When a teacher mentions the Bard, she generally is rewarded with eye-rolls, groans, moans, and all-out rebellion. But when I started the first class with a resounding, “Peace, ho!”…I had them. “Yeah kids. You can totally say this to all your friends. Teachers? Sure. It is just a greeting, after all.” So then, I had kids running up and down the hallway calling each other “hoes,” but they decided Shakespeare wasn’t so bad. Add a few garbage-bag togas, plastic knives, and fake blood, and Shakespeare became the man!

10. A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah

For a group of struggling readers who viewed all books as “stupid,” this was the answer. The fact that a kid in flip-flops carrying a large gun is on the cover didn’t hurt. In all seriousness, this gripping memoir forced students to consider the very real atrocities committed regularly in other parts of the world and realize how much we take for granted.


Well, that’s it for now. This list has made me miss teaching more than I thought. If anyone wants me to send you some essay prompts or a hearty short-answer test, let me know. Sniff.  My red pen is twitching.



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