Like the typical educational classroom setup the high school freshman reading list hasn’t changed much. The freshmen year is a bit of a smorgasbord when it comes to what is on it. The reason for this is because students do not have a history course like they do in the other years and therefore there is more flexibility for what you can teach in 9th grade. The required high school reading list by grade level topics are: 10th grade year is World Literature, 11th grade year is American Literature, 12th grade year is British Literature. This is exciting in that there is freedom when it comes to the 9th grade reading list. The freshmen high school reading list books are: “Of Mice and Men”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Night”, “The Odyssey”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Giver”, “Flowers for Algernon”, some Poe classics. These would be considered the high school recommended reading list. So let’s take a look a the typical high school reading list and then look at what my recommendations would be looking at a current book list.
High School Freshman Reading List: Of Mice And Men
“Of Mice and Men” a classic novel that most of the general public has read and is on the High School Freshman Reading List. It is a story about two itinerate farmers who travel from town to town to get any work they can in order to survive and pay for essentials like food. George and Lenny are like family. George is a hot tempered, angry, pessimistic man who has been tasked with taking care of Lenny, a man whose mental capabilities are limited. When Lenny gets scared he tends to grab a hold of things, such as a woman’s skirt, a puppy, a woman’s hair (neck). This gets him into trouble although he doesn’t intend to hurt anyone. I love this book and it pains me to say this but I think it is a book that could be left off the list of high school reading books. Here is why. Students are completely detached from this book until a woman is killed at the end. In fact I would venture to guess most have no idea what is going on until the end when Lenny accidentally kills a woman and George kills him to save him from further harm (a mob of vengeful men). The reason? How can students possibly connect to or identify with itinerate farm workers. There isn’t one character or topic in the book that they can connect with.
High School Freshman Reading List”Night”
“Night” has no doubt and justifiably become a classic and is on the High School Freshman Reading List. It is a story about a boy who we watch go through the entire process of being displaced from his home, forced into a ghetto, travel by train like cattle to Auschwitz. It is a memoir by Elie Weisel and no horrific detail about the Holocaust is left out. We learn about the horrors of the ovens, of losing everything you own from your shoes to your gold tooth, what happens if you do not obey, what happens to children if they cannot obey, and how people are pushed to the absolute brink of survival and fall to their deaths. “Night” is a book that should be read in high school; however, I do not believe it is a book that should be taught freshmen year. It is heavy and freshmen are still not ready for this level of “reality” in the world. I think the book would work better in 10th grade year when students are reading about World Literature. There is a scene about a child in the book who is being hanged. Because the child is light it takes hours for him to die, he simply swings back and forth. There isn’t any good time to read about this but giving students at least one more year to mature before reading “Night” could do them some good. There are so many other books about the Holocaust that would easily take the place of “Night“.
High School Freshman Reading List: “Romeo and Juliet”
“Romeo and Juliet” is a classic Shakespeare and can be found on the High School Freshman Reading List. The story is a tragedy, as though often mistaken as a romance. Students are able to connect with this one and only Shakespeare because it is about two teens, from warring families, who fall in love against the wishes of their parents and society. There are many themes in this book that can be connected with to today and it is for this reason I believe students should learn a lot about Shakespeare and plays, and read “Romeo and Juliet”. However, I do not believe students connect to or relate to any of the other Shakespearean plays and I think we need to move away from the idea that “we have to teach Shakespeare“. Students should learn about him, read and analyze his poetry, read scenes out of his works, for example, the speeches by Brutus and Antony in “Julius Caesar”, but there is no longer a need to read a Shakespearean play each year.
High School Reading List”The Odyssey”
“The Odyssey” Odysseus the Great King sets out to fight in the Trojan War and ends up taking years to arrive back at home. Odysseus is supposed to be this great war hero, but it is difficult for me to see him as anything but an egotistical-selfish being. He looks at the sirens when he is not supposed to, he cheats on his wife Penelope multiple times, he gets all of his men killed because he cannot control his ego and yells out taunting his enemy Grendel who in turn has his father Poseidon kill all Odysseus’s men. What kind of leader gets all of his men killed? and is still considered a great war hero? Although I have my thoughts about Odysseus, students do learn a lot about the Greek Gods which is more of the point of reading the novel. There are many other ways to learn about the Greek Gods such as short stories or even modern reads like Percy Jackson. “The Oresteia” is by far the best story to learn about the Greek Gods but it is a difficult read at this grade level so we may just have to stick with the Odyssey.
Typical High School Reading List:”To Kill A Mockingbird”
“To Kill a Mockingbird” This is a classic that needs to withstand the test of time and is unfortunately always on the chopping block as books to remove from the book list. Harper Lee captures a realistic portrayal of an innocent black man being falsely accused by a white woman of rape. Despite the immaculate defense given by Atticus Finch, Tom Robinson is found guilty and is sentenced to death. This is how it really was and our students need to know and see that dreadful part of history. I teach my students about Emmett Till during this unit and the connections they make are real. Also students are close enough in age to Jem and Scout to remember what it was like to grow up. For these reasons, I believe “To Kill a Mockingbird” should continue to be taught in the classroom.
“The Giver” has recently been moved from the freshmen book list to the sixth grade book list. This is absolutely ridiculous. The lexile score may suggest that it can be read by a sixth grader but that doesn’t mean 6th graders can understand any of the concepts, themes, or author’s messages. “The Giver” in 9th grade is a perfect read. Students can grapple with the themes of whether or not a dystopian society works, and if people would be happier in a society where everyone is equal, receives the same rations and treatment, and are void of feelings. For this reason I believe “The Giver” should remain on the high school reading list 9th grade.
“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”
In place of “Night“, I believe students should read, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas“. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: The heart-breaking novel of the boy in the striped pajamas gives people a glimpse of what it would have been like to live with a family that was on the German side (wrong side). This young boy has a father who is high in rank and even takes orders from Hitler in person. The family lives on sight at Auschwitz to help run the concentration camp. The young boy, completely unaware of what is taking place in the camp, tries to live a normal life. He befriends a boy living in the camp and they meet once a day sitting and talking through the fence about normal things (not what is happening at the camp). Towards the end of the book the boy decides he is going to sneak into the camp so he can help his friend find his father (who has been killed in the gas chambers). The boy sneaks in to what he thinks will be an adventure and is also killed in the gas chambers. To supplement this novel, I would add “White Bird” by R.J. Palacio and the graphic novel of “The Diary of Anne Frank”. These are both beautifully written graphic novels. ‘White Bird” is a love story about a schoolboy who saves a Jewish girl just in time to miss the train to Auschwitz. She has to live in a barn and spends her evenings with this boy who eventually becomes a young man. The two fall in love with each other. The young man is killed in the end ultimately for protecting her. The Diary of Anne Frank, graphic novel is a beautifully written text with amazing graphics. It is similar to “White Bird” in that it is an account of her day-to-day life, and she also falls for a young man in the story. The difference between the two is the heart breaking ending of Anne Frank.
“The Stars Beneath Our Feet”
“The Stars Beneath Our Feet” by David Barclay is a book that I suggest for the typical high school reading list. A story about a boy who loses his brother and is trying to find a way to cope with this loss. He becomes friends with many he never thought he would befriend and he uses legos as a creative way to deal with the pain of his loss. It’s is a well-crafted book with many themes and messages students can relate to and connect with today.
“As Brave as You”
“As Brave As You” by Jason Reynolds is a book about a young boy who is taken to live with his grandparents for a length of time. The boys parents are going through a divorce and they are going on one last trip prior to a separation. The boy spends the time with his grandparents, his brother, and some townspeople. The boy connects with his grandfather who is struggling with blindness. There are many themes that students can relate to and I think this is a great read for 9th grade.
I do not support the idea that there is a required high school reading list. Different teachers are passionate about different topics, and have creative ways of teaching what they love. For this reason, the most intelligent move would be to choose the best high school reading list as one that is chosen by the teacher. The high school book list classics would still be taught, as I think more teachers are apt to teach classics than modern texts.
High School Freshman Reading List: Teachers Pay Teachers Products:
For a blog on book list for 10th grade, click here. For a blog on book list for American Literature click Here. I’d love to hear what books are on your 9th grade book list. Please leave in the comments below!