While you’re parenting kids and getting them up for school this fall, beware a few different things. While we’re all concerned about Corona virus and its impact on the education of children, please be mindful of the cancel culture and its impact on literature. Examples include Huckleberry Finn being offensive to blacks, as if the use of the N word wasn’t offensive enough. I think the greatest issue schools have is literature that balances between what we call “window books” and “mirror books.” I’ve covered this before, and I’ll say it again. If your child is reading insipid teenage literature, pull off the blinders immediately and demand that the teacher give them a balanced literature list instead of only modern works.
Here is a list of books I would recommend for each grade level, and a bit of why I recommend these books.
For very young readers, start with books like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, which is what we call a mobius story, a cycle that goes around and around and around. This would lead to a project like I did once where we put all the pages and words to this poem about a mouse eating cookies into a mobius circle on paper, colored the areas around the words, and turned the projects around and around. I’d also recommend the works of Dr. Seuss, better known for his rhythm and rhymes but his full name is Theodore Seuss Geisel, and his widow was not surprisingly upset about Grinch movies gone wrong. But for the younger kiddos, Dr. Seuss is perfect because he writes such zany writings that open the door for a child to foster their imaginations.
When a child reaches about second or fourth grade, this is a crucial time for children to read “window books”, books that provide a window to the past, books like the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I adore Laura’s writings, cautioning that Mary and her blindness could become an issue for some with disabilities. However, the window part of this series allows the reader to observe the author’s and the family’s view of Mary’s prospects for a normal life. Mary Ingalls is not married, and in the books, the family does put her in some dangerous situations because she’s not like laura and Carrie, so read with care. I also would recommend the animals in literature selections like those in the Redwall series,, and some of these are kind of funny. Historical fiction should be introduced, especially books dealing with all kinds of immigrant group problems, including a book called Norrey Ryan’s Song, about the Irish potato famine that rocked Ireland in the nineteenth century. Norrie is a girl who’s forced to go to America and her family struggles like hell to survive, and this is an important thing for all kids to study because this story is like a lot of other immigrant stories. For Asian American history, I’d recommend the work of such authors as Lawrence Yep, a Chinese author who grew up American, but he is still ethnically Chinese. He wrote some pretty great works of literature, and we’ll get to some deep study later on John Steinbeck, but first, study this author because he has some great immigrant historical stories to tell. For the record, American girl storybooks do not count here. Kids need to be reading books by reputable authors in the literature selection at a school or public library, not farm out their reading time with Pleasant Company. While I do like the American Girl dolls, they can provide some sense of connection and girls can collect them, but what about the boys? That’s why they don’t count, and there are no LGBTQI+ dolls anyway. Children in theese grades, second to fourth grade, will have plenty of reading to do at this rate.
Fifth through eighth graders should be reading more serious works. Romeo and Juliet can wait, possibly never be studied abridged. I would recommend poetry as a clear road map to preparing your brain to be baffled by the Elizabethan English that is Shakespeare, but abridged copies of the story of Romen and Juliet can be studied in the lower grades, but eighth graders should seriously take up the study. Drama and plays would really help these grades get acquainted with things like tragedy and comedy, and these grades should also be studying Greek works of dramatic fiction or those plays based on Greek myths like Medea, Jason and the Argonauts, and so much more. Then, we’ll get to serious sexualized tragedy by ninth grade and higher, but if the kids insist on learning about Oedipus the King by tenth grade, they better learn Romeo and Juliet as soon as humanly possible, at least in the seventh grade.
High schoolers should be familiar with works of English, American, and some African lit. Let’s delve into the things they should be reading: George Orwell’s Animal Farm, 1984. Brave New World by Huxley, on top of Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, and then the Giver series by Lois Lowry. Yes, my middle school teacher made us read that in middle school, but there are three more books to read in that same universe. Read them. Prepare the mind for college literature in the eleventh grade by reading the entire Outsiders novel, portraying the Beatnik teenage generations, and then there was more. You could try reading The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, and Alias Grace, all by a remarkably good Margaret Atwood, but these books also contain both history and warning. All high schoolers should be reading books that warn of the coming future. Study Elie Wiesel’s Night, Annie Dilliard’s Holy the Firm, or perhaps Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men and Their Eyes were Watching God. Both books were amazing, and great reads. Don’t try to get the impression that Hurston’s work is bad, or that her use of the N word in Mules and Men is any more amusing than if a white person said it to a black person. These books have history and “window” written all over them. Read A Little Princess by F. H. Bernette and learn about the British colonization of India, where at one time the capital was called Bombay instead of Mumbai as it is now. Next, study Charles Dickens and Kipling, thanks Matilda by Roald Dahl,, and indeed try reading Hemingway and Faulkner. Then try reading as much as possible in the adult category. By the way, Dahl wrote some adult stories, so try reading all the classics, even in high school. Gain an appreciation for Roald Dahl’s books and learn from the master storyteller’s vivid descriptions of good moral character, lessons on children, and so much more. My favorite book by Mr. Dahl happens to be Matilda, and there is a growing list of books that are being banned from schools for stupid reasons, but let’s face it. All k-12 students should be acquainted with a balance of mirror books like the Hunger Games trilogy and that new one that just came out, and then there’s Harry Potter, and then there are window books out there by such authors in all grades like for the younger ones, they should read Beatrix Potter and Beverly Cleary. I read the Ramona books, and now they’re classics. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume should be on all the preteens’ lists. One of my favorite Blume books I’d recommend for high schoolers is Then Again, Maybe I Won’t. Of course, there’s so much you can hear in those books, but the window books should be carefully selected to create a teaching moment. I don’t have English pedagogy in my brain, but I do have an idea of where book learning is going.
What books would I stay away from if I was in k-12? Stay away from the Robin Gunn books, please. Don’t read books by a religious author of any sort, because most of that literature is more of an indoctrination, and overall, not as good quality. Yes, there are Catholics who would prefer you not read Atwood, but who cares. In MCC, there was this one book I would have had to read that was about conversion. Ugh. Boy I would have given the MCC faculty an earful about that. THS might have been racey in their preferences for literature, but at least Jennifer Dick-Thomas, my AP English lit teacher in eleventh grade, has brains. She loves literature, loves English, and has recommended we study Hurston and Dilliard, but she found a good selection of stories. The recommended summer reading list in my eleventh grade AP lit list was pretty straightforward, and I had already tucked into Night before Mrs. Thomas could say anything. I love books, probably as much as Mrs. Thomas, but not a lot of teachers are getting the creative license to teach these works of literature. Why? Standardized test crap. Here’s the key to opening the creative box again: get rid of the FCAT, Florida Writes, and other standardized bullshit in public schools. Mind you, you teachers will be happy when you and your students get together and force change, because we all know that Florida and other states where comprehensive standardized insipidity tests reign, that the government won’t do a darn thing.
Education is missing a lot of creative things, but writing a blog has been for me a creative release, therapy, and so much more. To those who criticize my choices, go away because your criticism ain’t good enough for me. You lack substance, can’t comment anyway, and there are more books out there that meet the so called standards you’re looking for, you’re just not looking hard enough.
One more note about books and literature: let kids explore what window books are acceptable in their milieu of society such as if an Asian American child wants to read Dragon’s gate by Lawrence Yep, or perhaps your Native American child student wants to read Wilma Mankiller’s bio, who cares. Kids need to find time for independent study, connect with books that shape who they are. However, religious authors that encourage imprisonment of women’s thoughts and expressions by the patriarchy should be forbidden in libraries. Instead, read books by Jessica Valentin, a feminist author who encourages people to think. I wrote a whole few posts on sex ed, and that should tie into sex ed class, but no. Books should never encourage lack of imagination and creativity, quite the opposite should be happening.
For the very young readers, make sure you also read the words, not just stare at illustrations and things. Legends around the world should be taught, and I could delve into literature that explores cultural things, again I say Lawrence Yep is a good example, but try Joseph Bruchac for exploring Native American stories and literature. Then there’s Chinua Achebe who writes Things fall Apart, among other works of African literature. There are some books that are written by white and non associated authors, books like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Sing Down the Moon, but those books have been carefully researched. Scott O’Dell is by no means just a Native American author, he has written some stories with compelling amounts of research about the people in the story. Sing Down the Moon, for example, tells the story of a Navajo woman forced to leave her home, along with other Navajo tribes and clans. She tells her story, from her point of view. This is a definite window book into history. If you’re looking for a mirror selection of books, do that while not in class. The whole point of reading is to exercise the mind, open the brain’s doors, and give the child students the ability to communicate with good idiomatic references. American English is full of idioms, so paint them on your pallet with good grace.