Two words: killer robots.
Yeah, you read that right. The Accidental Hero has everything kids love (killer robots, superheros and adventure) while including themes educators love to over-analyze (friendship, doing the right thing and believing in yourself). It also will actually appeal to boys, who are incredibly neglected in both children’s and young adult literature. Besides, with excellent writing, sympathetic characters, and incredible world-building, kids will be able to enjoy novel study for once.
Where do I start with such an amazing book? It has subtle themes about how we all have good and evil in us, how redemption is possible and how things aren’t always what they seem. It has allusions to the Arthurian legends (obviously), foreshadowing, vivid imagery, personification and many other literary devices middle school students are supposed to learn about. The best part is that it’s a well-written book that doesn’t talk down to its intended age group; T.A. Barron has faith in the intelligence of his readers.
Humour? Check. Meaning? Check. Well-written and entertaining? Double-check. The Wish List is another middle years novel that has incredible themes while at the same time being utterly hilarious. Not all novels chosen for novel studies have to be boring, humourless monstrosities with plots like a Wagner opera. Instead, why not choose Eoin Colfer’s amazing standalone novel that—gasp!—kids of both genders will enjoy?
This would be a novel for high school students and I guarantee it will hold more people’s attention than anything by Shakespeare or Chaucer. Earth Abides is one of the few classic novels that I actually enjoy and even years later, it stays with me. It’s haunting, with a lot of themes that are more appropriate for high school students than what is currently being taught.
The Underland Chronicles are less well-known than Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games Trilogy, but are definitely just as good—if not better. It contains some pretty heavy themes for a book aimed at young teens and tweens, but educators need to stop treating their students like babies and put a bit of faith in their maturity. Boys will sympathize with Gregor and girls with Luxa, so it really is the best of both worlds.
People need to learn about World War II and the Holocaust, but what annoys me is the fact that they don’t learn about both sides of the story. Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl is a staple of Holocaust literature, but let’s be honest with ourselves: you would be hard-pressed to find a book boys that age hate more. Most really couldn’t give a crap about the diary of some silly teenage girl and, as a result, shut down completely. But Run Like Jäger would appeal to both boys and girls as well as answer the question of why the Germans supported Hitler, a question that is woefully neglected.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and I suspect I will have a lot more to say on the topic in the future. But what books do you think should be taught in school? What was your least favorite novel study book and why? Did you have a favorite novel study book?