Note: Do you remember what it was like the first time you read a book that you couldn’t put down? My students have only begun to discover books that capture their imaginations. Reading is like a passport for a child to travel as far as their imagination will take them.  Students need to see a world outside their own in order to gain better perspective about life as well as their future aspirations. I select books that push my students to think beyond their years. It is my hope that they will be exposed to similar literature in the future and be able to comprehend the material with ease.

“A sixteen year old boy named Steve Harmon finds himself on trial for murder after he is accused as acting as a lookout for the young men who actually commit a robbery at a Harlem drugstore and kill the store owner. The story is presented predominantly from his own viewpoint in the form of a screenplay and journal entries he writes, as he faces the trial and possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.”

 “The society Lowry depicts in The Giver is a utopian society—a perfect world as envisioned by its creators. It has eliminated fear, pain, hunger, illness, conflict, and hatred—all things that most of us would like to eliminate in our own society. But in order to maintain the peace and order of their society, the citizens of the community in The Giver have to submit to strict rules governing their behavior, their relationships, and even their language. Individual freedom and human passions add a chaotic element to society, and in The Giver even the memory of freedom and passion, along with the pain and conflict that human choice and emotion often cause, must be suppressed. In effect, the inhabitants of the society, though they are happy and peaceful, also lack the basic freedoms and pleasures that our own society values.

“The Pearl is a novella by American author John Steinbeck, published in 1947. It is the story of a pearl diver, Kino, and explores man’s nature as well as greed and evil. Steinbeck’s inspiration was a Mexican folk tale from La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, which he had heard in a visit to the formerly pearl-rich region in 1940. Steinbeck wrote The Pearl based on his personal convictions, and based the story on the biblical parable of a ‘pearl of great price.’ In this story, a jewel for which the merchant trades everything he owns becomes the metaphor for Heaven. Everything in the merchant’s earthly existence, however, becomes worthless when compared to the joys of living with God in Heaven. However, Steinbeck uses the parable as a meditation on the American dream of success. Steinbeck, who himself had risen quickly to prosperity, explores how Kino, the protagonist of The Pearl, deals with his newfound prominence in the community and riches.”


There is an old fisherman in Cuba, Santiago, who has gone eighty-four days without a catch. He is “thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck,…and his hands had deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert” (10). Santiago’s lack of success, though, does not destroy his spirit, as his “cheerful and undefeated” eyes show (10). He has a single friend, a boy named Manolin, who helped him during the first forty days of his dry spell. After forty days, though, Manolin’s parents decided the old man was unlucky and ordered their son to join another boat. Despite this, the boy helps the old man to bring in his empty boat every day.”


17 comments on “LA/Literature

  1. Steinbeck and Hemingway are great classic American writers. I’ve read several books by both authors.

    I missed out on The Time Machine in my eighth grade Sci-fi class. Yes, we had a semester devoted strictly to Science Fiction.

    I’m unfamiliar with the first book though.

    Looks like a great set of books to read and discuss through the year.

    • Time Machine was a great book to read. There were a few challenges [ <<< for example], but the kids responded quite nicely. I had the kids read it because I will be teaching them an integrated unit in Language Arts/Writing that deals with time travel/sci-fi. We had some good discussions, a few confused faces, but the kids enjoyed the book overall.

      Hemingway will be the last book we read for the year. I chose Old Man and The Sea because it's a pretty straight forward read. It gives some good examples about personal struggle as well as life in general. Besides that, he's an alumni from my high school back in Chicago, so it's my way of paying homage ;]

      The first book, Monster by Walter Dean Myers, was a more modern book that the kids absolutely loved. It was about a kid making bad choices that led him down a rough path in life. The whole thing was written like a screen play, so it made for fun in-class reading. We even did a reenactment at the end of the book. It was a good book to start the year off.

  2. How do your students respond to Of Mice and Men? I have been in a few Freshmen English classes this year and I never seem to get an overwhelmingly positive response. I’m wondering if the response is different among younger readers?

    • I’ve taught it for two years, and I’ve had mixed reviews. That being said, the majority of the kids thought it was pretty interesting. We had to work around some language as well as through some old fashion vernacular/slang, but they were very engaged. I showed the 1992 adapted movie after we completed the book, and most of them liked the book better.

      What are some of the responses you’re getting?

      • I’ve witnessed some similar struggles with the vernacular, but students often complain about the lack of plot and character development too. I believe a lot of those feelings come from it being such a short book. It seems they don’t think they truly get an inside view of any of the characters and not enough happens in the plot for them to gain that insight due to the length of the novel.

      • The length of the book was actually a plus for this age level where I’m still fighting against their attention span. We also participated in popcorn reading where the students read aloud to help with comprehension and to keep them on task. I made sure I compensated for the length issue with outside activities like vocabulary, active note taking, an essay assignment, and numerous discussion to gauge for comprehension. That being said, I can totally see readers wanting more from the characters. I mean, Steinbeck didn’t even give Curly’s wife a name…lol Unless I’m mistaken. The kids found that rather odd.

  3. Carpenter Mike here. It’s been many years since I’ve read Steinbeck. Most of his fiction is probably geared towards a more mature audience, at least Sophomore or higher. Steinbeck is probably the greatest chronicler of the American depression era and the coarseness of language and the vernacular of the time can be hard to “cipher”, especially for younger readers.*

    That being said, some of his works can be considered to be geared towards a younger audience. “The Red Pony” and “The Pearl” come to mind, as well as “The Moon Is Down”, a story of resistance in WW2.

    Steinbeck was an interesting character and had a storied career, both as a writer and as a correspondent during WW2 and also the Viet Nam war.

    * The slang or vernacular of the time can be understood better if the reader can understand the context around the use of an unfamiliar word, if that makes any sense. 😉

    • That early 1930’s had the kids scratching their heads as well as giggling often. I made sure to include activities like weekly vocabulary that coincided with chapters read, active note taking, and numerous discussion to gauge for comprehension. Penguin makes a pretty good teacher’s guide.

      You’re so right about The Pearl, and I think I’m going to add that to the rotation next year. It’s a very good book and has lots of relatable situations in there for this age group. I’m sad to say, but The Time Machine or Old Man and the Sea might be put to the side next year. 5 books in one school year could be the other option. Haven’t decided yet, but I’m looking forward to next year’s literature class.

  4. Though I’m a college student with no teaching experience, I can really appreciate the fact that you give your 7th grade students advanced readings. I know I wasn’t exposed to The Old Man and the Sea until 8th grade or Of Mice and Men until 9th. I think you take great interest in your students’ learning from what I’ve seen. I especially like the assignment about the girl from North Carolina. Bullying is an extremely important topic of which middle school, high school, and sadly even elementary school students need to understand the effects.
    Please read this letter I wrote to one of my past teachers (the link below). I appreciate your teaching style and hope that someday a child you’ve had an effect on is able to tell you how much you meant to them. Thank you for teaching the next generation.

    • Thank you for taking the time to check things out on the blog. I think it’s important to give the students an opportunity to read things beyond their years. Some of the reading has been challenging, but the students have been troopers all the way!

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