A Hundred (and Some) Years Can Make All the Difference

For the past five years, I’ve taught 7th and 8th grade English. While quite a bit has changed over that time, some things have mostly stayed the same, including most of the novels my students read. Many were suggestions from administration when I first took the classes. Some have been my own suggestions (like The Hobbit :) ).

Needless to say, though, when a fellow teacher sent this article about what 7th and 8th graders were reading in English in 1908 vs. public schools in 2014, I was intrigued.

If you want to read the article before continuing, check it out here: Read the article on the 7th and 8th grade reading lists here.

I will confess, I don’t have anything from either reading list in my classes’ repertoire. However, after reading some of the analysis of the two lists, I think mine has more in common with 1908 than 2014.

Time Period

The stories my students read are between 50 and 100 years old. (Obviously, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales are even older.) The newest is from 1997, but the next most recent is from the 60’s, which is — believe it or not — 50 years ago now. Some are books I grew up reading, like Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare. Another was one of my mom’s childhood favorites, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’dell. It’s not that I have a problem with modern fiction by any means, but there’s something special about sharing tried and true books I enjoyed with students who might never otherwise read them.

Thematic Elements

Variety is the spice of life, and between the two grades, students experience everything from King Arthur (both the potentially real one from the 500’s to the traditional legends about him) to O. Henry to Middle-earth to Anne Frank’s world.

Reading Level

I’ll be the first to admit that some of the books are hard. And I’m okay with that. Students should be challenged, exposed to artistic prose, and introduced to a variety of literary techniques. If you teach it well, students might find they love more complex stories than they thought they would. :)


4 responses to “A Hundred (and Some) Years Can Make All the Difference

  • C.B. Wentworth

    I just hope kids are still reading Where The Sidewalk Ends. That book lit my imagination on fire. :-)

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    I think harder books are fine (within reason, of course :-) ). And reading books from other time periods is going to expose young readers to unfamiliar words, unfamiliar types of sentences, and so on. That’s a good thing.

    I think sometimes people want to stay away from older books because there may be things that people now might consider offensive, but to me that can be educational. I remember when I was very young I read Little Black Sambo, and my father and I had a whole conversation about various depictions of different races, and different words, and that was a very good conversation to have.

    • S.B. Roberts

      I’m with you on that. Those sorts of conversations are invaluable. I love most when parents have those sorts of conversations with their kids. As a teacher, I’m there to mentor, but parent involvement needs to be the foundation. I’m so glad you had that with your parents. :)

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