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.
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.
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.
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. :)