16 February 2009 04:25 PM

Reading Suggestions for Students

by rbavaria

During the winter months, parents and teachers have the ideal time to encourage reading with their children.  Dr. Suess’ birthday in March gives schools a great opportunity to celebrate reading and encourage all kinds of creative activities.  (I’ve seen many a principal dressed up like the Cat in the Hat.  As a matter of fact, I’ve worn one of those red-and-white hats on more than one occasion myself.)


Sylvan Learning encourages literacy with NEA's Read Across America, March 2 this year, and encourages families to sign up to pledge at www.sylvanlearning.com\readacrossamerica.  Read what other families are reading and maybe get some cool prizes.


Black History Month is another perfect opportunity for teachers and parents to encourage their kids to read up on soul-stirring biographies and curiosity-inspiring history.  Over the years I’ve been reading to children at various local elementary schools.  One such school has an “African American Read-In,” and they honor me by inviting me to read books by black authors.  I’m proud to call one such author, Jerdine Nolen, my good friend.  I love her books, especially the tall-tale ones about Big Jabe, Thunder Rose, and Hewitt Anderson.  I bring these books with me and brag to the kids that the author is my friend, which always gets me a few celebrity-by-association brownie points.  The illustrator of these books is the amazing Kadir Nelson, an author in his own right, and this year’s recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award for best children’s author.  Google Jerdine and Kadir for the sake of your kids.


As a teacher for several decades now, I’m always asked by parents to give them some suggestions for books their kids “should” read.  When I was in the classroom, I had many lists for my high school English students, lists that changed with the times, events, and national interests.  I assigned school-break readings (“School’s on a break,” I’d say, “not your brain.”), summer readings, and for graduating seniors, a “rest of your life” readings.  They’d grouse, but more often than not they’d later secretly tell me – never in front of their classmates, of course – they enjoyed and thought about the books.


The lists changed with time, but here’s one that’s as good a start as any.  A baker’s dozen.  It’s a little heavily-weighted for older kids.  They’re the ones I had the most contact with.


To Kill a Mockingbird.  This wonderful book is always on the top of any book list I compile.  It’s about heroism, tolerance, good parenting, friendship, family, and the values to which Good People aspire.  There’s also a great story that involves a courtroom drama, mischievous kids, scary scenes, and a Hallowe’en ham costume.  (I had a tomboyish student, a non-reader, who loved this book when we read it in class.  I nick-named her “Scout.”  She’s now a mom with two school-age boys of her own.  She’s still Scout to me.  She’s read this book with her boys often and calls me regularly to catch me up on their adventures.  This is why people become teachers.)


The Catcher in the Rye.  Some say this coming-of-age book is slightly dated, but I disagree.  Holden Caulfield’s experiences, thoughts, anxieties, sarcasm, and wry humor are equally relevant today as they were when this book was first published.  Some of the scenes are laugh-out-loud funny.  I love Holden’s little sister, Phoebe.


Huckleberry Finn.  Of course.  Mark Twain captures the spirit of boyhood, friendship, good versus evil, and, yes, America.


The Harry Potter books.  I’ll always be grateful to Harry for making reading okay again for youngsters.


Shakespeare.  Because every reading list should include at least one item that stretches you.  Great stories of love, murder, slapstick comedy, history, revenge, witchcraft, ambition, jealousy, mistaken identity, and outsized personalities.  The language alone will awe you.  See a production if you can.  Don’t forget the sonnets.


Poems of Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost.  The spare language of poetry cuts to the heart of our thoughts and emotions, our fears and dreams, our public lives and our private ones.  Poetry can be difficult, but you’ll know your favorite poet when you read him or her.


Myths and legends.  From Beowulf to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, from Greece, Italy, Africa, or Scandinavia, these stories form the foundations of societies and cultures.  They’re always exciting and insightful, letting us recognize the roots of behavior, attitudes, and identity.


Children’s fairytales.  These stories have fascinated, frightened, and entertained us for generations.  They are as close to an oral tradition we have, and children especially love to have them read aloud.


Night and The Diary of Anne Frank. Because we should never forget.


Religious readings.  Whether it’s the Old Testament or New, the Koran, Buddhist, Shinto, or Hindu readings, these are part of our universal cultures.  The Bible’s Old Testament, for instance, is full of amazing stories (the creation, the flood) and poems (psalms) that form the basis of beliefs and cultural references.


Biographies and autobiographies.  You can’t go wrong reading about cultural, social, athletic, or popular heroes and heroines.  What accomplishments did they achieve?  What challenges did they face?  What can you learn from their experiences?  I’m a fan of David McCullough’s biographies (John Adams, Truman).  John Hope Franklin’s autobiography, Mirror to America, is riveting and a testament to perseverance, integrity, and hard work.


Great American plays. Read, see, or perform in some timeless American plays like Death of a Salesman, Our Town, The Matchmaker, A Raisin in the Sun, and The Glass Menagerie.  Think about and discuss how play-reading is different from book-reading.


Books that let us learn about people in other lands.  There are so many, but the one that comes immediately to mind for older teens is The Kite Runner.  Afghanistan as you don’t see on the nightly news.


Oh, there are so many others.  Jane Austen, the Romantic poets, Zora Neale Hurston, Beatrix Potter, Bram Stoker, and Aesop’s Fables.


As soon as I click the “send” key here, I’ll think of other how-could-I-have-forgotten-must-haves.  Such is the joy of reading.


Ask your friends for their Favorite Book lists.  Ask your parents and grandparents.  Ask your teachers.  Compile these lists, share them, discuss them, and debate them.


And please share them with us.  What’s your family’s list?  What’s yours?  Send us your lists by clicking on the “comment” button below. 


Add comment


  • Comment
  • Preview

Blog Posting Rules

This blog is for the good of education - for students, for teachers and for parents. I very much value a two-way communication with you and welcome and encourage your comments and feedback. However, to facilitate a constructive conversation that is beneficial to everyone in this online community, I expect the same respect in your comments that I present in my blog.

Read the full Dr. Rick Blog Posting Rules.