Traditionally, English students study a novel as a class, where all students read the same novel and work to understand it together. The novels studied, while not explicitly prescribed by most curriculum documents, come from a canon of English literature that emphasizes authors who were white, male and often American.
1984. The Wars. The Great Gatsby. To Kill a Mockingbird.
I know that novels we read as high school students are still being read today as if they are sacred texts and that literature is not supposed to reflect changing times, demographics and experiences. If “a novel is a mirror carried along a high road”–what road are we walking these days?
Class novel studies also take any choice away from students. How is possible that 30 different students are going to be able to relate to and want to read the same novel? It’s not. The attitude seems to be that we know what’s good for them, so they should read what we tell them to read, engagement be damned.
This is no way to foster the lifelong love of reading we should be aiming to nurture. I believe that as English teachers, we are uniquely positioned to curate and select titles that will appeal to students and push their thinking and growth at the same time. Book Clubs offer teachers the opportunity to give their students choices within a set of carefully selected books. This choice allows students to experience some agency and likely, be more willing to read while still honoring our desire to expand their literary horizons.
While Book Clubs are becoming a norm in many classrooms, pushed forward by seminal texts like Harvey Daniels’ Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered Classroom (1994!), there is still progress that needs to happen, especially when it comes to choosing titles.
Below you will find book lists for specific grades that have been vetted and used. You will also find guidelines that might help you choose titles yourself. And for those who might hesitate over the logistics of having five different titles studied at the same time, there is structural support that will help you realize that Book Clubs do not make the English teacher’s life harder. Instead, they set you free to focus on skills instruction rather than content testing.
Getting Started: Students Choose
Tickets of Admission: Structuring the Meetings