An English Teacher’s Beloved Classics
For tonight’s means of procrastinating while I should be grading, I am going to type a list of books and/or short stories with a brief explanation of why I love them. I am permitting myself exactly 15 minutes to complete this exercise, and the list will be biased toward things I’ve read recently, I’m sure - I’m just typing what pops in my head for 15 minutes. K. Here goes.
Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf - my fav. There’s sentimental value because going to see The Hours was my first date with my wife, and a copy of this novel her first gift to me, but it’s also amazing. No one narrates the small moments like Woolf.
The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy - This was my gateway to Hardy, whose sense of scale and capturing a bygone world enthralled me. Thus, it was a comfort book for me at the start of the pandemic, despite the fact that it ends sadly. You know, like every other Hardy novel.
Macbeth, by William Shakespeare - If I need to pick one book for a desert island, is it cheating to say The Complete Works of Shakespeare? This one’s my fav. Dark, brutal, and gorgeous, and somehow the same dude who wrote the world’s most favorite lovestruck teens also wrote the “Tomorrow and tomorrow” speech.
“Old Man at the Bridge” and “Hills Like White Elephants,” by Ernest Hemingway - I know: “white dude recommends Hemingway” is a punchline. But seriously... these are great, less tainted by Hemingway’s chauvinism than other works (and I do think the chauvinism is a problem that often hinders his work), and I do think anyone with aspirations of writing prose owes it to themselves to spend some time contemplating Hemingway’s style. It’s not the alpha and omega some make it out to be - I like Woolf more, and she’s his antithesis! - but Hemingway’s minimalism is instructive.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen - Hilarious. Hilarious. Hilarious. If you’re new to Austen, try using the BBC miniseries with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as a companion, and pick up What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew as a reference tool (for this and any other 19th century British text).
The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro - because not all unreliable narrators are in batshit crazy Poe stories. Just reread this. A restrained butler reckons with his life. Heartbreaking.
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates - “white liberal recommends BtWaM” is also a punchline, but there’s a reason he won a MacArthur grant after this one. Really, I’d read anything by Coates - brilliant stylist. The Beautiful Struggle, about his Baltimore childhood, is also great, and while you might disagree with his conclusions, everyone should read his modern classic of longform journalism from The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” which sure as heck helped me to better grasp A Raisin in the Sun.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - so, so good. ’Nuff said.
Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel - and the whole trilogy, but especially this and Bringing Up the Bodies. Stunning historical fiction of Thomas Cromwell, who rose to be Henry VIII’s key advisor. Ack, I’m running out of time...
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald - my pick for “The Great American Novel.” Lyrical and gorgeous. (For the curious, Huckleberry Finn doesn’t stick the landing, and Moby Dick sucks.)
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad - Chinua Achebe is right about it, and you need to read his famous critical essay, too. But still an incredible, complex text.
and now, with time elapsed, I glance at my bookshelves and select with a glance -
The Oresteia, by Aeschylus - Greek tragedy is fascinating, and this trilogy is as early as we still have. Aeschylus, in particular, reads as much as ritual as theatre; you can hear it in the chorus so clearly you’d be forgiven for turning around to see if there was a nearby goat sacrifice.
crap! I forgot things!
“The Dead,” by James Joyce - requires some notes on Irish history, but my God... the last paragraph...
The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene - As a (mostly) recovered Catholic, I had to include either this or Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited to deal with the religion that shaped and scarred me, and I’m choosing Greene on a whim.
Alright, bolding the titles and authors for readability, then posting sans edits. Send complaints to the comment section :)
If you do plan on reading the (now-lengthy) comment section, can I suggest doing so on the beta site? Having some of the comments nested makes it MUCH easier to read: https://beta.theprose.com/post/429324
Book Recommendations (all 75 of them)
Each list is ordered from most to least kid-friendly, since a lot of these books are from when I was younger but still enjoyed. Some of them are more tween books (9-12) ish, even though I read a lot of them a little bit younger than that, that’s the target age, and some of them are a lot darker and cover much heavier themes. A couple are just placed more towards the bottom of the list because the older you are when you read them, the more you will get out of the book and pick up on the symbolism and underlying themes.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Dear America Series by many authors
Jimmy’s Stars by Mary Rodman
Rodzina by Karen Kushman
Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Refugee by Alan Gratz
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiombo
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
My Mother the Cheerleader by Robert Sharenow
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Holocaust/World War Two (Fiction and Non-Fiction)
Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata
The War Outside by Monica Hesse
The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
A Chance to Live by Pieter Kohnstam
The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke
Mapping the Bones by Jane Yolen
Wonder and Auggie and Me by R. J. Palacio
Drumroll Please by Lisa Jen Bigelow
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Drive Me Crazy by Terra Elan McVoy
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan
One For The Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott, Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis
Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry
Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mylknowski
Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee
The Running Dream by Wendelin van Draanen
Runaway by Wendelin van Draanen
Run by Kody Keplinger
Now is Everything by Amy Giles
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Wild Bird by Wendelin van Draanen
3 Little Words by Ashley Rhodes Courter
Good Enough by Jen Petro-Roy
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
People Like Us by Dana Mele
These last few I would put in the 12 or 13+ category without a doubt, especially the last three.
13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Hate List by Jennifer Brown
The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Heroine by Mindy McGinnis
Paperweight by Meg Haston
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Impulse and Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
Realistic Fiction With Magical/Fictitious Elements
(yes, that is a genre now)
The Swap by Megan Shull
Bounce by Megan Shull
Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn
Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Dry by Neal Shusterman
These are technically all children’s books or written for younger audiences but I still would enjoy all of them now...especially Harry Potter and Land of Stories, two all-time favorites.
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Candy Shop Wars by Brandon Mull
Percy Jackson by Rick Riordian
Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan
The Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
Land of Stories by Chris Colfer
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
A pretty small category, but I don’t read very many classics (though I hope to change that.) These are my absolute favorites of what I have read!
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
And just for fun: Books that a lot of people like (and also some sort of obscure or not that popular books that I’ve read) that I personally think aren’t worth reading, but you are entitled to your own opinion, no judgement!
1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I really tried with this one. I swear, I tried.
2. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Wood
Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Newberry Medal, and NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work - Youth / Teens, but I just couldn’t get into it. I finished it, but didn’t find it particularly interesting.
3. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
I was told it was an extremely scary book and thus rated 18+ on some websites. I didn’t think it was scary at all, I guess I can see that it’s scary because it is true (supposedly?), but I wasn’t a huge fan.
4. Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull
I have read his other series, Fablehaven, but Dragonwatch was very difficult to even start, so I gave up eventually.
20 Books that Stole My Heart <3
1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
2. Penguin Highway by Tomihiko Morimi
3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
4. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
6. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
7. Emma by Jane Austen
8. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
9. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
10. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
11. The October Country by Ray Bradbury
12. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
13. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
14. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
15. The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer
16. Poetics of Music by Igor Stravinsky
17. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
18. The Night is Short, Walk on Girl by Tomihiko Morimi
19. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
20. If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura
Books from my Kidhood
Okay, so I am twenty-one (I think?) but I LOVE middle-grade books, so here's a list of books that I loved enough to remember nearly a decade later. Most of them are mysteries or deal with puzzles and logic, but there are a few that deviate from that. I hope you check some of them out and if so, tell me if you liked them!
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin - Read this one for school. Very good mystery from what I remember
The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg - Think this one was also for school. First-ever book I read that had an omniscient narrator
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett - This book was my introduction to Jacques Vermeer, who is an awesome Dutch artist of the 1600s. It's a really good mystery
The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart - I distinctly remember these books being a minimum of 400 pages long and I LOVED every second. I guess I should've made an explanation for all of these books, huh? Fuck. I'll fix it at some point. Anyway, if you choose this book, do it soon because a movie is being made about it.
The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch - I love this book series so much! I started reading the series when I was nine I think and I loved it. My favourite part is the fucking footnotes (very funny). He's like if Lemony Snicket and one of those snarky YouTubers like SixteenLeo (Who I'm listening to currently) or Nick Diramio had a child that wrote books for kids. I would ESPECIALLY recommend his book, Write this Book, especially if you're writing for kids. It's really funny.
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey - Okay, this is probably the least sophisticated book on this list but I literally love this book series. It's so funny and childish and I'm in love with it. Every page is a visual gag or something silly, which I think you can enjoy if you're young or old, but if you have a small human in your life that hates books, maybe slide this their way.
Hide and Seek by Ida Vos - So, while the ones above are fun and silly for the most part, this one is a departure from that. I was ten-ish when I first read this book, which is about a little girl who lives through the Holocaust. This one stands out from the other Holocaust books I read as a kid because it follows the trauma and strife after the war ends when the main character and her family are able to go back to living. The book is autobiographically based on the life of the author, which makes it even more hard-hitting.
Wings by Aprilynne Pike - I remember getting this one when I was in my first week in ninth grade. I loved it (until the end but that's just because I was very anti-romance) so much because I love faeries, and this book was the only book I've ever seen include faeries. It's the only young adult novel on here, and while I have qualms with it, it was still noteworthy enough to remember.
My Favorite Books For Kids
As a Pre-K teacher, I read more books for kids than books designed for people my age. Here are some of my favorites to read to my class.
1. Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus by Mo Willems
The Pigeon has become one of my favorite characters since reading his books for the first time at work. I read these with a Iago inspired voice that has become one of my staple voices, and many past students still ask me to "do the Pigeon voice" when I see them in the hallway.
2. The Piggie & Elephant series by Mo Willems
Another excellent series from the same author. These books always generate lots of young laughs.
3. Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka
A simple, yet effective tale of two boys who meet and become friends. This is a great one to recite with kids.
4. Where Is My Balloon? by Ariel Bernstein
A fun story about a monkey who accidentally breaks his owl friend's balloon, and struggles to cover up his mistake.
5. Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex
I found this one and read it to my class on Star Wars day. It was an instant classic.
6. The Monster At The End of This Book by Jon Stone
This book stars Grover. Grover's voice is incredibly fun to imitate. So this definitely makes the list.
7. Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman
This book has a hilarious story, complete with fun shark facts. There is a sequel that resolves the dark ending as well.
8. First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
A great story about Sarah not wanting to go to a new school on her first day, with a great twist ending. This is a book I read every year on the first day of school. Last Day Blues by the same author is also a great one to read on the last day of school.
9. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Well, I have to include a Dr. Seuss book for sure! This one is a lot of fun to read out loud, especially with voices.
10. Who Said Boo? by Phyllis Root
A Halloween staple in my classroom. Short but sweet.
11. We're Going On A Ghost Hunt by Susan Pearson
Another great Halloween read. It is similar to "We're Going On A Bear Hunt," but cooler.
Thanks for reading my list! Now it's time to find some books for my own age group....
A sample of my Pigeon and Grover reading voices: https://voicespice.com/Player.aspx?c=p&h=B299A6FC&j=2824A6
Books I’ve Never Read
At The Gas Station, by Phil Dupp.
Classical Composers, by Ann Dell.
The King's Fool, by Jess Turr.
The Defeatist, by Y. Bother.
Self-Cleansing, by Ike Lean.
Broken Cranium, by Ed Hertz.
Where To Wait, by Stan Dare.
Hurricane, by Gail Force.
Cool Down, by I. C. Bath.
The Coast, by C. Shaw.
Good books aren't always easy to find, here are some that I have enjoyed.
The Rangers Apprentice series. It's about an intelligence force in medieval times.
The Maze Runner This is a series that I just finished. It's about a boy named Thomas who wakes up in a Maze, with no memories, and a bunch of other teenaged boys with him.
Sacagawea A book told from the perspective of Sacagawea's son as he finds out the story of Lewis and Clark's adventure. Sacagawea had accompanied them as a translator. It's a good book, although sometimes a little difficult to follow.
Ahsoka This is a Star Wars Fanfiction off of the character Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalkers Apprentice in the Clone Wars series. She survived Order 66, and this is her story a year after the Republic fell.
Lockwood & co.- Based in England, time we are in now, but instead of suffering from an outbreak of ghosts. There are multiple agencies taking care of ghosts, but there are some deeper... more powerful ghosts lurking. Join Lucy Caryle and Lockwood and co. as they take care of some dangerous ghosts and hidden secrets.
Warriors- Multiple part series, starring different cats. Join the fights again the dark forest, uncover secrets, and dive into the world of the clans.
Emily Windsnap- Emily Windsnap is just a normal girl, suffering from fear of the water, or so she thought. When she allowed herself to stay in the water long enough, she turned into a mermaid. Her father was a merman, her mother a human. Join her as she saves both the mer world and her home of Bayport from evil.
Percy Jackson- Greek mythology series, starring Percy Jackson. Join Percy as he meets the greek gods, attends a summer camp for half bloods like him, and fights the evil that is brewing.
Renegades- Three book series, based in Gatlon City. Prodiges are anarchists, trying to create a vision, Prodigies are superheros, trying to fix the city that was ruined in the age of anarchy, save citizens, rebuild buildings, and manage the anarchists that still live. Nova Artino, Nightmare, is the niece of the once most feared anarchist, the one to lead the fight against prodiges, and one of the still active anarchists. When she decides to try out at the renegade trials and get into the heart of the superhero organization, she realizes that maybe the anarchists aren't fully right, and she also starts to fall in love with the son of the most famed superhero himself. Villain and Superhero, will the city survive?
Little house on the prairie- A classic and beloved book, also a movie, featuring Laura and her journey from a wooded house surrounded by family, to the great open prairie.
Rangers apprentice- My number one favorite series, travel back to the time of castles and kings, and join Will treaty as he becomes a ranger, one of the fabled secret protectors and servers to the king. Help him save the kingdom from evil, as he progresses as an apprentice with his mentor Halt. See the world of Skandanavia, as well as his home kingdom of Araluen, and many others. And meet the friends Will makes along the way.
Brotherband- Okay okay, I lied, this is also my number one favorite series, also by the author as ranger's apprentice, but instead join the outcast Hal in Skandinavia as he turns sixteen and attends the brotherband trial and makes other outcast friends. Join them as they sail to retrieve Skandinavie’s prized treasure on their unique boat, and make Araulen friends along the way.
(John Flanagan: Ranger's apprentice and brother band. Rick Riordan: Percy Jackson. Liz Kessler: Emily Windsnap. Erin Hunter: Warriors. Marrissa Meyer: Renegades. Laura Ingalls Wilder: Little house on the prairie. Jonathan Stroud: Lockwood and Co.)