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Making the Freshman Book List – Guest post by Daisy the Groundskeeper

books on tableThe books on this table are in consideration for the ninth grade curriculum in my local public schools. The books are on display to call for community input. The administrator in charge told me they’re looking for “…balanced input” – meaning input from many, not just the loud and organized book-bashing groups.

Oops. My bias is showing.

I took a copy of the list and checked off those I’d read. Then I made some general observations. I logged on to Paperbackswap and requested a few titles that intrigued me, including those that had attracted objections in the past.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm was a good book for its time, but not really suitable for today’s ninth graders. Most high school freshmen don’t have a background in the rise of the Soviet Union. This cleverly written allegory would be more effective if students read it after or concurrently with their world history classes.

The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci – I haven’t read this yet. I ordered it. Parents have asked that it be removed from the curriculum, and I must see why. If the book is that powerful, it’s probably fascinating.

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye – A Trivia contest once asked for the name of Holden Caulfield’s younger sister. I remember that she had an influence on Holden, that he felt protective toward her, but I couldn’t remember her name (Phoebe). Very introspective, this book fits the curricular theme of “…the concept of the individual as well as interpersonal relationships.”

Fahrenheit 451 – Scary. Ray Bradbury’s genius shows in this book, one that the book burning folk need to read. Really.

The Latehomecomer: a Hmong Family Memoir – I have this on on my shelves and I haven’t read it yet. Local buzz suggests it’s an excellent book. Author Kao Kalia Yang spoke to local teachers a few years ago. She inspired me to read her work and to keep writing my own.

 

The Odyssey – Balancing contemporary books with classics is a challenge. Many Odyssey references, including the term “Odyssey” itself, have become part of today’s language. The other night I heard someone on TV saying, “Even Scylla and Carybdis couldn’t tear us apart.” And how about those Sirens? I hope the decision makers keep The Odyssey in their collection.

Romeo and Juliet – It’s not Shakespeare’s best work, but it’s very accessible to young adults. It’s a good introduction to the world of Shakespeare, the language of the times, and a story that’s been produced and reproduced in many incarnations.

Speak – Controversial because its main character was raped, this Laurie Halse Anderson book stimulates discussion and attracts criticism. It’s a strong story showing the devastation of sexual assault and its aftermath, including the bullying that can go with reporting the incident. Readers will recognize the high school cliques and the stereotyped teachers in bits of humor that balance the seriousness.

Step from Heaven – A library media specialist recommended this to me several years ago. It’s a powerful story of the immigrant experience in a family that struggles to earn their way toward the American Dream. The author uses an effective technique by writing in beginning English as the family moves, improving the language and grammar as the characters themselves learn, grow, and assimilate.

I noticed a few generalizations as I looked up the titles under consideration. The suggestions cover several perspectives of WWII: the nonfiction Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Slavomir Rawicz’ The Long Walk: A True Story of a Trek to Freedom, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and Elie Wiesel’s Night expose readers to multiple perspectives on a single historical time period.

There is an attempt to promote diverse voices through memoirs and realistic fiction. A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah chronicles a world our American teens can only imagine – if they’re aware of it at all. Adeline Yen Mah’s Falling Leaves shares another world as well: the Chinese culture where women are not valued and can suffer abuse for just being female. Works by Native American Sherman Alexie, Hispanic author Sandra Cisneros, and Hmong writer Kao Kalia Yang provide many varied viewpoints for students to explore.

And isn’t that what we want as teachers, parents, and role models? For our children to explore, thoughtfully consider various perspectives, and develop informed opinions? Censorship in any form interferes with the evolution of open-minded readers.

Maybe that’s why the closed-minded book critics continue to fight.

About The Author:

Daisy The Grounskeeper writes the blog Compost Happens, where she focuses on taking care of “Home, Garden, Family, and Coffee.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Spencer March 21, 2012, 10:37 am

    That many (any?) of these could potentially be on the chopping block is terrifying. The Odyssey? Fahrenheit 451??? Romeo and Juliet?!?!?!?!?! How can you get through life without these literary experiences? These references?

    Catcher in the Rye is one of my very favorite books of all time. I get it that there is some language and subject matter in there that some parents might not love to have their children reading and thinking about. But you can’t bury your head in the sand. To think for one second that anything they will find in that book is any worse than anything your 9th grader has been reading and watching and talking and thinking about FOR YEARS at that point is conscientiously naive to the nth degree.

    And it’s good. So good. The writing, the language. And his challenges are human challenges. His thoughts are human thoughts. Better to have your kids read and love reading, studying good and well-rounded choices, than to have them bored to death with your Pollyanna offerings, and seeking what they are REALLY after elsewhere.

    9th graders are, what? 14? 15 years old? Come on! Give them some credit. You are not sheltering them, protecting them, you are robbing them of some of the richest, most crucial experiences, during one of the most important periods of their lives/development/education. I say “no more!”

    I’m so glad you’re giving your input. Somebody has to be rational here. Scary, scary stuff!

    • Daisy March 21, 2012, 4:59 pm

      Thank you for your passionate comment! I hope you’ll become involved in local curriculum discussions. Schools need to hear from people like you.

      • Josh Hanagarne March 21, 2012, 6:53 pm

        Very nice post, Daisy. If they remove any of those, that’s a sad situation.

      • Spencer March 22, 2012, 8:05 am

        If this is going on, then I definitely need to be. What would they have them read instead? Not that we should be offering even our teenagers just complete smut (not that any of the books mentioned above come anywhere even remotely close to that), but these are classics. You can’t go back and recreate hundreds of years of white-washed (but still high-quality) literature.

        I don’t want to live in a world where kids can’t/don’t read Shakespeare.

        • Daisy March 30, 2012, 6:12 pm

          We have a school board election coming up, too. One of the candidates is a proponent of banning the newer books in favor of what he calls “classics.” I can’t wait to hear someone take him on when he recommends Huckleberry Finn.

  • Pauline March 22, 2012, 9:43 am

    I took it upon myself to read several of the newer books, and they are well chosen, with current issues that young people are concerned with, and are apt to make sincere, serious discussions happen in the classroom. Some critics cannot get past any bad language, though parents need to know that their children are hearing the same words in the locker rooms at school all the time.

    • Daisy March 30, 2012, 6:11 pm

      Thanks for commenting!

      P.S. Pauline – I have Christopher Creed now. You can read it when I’m done.