Below are the 25 most common books assigned to 7th and 8th-graders at schools with a classical curriculum. Are these indeed more rigorous than the books you or your child read in middle school? Do you think middle school students should be able to read these texts?
1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain*
2. Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
3. Animal Farm, George Orwell+
4. Beowulf, Rosemary Sutcliff/Seamus Heaney+
5. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, J.R.R. Tolkien
6. Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer+
7. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee+
8. The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
9. The Call of the Wild, Jack London*
10. Macbeth, William Shakespeare+
11. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare+
12. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare*
13. The Odyssey, Homer
14. Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
15. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
16. The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
17. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens*
18. The Aeneid, Virgil/Penelope Lively
19. Across Five Aprils, Irene Hunt
20. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Roger Lancelyn Green/Howard Pyle
21. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
22. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain*
23. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens+
24. Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes
25. Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank*
The * and + after some of those titles were added by me. The * is a book I read in elementary school, the + is a book I read in high school. Those are only the ones assigned for me to read. I read a few more of them on my own. I am one year short of being considered a millennial, just to get an idea of years. So this was during the 90s.
Now, A Christmas Carol was a different story for us. We had to read it in seventh grade, because the seventh and eight grade did a Christmas play ever year, and that year we did A Christmas Carol. I was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. 🙂
Do I think kids in grades seven and eight should be reading these? Yes. Are they going to like it? No. Liking it isn’t the point. Learning about how life was in the past, seeing how people believed and wrote… those things are. It shapes literacy and history.
In my first year of high school, for the summer leading in to that year, one of the books on our summer reading list was Night by Elie Wiesel. That book is to blame for who I am today. Period. Because of that book, I began to study history and I began to pay attention to current events. Many of the above books, while difficult, could spark something in a child. It could give them a passion for history, literature, current events, government, writing. And I’m sorry, but that is much more important than standardized testing. This is how we shape our nation’s future. Yes, I read a lot of books I didn’t like. I read them again when I was older. Some of them I still didn’t like. But in the pile of hated it, I found Night. And all I can hope for our children is that they find in a book what I found in Night.