Our fourth high school student will be starting 9th grade this fall. We will also have an 11th grade student this year, and we've graduated two daughters already. I've tried to gear our high school literature assignments toward each student and their interests. Some of my children enjoy heavier, classic literature, while others need high-interest books to hold their attention. I find it is easier to assign them books that suit them, rather than fight them about reading a book they hate.
Before I start listing books, I probably should state that we are a Christian family, however we do allow more freedom for our high school students in what they read (both assigned and unassigned) than some families. Just be aware that this is not the most conservative of reading lists.
High School Literature:
- 1981 by George Orwell
- A Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
- Emma by Jane Austen
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (and her other books)
- Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Shakespeare's Plays (Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing)
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Advanced Reading List:
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- Les Miserables (abridged) by Victor Hugo
- Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
- Shakespeare's Plays (Hamlet, MacBeth, Julius Ceasar, etc.)
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Some of these books are ones I remember particularly enjoying in high school (To Kill A Mockingbird). Some of them were picked from reading lists (such as the 1000 Good Books List) because I thought my kids would enjoy them (Frankenstein), even though I hadn't read them in high school. And one of them is a book I hated in high school (Lord of the Flies), that I include because it opens up good discussion about morality and ethics and is a style they enjoy.
We often use Progeny Press or Total Language Plus study guides for our high school students. We have them select books at the start of the year and buy the guides from them. We're also willing to wing it, as we will be this upcoming year for my 11th grade daughter who will be studying Shakespeare's works. I prefer buying Progeny Press guides on CD-rom so I can re-print them for future children, but the kids enjoy the Total Language Plus guides a bit more. We try to use some of both brands each year.
For freshmen, I've settled primarily on books that I read in 9th grade because they were higher-interest books. A couple of them are classic dystopian and since my teens are enjoying modern dystopian books, I wanted them to be able to compare them. We start 9th grade with Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird, and usually Old Man and the Sea because it's short. This year, my oldest son J will enter high school. He's a challenge to push through literature assignments, so we'll need his books to be high-interest and manageable in length. I think these four will work for him, though. I'll probably stagger them so that To Kill A Mockingbird falls between the two dystopian books.
My daughter C will be a junior this year. Her plan is to read as many of Shakespeare's plays as she can. I own a complete set now, and she's an avid reader. I also purchased a book about Shakespeare himself to go along with this plan, and she will be writing a variety of essays and research papers. I need to start compiling my list of essay ideas for the different plays. (Google to the rescue.) I'm not highly concerned about finding literary analysis questions for each section. She talks through everything she reads with me, so we'll discuss it naturally. She's also put in two years of literary analysis work (which she hates) and she'll read more Shakespeare in one year than most high school students do in four years if I let her just plow through at her rapid reading rate, instead of slow her down with excess literary analysis. My main goal is to improve her writing skills this year.
There is so much room for freedom in High School Literature and in personal reading. We prefer to allow our children some room to explore different ideas and writing styles in this age - while they are still home to discuss them with us. Parents of teens need to make it a priority to discuss the books and the worldviews they contain with their teens - movies, too. If you haven't read the literature book yourself, consider reading along with your student (get two copies). When our teens pick up books at the library, we try to be available to listen to them talk about the book and point out worldviews and belief systems coming out in the books. They've been good about staying away from vulgar books or those that are overtly anti-Christian, but their fantasy and dystopian genres are tricky, gray-area books at times.
I hope this helps you think about your own High School Reading List. Stop by the Schoolhouse Crew blog to see more high school reading lists from other Crew members.