School Books

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School Books

The view from the front window of my favorite local coffee house  has changed from “lazy summer” to “school’s in.” Busy students rush down the street, clutching books in their arms, hunching under the weight of their backpacks.

Reading this article in the New York Times has further increased my back-to-school spirit.  Allowing students to choose (some) of the books they read for English class? What a fantastic concept!

Which also got me to thinking about the books I read in junior high and high school—both the ones I had to read for class, like Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird, and the ones I read on my own, like the then-scandalous Forever by Judy Blume (which had a library waiting list about a mile long).

Ah, sweet nostalgia!

So here’s a question to get your work week started: How about you? What books did you fall in love with when you were a student? How did they affect you or influence you?

  1. I feel in love with Riddle-Master by Patricia McKillip in high school. I love how eloquent and layered her writing is. In elementary, I loved the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede, anything by Bruce Coville, Mary Downing Hahn, Jane Austen, and Tamara Pierce.

    They taught me that reading could open windows into worlds I’d never thought possible. They also helped me develop my passion for words in general.

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  2. In fourth grade, Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were the eye-openers for me. The fantastic story-telling and rich use of language influenced my concept a good tale!

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  3. When I was seven-years old, I discovered at my local library an old chapter book series from the 1950s called The Happy Hollisters, by Jerry West. I loved the series and wanted to live in the Hollister’s world as much as possible, so I started writing my own Hollister stories just for fun. A couple years ago, I took a look at the books again. They’re beyond cheesy, but at seven-years old I wasn’t much of a critic. Now I write stories not only because I’m driven to write, but also to simply have fun living in different worlds.

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  4. I read a ton of books for fun during high school. Mostly scifi: Clark, Asimov, Heinlein, but the ones that influenced me the most were the required books my first year in college. They included To Kill A Mockingbird, Black Like Me, and James Baldwin’s books. This was 1961 in Kentucky, a time of widespread racism. Those books literally changed my life. I hope there will always be required reading to push students out of their comfort zones.

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  5. I read a lot of Christopher Pike in elementary and junior high school, but by the time I got to high school I was reading mostly adult books.

    I always liked the required reading books. I was the kid who would read the whole book in one sitting and then brag about how great it was to everyone else but refuse to tell them what happened…come to think of it, I’m still that jerk…

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  6. I was enamored with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I loved Veruca Salt even though she was a spoiled brat. I also loved The Phantom Tollbooth – climbing into a tollbooth and being carried away to faraway lands – how magical! The first real “adult” book I fell in love with was “Summer of ’42.” Strangely enough, the book was based on the movie. I didn’t see the movie because it was rated “R” and I was only 10, but I read the book three summers in a row and thought it was AMAZING!!! (The love scene is with a 14 y.o. old boy and a grown, married woman – how deliciously taboo!)

    I also remember having to read Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird and being so completely moved by both. Even still, I think allowing kids to choose what they’d like to read (maybe within a given list) is a much better way to encourage lifelong readers.

    Thanks for this post – it’s quite thought-provoking. (If you don’t mind, I might “steal” the idea for my blog!)

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  7. I loved THE HAPPY HOLLISTERS 🙂 But I think my favorite reading experience (specifically for school) was 8th grade, where we not only read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but also CHRISTY (which I loved and got double the credit for — which is also why I chose it) and SHANE. I’ve never been a huge western lover, but there was something about Shane…and Christy got me reading JULIE, also by Catherine Marshall. On that same reading list was a book by Robb White — though not my favorite by him (THE LONG WAY DOWN).

    I’ve never read LORD OF THE FLIES, btw. We read BLESS THE BEASTS AND THE CHILDREN, instead (and I really liked it!).

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  8. What a beautiful topic!

    Yet, I offer one book.

    “To Kill a Mockingbird” was the only book that affected me profoundly and made me want to be IN it. I so loved the characters, the plot, the themes and setting that I wanted to be IN the story. I wished I were Scout, and that I had a dad like Atticus. I wanted to hang with Gem and Dill and help instigate their adventures and rule the world.

    I felt for the “Boo” (always thought he was albino…still do “Boo”.)

    My daughter who is OBSESSED with Harry (and I have asked her why). She has always replied that it is because she wants to be their with him and his ilk. She wants to be his friend. Someone she can hang out with and have escapades with who is real to her. That is a goal that makes writing real and resonate with readers.

    There are others I love but like the LOTF and Are You The God…, Harriet and All Dahl’s but Mockingbird hit the gut like other.

    Thanks for the back to school send-off. B

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  9. there with him (can you edit this editors?) 🙂

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  10. The only thing I remember about Lord of the Flies was how much I hated it. I remember thinking it was so harsh and hopeless. I hated the Ox-bow Incident, too. Same reason–too bleak, too painful. And The Red Pony! Ugh. Don’t give me harsh realism. Give me danger but only if the good guy wins in the end, please.

    The one assigned book I loved was probably in fourth grade–King of the Wind. And I loved The Black Stallion, too.

    My all time favorites were not assigned: The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Mysterious Island, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Hobbit (along with LoTR), and all the Anne books.

    How did they influence me? I think the books I’ve most loved have stirred in me a longing for adventure and a desire for good, faithful friends to go on the adventure with. I wanted friends I’d be willing to die for and ones who would die for me, if need be.

    Good friends and adventure–I can’t think of much in this world that is more enjoyable.

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  11. I hated all books assigned to me. Having to read something takes all the fun out of it. However, I had a librarian in elementary school that read books aloud to us. It is through her that I discovered Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach. I also had a teacher that read Where the Red Fern Grows and I remember liking that, too.

    So basically, I was a really lazy kid who preferred having stories read to him.

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  12. Robin, there’s actually a Happy Hollisters fansite online, but my antivirus program signaled an alert on one of the links, so I’m staying away. In any case, I guess we’re not the only ones who loved those books!

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  13. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies. I also read Forever.

    The one thing about English class assigning books is it opened an opportunisty for me to read books that I would have never read on my own, because it really wasn’t the genre I was into (the above, except Forever, included), and I’m glad I did. Those books were great. Unfortunately, it also included books that I wished I never picked up. Ones that were the same as shoving bamboo shoots under the fingernails.

    My usual genre was horror, fantasy, sci-fi. Pet Semetary was one of the first King books I read when I was either in fifth or sixth grade. And I also read alot of Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton.

    So I would have really missed out if I didn’t get assigned certain books.

    Thank you Mrs. Nias. 🙂

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  14. Oh reading some of the above posts. Other great books I read: Z for Zachariah, Where the Red Fern Grows, Summer of Monkeys, Wrinkle in Time, Charlottes Web, Watership Down, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many many more. I started reading at a very young age.

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  15. What great responses! Thanks for sharing, everyone.

    I also read Where the Red Fern Grows, and I absolutely adored it. I still have a copy of it on my shelf, and a few years ago, I re-read it. I think I cried just as hard as an adult as I did when I was a little girl!

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  16. Shakespeare! I never would have loved Shakespeare without the teachings of my fantastic teachers both in high school and college. (Personal favorite: KING LEAR.)

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  17. Two memorable favorites from middle grade: From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Westing Game. I think both are wonderful examples of how to artfully unravel a mystery while creating imperfect, yet lovable characters (maybe lovable because they’re imperfect). I always seem to find something new to appreciate when I reread them.

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  18. So many…but the ones I remember most were all of my Roald Dahl books, and Harriet the Spy, which inspired me to carry around a black-and-white composition notebook and spy on everyone in sight.

    This phase lasted through Mardi Gras (I grew up in New Orleans), so some of my entries were…interesting. 😉

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  19. I was one of those lame kids who enjoyed the assigned reading for the most part while everyone else was complaining. I read books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, A Tale of Two Cities, and 1984 for the first time as assigned reading for school, and came back to read them again later in life. On my own, I read a lot of Stephen King and other more pulpy books, before getting to college and reading books intended to impress the intellectual girls in my English program 😉

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  20. I was that child that read every assigned reading book lightyears before it was assigned. I devoured “The Island of the Blue Dolphins,” “The Giver” (twice!), “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and “Emma.” These books all influenced me in one way or another, but they all specifically showed me that no book was written alike. Every book has its own way of telling the story and that there are multiple voices.

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  21. Funny, some 40+ years later, still number two on my favorite books list is To Kill A Mockingbird, and number three is Lord of The Flies. But the book that really stunned me back then, and left me emotionally bereft, was The Last Temptation of Christ. My dad said it was much too controversial for me to be reading. I found nothing controversial in it – just immensely good writing, and about a three week depression afterwards. Always good for the soul of a writer, don’t you think?

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  22. OK, maybe I’m older than the lot of you but I swear I was not assigned any fiction to read in elementary or middle school but I read a ton on my own. Like many of you, Harriet the Spy and From the Mixed Up Files…were 2 of my faves. In high school, I only remember the required Romeo and Juliet (zzzzzz) and To Kill a Mockingbird (loved). Years later, pregnant with my first child & on bed rest, I decided I missed a lot by not being forced to read all the classics – so I sent hubby off to the library for The Scarlet Letter, A Tale of Two Cities, Pride and Prejudice, etc. He got a workout and I got an education! I also became an Anglophile, causing us to move to England for a short bit! Go figure.
    Later on, I started to read Harriet the Spy to my kids and was shocked at how mean she was! Funny how your perspective changes!
    As an author, though, I want to write a story that has my readers as intrigued and excited as I was while reading Harriet and The Mixed Up Files and, of course, every Nancy Drew mystery written.

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  23. To be honest junior high was a blur and a fairly cruddy time in my life and I’m sure I bristled at any book I was forced to read. I can remember I had to read Lord of the Flies and not being into it. Now, when I’m around hordes of unruly boys it’s all I think about (i have sons in middle school).
    I guess I went from books like the Little House series, From the Mixed up Files, Half Magic to Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books, A Wrinkle in Time and went NUTS for V.C. Andrews series, Flowers in the Attic. I really gravitated towards books where I could either identify with the character or was completely hooked and interested in how different they and their circumstances were. As a young teen, books about coming of age, first love, mystery, intrigue, other-worldly stuff always got my attention.

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  24. What about those “dirty” books that we found in the kid’s parents’ bookshelves and read while babysitting (after we put the kids to bed, of course)?

    (Oh, I forget…we are talking bout required reading.) 😉

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  25. ok, I just need to add that I am a little shocked about how controversial and dark Flowers in the Attic really is! I remember thinking it was so freakin’ cool and I couldn’t put it down. Jeez! I must have been starved for something really different.

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  26. My 2nd-grade teacher read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to us, and I was subsequently hooked on Roald Dahl. My 5th-grade teacher let us choose our reading books, and I devoured those by Judy Blume, S E Hinton, and Paula Danziger. My high school-assigned favorites included To Kill A Mockingbird and The Once and Future King. After wading through Shakespeare in high school, I really enjoyed reading King Lear in college.

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  27. I’d put in a vote for Forever, too–really anything by Judy Blume–but also a book called The Thyme Garden (they’d breathe in the thyme and then travel through time). Probably out of print now. I read it until the binding broke.

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  28. Loved “Tale of Two Cities” but couldn’t get into Scarlett Letter.” But I read it under duress and therefore went through the motions. I didn’t like the characters because I didn’t care about them. I felt they were flat. To me it was an emotionless heap of pretty words. Actually, it was torture. And I don’t care much for victims…especially if they don’t even try to fight back. To me Hester was lifeless.

    (If the Hawthor were still alive I wouldn’t mention my displeasure with the work out of respect.)But he is not. I know because I saw his grave and apparently he is still in it. And even tho I don’t care for the story I have to say that it is a great piece of literature. I have to.

    And when it came out it was a bestseller! 🙂

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  29. I loved the required reading even if I whined about it due to peer pressure. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was my favorite until I read “The Plague” by Albert Camus and discovered my darker side. I went through an Edgar Allen Poe phase and dabbled in the Shakespeare tragedies. Ray Bradbury was devoured also. (I’m sure this is typical teenage girl stuff, though.) I read lots of lighter books at home including the Enchanted Forest Chronicles and Magic Kingdom for Sale/Sold. Plus, I’m a sucker for lame romance books.

    For as much as the required reading dragged at times, it really did influence my thoughts later on, and I tended to read crap if left to my own devices.

    I should really track down my school teachers and tell them they were right when they said I’d appreciate those books some day. Nah. I’m sure their current students are giving them a sense of achievement.

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  30. My high school English college-prep class consisted of reading a book from an approved list of classics one week, writing the critique the next. It prepared me for college, but later, as a teacher, I meet the kids who “hated” reading, who would never end up in a college-prep class.

    This sounds simplistic, but mainly, they just hadn’t found the right books yet and didn’t have anyone modeling reading at home. And in most reading classes, a small percentage of the time is spent reading. So, more than a couple decades ago, I taught intermediate and upper elementary reading classes solely with fiction, not the district-sanctioned texts (fortunately my principal supported my plan) giving students their choice of books, and letting them read — imagine that!

    Passion creates passion, and that’s good for all students. There’s a lot of research that supports this type of teaching and the need for reading for pleasure. It seems so obvious, but instead of sharing what made reading come alive for us, we clean up and dissect our educational process until we wring the fun out of it. Thank goodness for teachers who are making student choice more the norm than not in their reading classes these days.

    Ah — passion. It got me again…

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