A booklist

Choosing texts for the whole class to read is a tricky business. To start with, there are so many possible texts out there, so where do you start? Then, what balance should there be between what you enjoy, and what that particular group of students will enjoy. It is surely vital that the teacher should be enthusiastic about the chosen text, in order to transmit enthusiasm to the class; but it is also essential that the text should be reasonably accessible and relevant to adolescent tastes and interests.

Finally, and most significantly in my view, there is the issue of what ideas you want to teach the students. I use 'ideas' to cover two main areas: content and skills. We may choose a novel, say, because it deals with issues which it is important that students should think about - we wish to help them develop a more mature view of the world. Or we may choose a text because it is expressed in challenging and imaginative ways - we want to teach them sophisticated reading skills. A good choice of text will cover both of these areas, of course, but one or other may be the dominant reason for the choice.

In the end, choosing a book for a class depends on the nature and personality of the class, on your own interests and tastes, and on what you wish to teach. The following list simply presents a wide range of possibilities, so - rummage around... !


The first, obvious category is 'Classics'. This does not necessarily mean 'classics' in the literary canon sense, but rather texts that have been used by so many teachers, so often, so successfully, that they may be seen as forming a canon of excellence for the language teacher's purposes.

The second grouping is simply 'Recomended'. I have not myself taught most of the books in this section, but all have been warmly recommended by someone at one of my workshops. I have sub-grouped these by apparent audience : 'Adult' and 'Young adult' (or 'adolescent') , using these two terms to raise the issue of why we choose a text for study in class:-

Adult ... Do we choose books which expand the students' view of the world beyond their own experience and concerns, necessarily still limited? This has the advantages of challenging the students to expand their vision, of developing in them a taste for artistically complex writing, and of avoiding the risk of patronising them ("Here's a book about kids like you").

'Young adult' ... Or do we choose books that are set in and explore the kind of world of the age group we teach? This has the advantage of being 'relevant' to the students, of raising issues which may concern them directly, and so of having a good chance of eliciting an enthusiastic response.

In terms of teaching reading skills, I am sure that good adolescent fiction is as useful as Serious Adult novels. Metaphor and metonymy, for instance, occur just as often in good novels written for 16-year olds as in novels written for 'grown-ups' - and may even be more accessible, in that a good novelist writing for the adolescent market will consciously avoid references that are obscure or over-sophisticated.

Finally, there is 'Miscellaneous', which contains materials which don't fit into the other categories - and also titles that I know nothing about and haven't researched yet !

Text in italics + green are my personal comments.


Lord of the Flies William Golding

Is this superb novel now perhaps a little dated? Certainly the black and white film by Peter Brook is slightly creakingly stuck in the 1950s, and perhaps the dialogue rings elderly to today's internet-fed young people, but the themes and the essential relationships between the characters remain valid and gripping.

The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald

An absolute winner, in my view ... it has never failed to interest with any group I have taught ... and it also has three film versions, including the latest starring Leo DiCaprio. Here are links to a couple of pages on this site which relate to 'Gatsby'...

Gatsby's Party ... a passage of brilliantly evocative description, for analysis and discussion - a short extract or the full-length version, both with guiding questions

Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck

A moving and tragic plot - but the regular objection is that Steinbeck's evocation of working class US language (of the first half of the last century) may prove difficult for many 2nd language learners. Try a sample on the students, and see...

The Pearl John Steinbeck

(“...old but brilliant for stimulus for various text-types incl. newspaper article, descriptive, diary, poem + also metaphor / simile usage ...)

Animal Farm George Orwell

Short, with quite accessible language, and apparently a simple tale ... but of course it's not that simple! A classic example of how a good narrative has different levels of meaning - the explicit and the implicit. In addition to the sophisticated reading skills that can be taught and practised, the novel is useful for teaching about context (historical and political), and about researching background.

1984 George Orwell

More complex than Animal Farm, and also grimmer and more depressing. Teaches the ideas of speculative fiction, of dystopias and alternative histories; and also valuable for exploring the ways that societies can be controlled (after all 'Big Brother' has become a stock emblematic phrase for repression). Look at the page Newspeak for Orwell's ideas about language and cultural control.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Mark Haddon

First-person novel about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome (i.e. ‘mild’ autism).

See the whole section devoted to this novel - The Curious Incident...Teaches students to (1) decipher, explore and appreciate a hugely different view of the ‘normal’ world .... through (2) working out the protagonist’s sometimes strange or distorted perceptions via inference / gap-filling skills. Good narrative drive; accessible language; moving; and it raises a number of important ideas about language and reality.

Pygmalion George Bernard Shaw

Popular with many teachers, and successful. Has the advantage of being a play, as a change from novels - and of dealing head-on with the ideas of language and social class, and how the two interact. It might be considered a little dated or 'historical' ... but surely that could open up possibilities of imaginative projects about how the ideas of the play might be updated in terms of language use today...

Educating Rita Willy Russell

(“... a play, not fiction, but very good for gender / social class issues...” ALSO there is a film )

An Inspector Calls   JB Priestley

The Old Man and the Sea   Ernest Hemmingway

Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller

A View from the Bridge Arthur Miller

The Crucible Arthur Miller

Short Stories by Roald Dahl (... published in collections with different titles...)



Room Emma Donoghue

The first person narrator is a five year old boy, and we gradually become aware that he is living in a very strange situation: as the blurb on the back says, succinctly "He lives in a single, locked room with his Ma". Why?

An enthusiasm of mine - ROOM is a featured text with a range of pages and teaching materials... Encourages sophisticated inferential reading skills + provides a fascinating view of the world of childhood + brilliant evocation of childhood language + gradually, more and more issues about the adult world are raised.

The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins

See my review. ... and also the extract developed for classroom studies in Exploring Hunger Games . Not just good for 'coming of age' purposes, but has a lot to say about manipulation in media and politics, and has enough violent drama to keep even the most restless of the boys involved! There's a recent film - see the trailer - and have a look at The Guardian review...

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas John Boyne

See my introductory page The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas This novel is about a child's eye view of the world, but deals with very serious themes (the Holocaust and everything involved in that, the loss of innocence, and so on) - and definitely requires adult reading skills since so much of the essence of the book is implicit and needs to be inferred.

Girl with a Pearl Earring Tracy Chevalier

Another of this site's featured novels - see the section under the introductory page Girl with a Pearl Earring. It is a relatively concise novel, but requires sophisticated skills of inference to understand what is really going on ... it is a historical novel, and so allows exploration of why stories set in different time periods may expand our understanding of the range of human experience ... and there's a very good film to back it up ... to say nothing of introducing us to the greatness of Vermeer!

Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury

Popular among English teachers because, by proposing a future world in which books are distrusted and burned, it raises the question of the importance of reading. The Wikipedia article provides a useful synopsis, as well as some interesting background about the film treatments. Have a look at this videoclip on YouTube - conveys the idea (and also the dated quality of the Truffaut film!)

The Handmaid’s Tale  Margaret Atwood

A dystopia created by a combination of religious fundamentalism and a 'plague' of declining fertility - so women are basically enslaved... challenging in terms of interpretation and inference ... personally, I would only use this with pretty capable students (there is the TV adaptation, of course)

Notes from the Internet Apocalypse: a Novel Wayne Gladstone

See Petra Lonka's enthusiastic recommendation in the page Internet Apocalypse , and in the Comments, below

About a Boy Nick Hornby

Have a look at the page  About a boy for some comments, and a couple of sample extracts

Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes [Also an Oscar-winning film - Charly ]

‘Charlie Gordon, IQ68, is a floor sweeper and the gentle butt of everyone’s jokes, until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental transformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.’ (Publisher's blurb)

The Wikipedia article is sound and informative, and supplies a lot of useful links.

Teaches (1) varieties of language from simple to sophisticated; (2) relationship between grasp of language and perception of reality; (3) the nature of intelligence; (4) a range of human relationships; (5) mortality and tragedy.

You can see a sample of the style and approach in the page Charlie's thoughts

Cat's Cradle Kurt Vonnegut

See the synopsis on a Vonnegut fan's website. You could even try the movie trailer on the students (not great, actually).

Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut

Again, try the VonnegutWeb synopsis, which comes alongside a quite thoughtful analysis, and some useful links; and the Wikipedia page is competently done. This movie trailer is suitably engimatic and intriguing.

Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe

The Wikipedia article is a clear introduction, with summary of themes and issues of the book. An extract from the African TV series of the book gives something of the feel of the setting ... but I don't find it very impressive. There's an interesting lesson plan which shows what can be done at a sophisticated level with the book, although it seems to concentrate more on a Lang & Lit theme of context and background not really suitable for Lang B I would have thought.

(By the way, one participant recommended the novel in general terms, but confessed "my students hated it ..." !)

Being There Jerzy Kosinski

This short and accessible novel is also available as a film (starring Peter Sellars in, I think, his last role) + and you can find a draft of the film script in www.dailyscript.com. There is a brief summary in the interesting Wikipedia article on Jerzy Kosinski; and more helpfully, a fairly thoughtful article about the novel 'Understanding Society ...' In general, the novel fits very well with the Media & Communication Core topic in the new Subject Guide.

[The theme of the Innocent Abroad, or Holy Fool, could be developed through the film 'Forrest Gump']

The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini

Complex saga about growing up amid the grim realities of Afghanistan - and extended consequences. Moving, quite gripping and stimulating - but long (more suitable for A2 students ?) Have a look at the WikiSummaries synopsis - the WikiSummaries site seems like a useful reference tool for teachers (suggests essay titles, for instance), but one to avoid telling the students about !

The Road Cormac McCarthy

Father & son struggle to survive in a destroyed world. Brilliant writing, and compelling narration, but ... a bit stark, grim? Level of language varies between accessible and obscure.

Twelve Angry Men play & film (cf also Runaway Jury ... modern parallel version)

I recently revisited the black and white film starring Henry Fonda, and consider it a classic. Well worth viewing it very slowly, asking students to consider very carefully what each section of dialogue tells us ... apart from anything else, it is a superb TOK text, insisting on critical thinking and the value of questioning what you think you know ...

"Master Harold"...and the boys  Athol Fugard

Recommended by Claudia Martinez (see Comments, below) - award-winning play about apartheid

The Bridges of Madison County Robert James Waller

An emblematic bit of romantic fiction, made into a fairly classy film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Have a look at the page  Writing pastiche , which explains the plot and the nature of the novel ... and also how it's good teaching material because it divides classes into those who love it and those who hate it!

Maus: A Survivor's Tale Art Spiegelman.

Graphic novel that recounts Spiegelman's father's struggle to survive the Holocaust as a Polish Jew and draws largely on his father's recollections of events he personally experienced. The book also follows the author's troubled relationship with his father and the way the effects of war reverberate through generations of a family.

Mao’s Last Dancer Li Cunxin (+ film available)

“From a desperately poor village in northeast China, at age eleven, Li Cunxin was chosen by Madame Mao's cultural delegates to be taken from his rural home and brought to Beijing, where he would study ballet. In 1979, the young dancer arrived in Texas as part of a cultural exchange, only to fall in love with America-and with an American woman.

Two years later, through a series of events worthy of the most exciting cloak-and-dagger fiction, he defected to the United States, where he quickly became known as one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world. This is his story, told in his own inimitable voice.” (Publisher's blurb)

Life of Pi Yan Martel

The Chrysalids John Wyndham

Whose life is it anyway Brian Clark

Empire of the sun J.G.Ballard

A Million Little Pieces Jame Frey

Memoir / fiction on drug addiction. Have a look at the Wikipedia article - particularly the discussion about how much of the book is invented: borderline between autobiography & fiction ?

From Cradle to Grave a selection of short stories from Oxford Bookworms

’These stories explore the trials of life from youth to old age: the idealism of young people, the stresses of marriage, the anxieties of parenthood, and the loneliness and fears of older people. The wide variety of writing styles includes black humour, satire, and compassionate and realistic observation of the follies and foibles of humankind. This collection contains stories by Evelyn Waugh, Roald Dahl, Somerset Maugham, Saki, Frank Sargeson, Raymond Carver, H.E. Bates, and Susan Hill.’ (Publisher's blurb)

'The number one Ladies Detective Agency' Alexander McCall Smith

First novel of a lively and accessible detective series set in Botswana, combining the narrative interest of the whodunit with an intriguing glimpse of a very different culture. The Wikipedia entry gives the minimal facts, but has some useful and informative links. The BBC site linked to the TV series is more stimulating.

I found it charming and entertaining, and so should most students with reasonably open minds...

'Young adult'

The Sun is also a Star Nicola Yoon

Recommended by Dominic St Pierre (Comments, below) who says "... It is very compelling for all of the themes for the new guide and offers an interesting look into mixed identity in Anglophone culture. It has well-divided sections/chapters which can be easily adapted for the new IOA. It is also very amenable to the current 2019 assessment curriculum as there are multiple opportunities for modern text-types for the WA from multiple perspectives. Finally, it lends itself to very interesting discussions concerning Theory of Knowledge questions and development. ..."

The House on Mango Street Sandra Cisneros ... now has its own page - The House on Mango Street

Unwind Neal Schusterman 

"...very thought-provoking dystopian fiction. The main characters are aged 16-18, so students identify easily, and then wish they didn't as the story-line progresses. Even reluctant readers race through it and can't wait to talk about it." (Gaynor Dindorf's comment, below)

The Outsiders S.E. Hinton

"... Language-wise, it is highly accessible for Language B HL students but it also contains enough 1960s US slang to give students a challenge. Students usually respond with interest to the themes in the novel, especially the socs v. greaser fight and the relationship between Cherry and Ponyboy. There is certainly enough material in the book for HL students to generate a number of creative assignments...." (from Plke Anne's comment, below)

Shizuko's daughter Jap. culture gender differences / generational issues (orig. written in Eng.)

Bend it like Beckham ... movie, so it can't count as one of the 'literary works' - but it can certainly be used in class as an illustration of sophisticated and engaging narrative about important issues.

Young Indian girl growing up in the UK wants to be a football star. In a clash of generational and cultural values, her family doesn’t approve. Funny and well-observed, if a bit of a fairy story.

Star Girl Jerry Spinelli [ see ... http://www.amazon.com/ ]

Stargirl Caraway, a new 10th grader at Arizona's Mica Area High School who wears pioneer dresses and kimonos to school, strums a ukulele in the cafeteria, laughs when there are no jokes, and dances when there is no music. The whole school, not exactly a "hotbed of nonconformity," is stunned by her – story of a girl told from the point of view of a 16 yr old boy

Whale Rider (+Movie) ... New Zealand

Coming of age novel, Maori.

Persepolis Marjane Satrapi [ see ... http://www.amazon.com/ ]

“Graphic novel that describes her childhood in Iran during the overthrow of the Shah. It is followed by Persepolis 2, which details Satrapi's life afterwards, during the Iran-Iraq war. (Originally written in French, the English edition translated by Satrapi's husband, Mattias Ripa, and by Blake Ferris.)” - since it was not originally written in English, this can't be one of your 'official' works of literature, but there's nothing to stop you studying it as an additional text.

Holes Sacher Louis

Two stories being told simultaneously. The story of Stanley Yelnats' adventures at Camp Green Lake and the story of Kissing Kate Barlow twisted adventures at Camp Green Lake. But, there is no lake at Camp Green Lake. Stanley makes many new friends while digging 5 foot holes in the hot Texas sun.

That Eye in the Sky Tim Winton

Rabbit-Proof Fence: The True Story of One of the Greatest Escapes of All Time Doris Pilkington

Stolen generation of Aboriginal children in Australia

Boy Roald Dahl (Author), Quentin Blake (Illustrator)

"...Great example of autobiography..."

Hating Alison Ashley Robin Klein

“Although peppered with Australian slang, Hating Alison Ashley is a solid school story with characters and situations to which all readers will relate...”

AND ... ? Have you a suggestion to add to the list ? If so, why not use the 'Comment' box below ?

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