Required Reading

What agitated me throughout elementary, junior, and high school was required reading. In elementary school, I distinctively remember books like Bunnicula, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Where the Red Fern Grows being required reading. I liked Bunnicula, and thought it was hilarious. But it didn’t apply to everyday life, or current issues, or politics, or history, or art, or anything worth teaching. It was just a very funny story. And funny stories are fine, when read at home on your own time. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was mainly a metaphor for Jesus Christ and Adam and Eve, this creepy creationism thing that never should be allowed in public schools. My tax dollars DO NOT pay for kids to learn about religion shrouded with a fantasy story. A fantasy story I might add, which should also not be allowed in school. Yes, I write fantasy stories, but what they really boil down to, are hero vs. villain and are typically violent. In 4th grade we had Where the Red Fern Grows read to us every day for a couple of weeks. It’s a story more appropriate for junior high and high school, not ten year old kids. And don’t even get me started on Red Badge of Courage. That book has been required reading FOUR TIMES in my life. Talk about over-assigned.

Another thing that agitated me, was Shakespeare. I am all for learning new vocabulary, but it’s also possible to give students vocabulary that is too difficult to understand and learn (especially when half of it isn’t even used in day to day conversation anymore). If we were to put together a performance of one of his plays, THAT would have been incredible. Shakespeare’s work was meant to be seen, not read in a high school classroom. Stories like The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, West Side Story, need to be phased out completely. They are over-read and I felt like opportunities to discuss economic and racial issues were missed.

That being said, I have compiled a list of books that I believe are appropriate and engaging for required reading.

Elementary School:

Anything by Shel Silverstein – If you want to explore poetry, respecting nature, discovery, learn empathy for your parents, then his books will do it. The Giving Tree is not just about preserving nature, but shows how parents give their everything for their children, and sometimes their children take it for granted.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – A tale of a rat, toad and mole and how they become friends and take care of each other. Why should friendship be taught in schools? Because these three friends are not the same species, so they represent diversity. Because they respect each other, and good friendship is a powerful weapon against bullying.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh – This story is dramatic, and is most appropriate for 5th and 6th grade. Within the adventure of the story (which I don’t want to spoil for you), is intense encouragement to appreciate literacy. Many topics can be gathered from this, such as discussing the history of literacy tests used to oppress voters, and if daring enough, animal rights.

Junior High:

To Kill a Mockingbird – As well known as this book is, you’d be surprised at how many young people have never read it, or even heard of it. This incredible story discusses the broken justice system which we STILL live with today, and how that system is used against black folk. There are numerous life lessons and drops of wisdom in this tale that can breed intelligence in students.

Anything and everything written by W.E.B. DuBois – The Souls of Black Folk uses fantastic vocabulary, and delves deep into what oppression feels like for black people in America. Sadly, this topic is rarely taught in schools, and it is disturbing to pretend like racism doesn’t exist.

Jubilee – In order to teach black history, and the history of slavery, you need to teach the truth. Religion was used as a justification for slavery. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan. What it was like for black folk after slavery was abolished. This story is based on the stories told to the author by her great grandmother, who was a former slave.

The Grapes of Wrath – A good history lesson about the great depression. I’m sure multiple people my age, and much much younger, have no idea what the great depression was like, or what it even is.

High School:

Catcher in the Rye – So it’s vulgar, sure, but it’s worth it. Every high schooler in one way or another can relate to the struggle of being a teenager. Struggling to fit in, with your sexuality, and with your education.

Anything and everything by John Blassingame – I know I keep bringing up books about black history, but his work is a massive collection of historical research about various topics within black history. Black history is not taught in schools enough.

History books about Native Americans – I can’t name a specific title, or author, so I’d rather talk about this as a group of books. There is very little TRUE Native American history which is taught. For example, Christopher Columbus never discovered America. Thanksgiving was founded because of the massacre of hundreds of Native Americans. Before blacks were enslaved, it was Native Americans. If anything, people should begin to learn the difference between which tribe is which, what their customs and cultures are, and that there is no such thing as a “Cherokee princess”.

Wisdom Sits in Places – This book is a non-fiction collection of stories, experiences, and maps about the Western Apache tribe. If you sit quietly and watch the world around you, you will learn wisdom from observation. This is how you become present.

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