What's on the syllabus?
May 23, 2007 7:57 PM   Subscribe

What novels are on the middle school syllabus these days? or What novels should be on the middle school syllabus?

I'll be teaching 7th/8th grade language arts next year and am wondering what other teachers are teaching out there. Our school has been reading The Outsiders, The Giver, To Kill A Mockingbird, etc.

What else is out there?
posted by Wayman Tisdale to Education (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about currently, but I was in middle school back in the early 90s. I swear, 8th grade English was made up almost entirely of books that were commonly banned: examples that my partner and I can remember:
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lord of the Flies
Animal Farm
Diary of Anne Frank
Something by Mark Twain (either Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer
Catcher in the Rye
Fahrenheit 451
?The Glass Menagerie or Raisin in the Sun. One or the other.

None of these are aged. I looked up the summer reading list and found that they're still reading 'Farewell to Manzanar' for 7th grade and 'Murder on the Orient Express' for 8th. (We didn't read that - we read something entirely forgettable.)
posted by cobaltnine at 8:27 PM on May 23, 2007

some of those I didn't read until high school. I would recommend Jules Verne to that list--
20, 000 leagues under the sea (this one was awesome)
Journey to the center of the earth
Around the world in 180 days
posted by uncballzer at 8:35 PM on May 23, 2007

We also read Killing Mr. Griffin. We also read Tangerine. Maybe Maniac McGee. Seconding Animal Farm. And my favorite all-time, best, hands down amazing, I-actually-went-out-and-purchased-it-again (and I never purchase books): A Separate Peace.

I don't know, maybe we've just gotten dumber, but I read Huck Finn during my Junior year of high school. Ditto for The Glass Menagerie (Awesome play!). My freshman year reading list included 47 Ronin, Sound of Waves, and Anthem. Good luck! Middle school English class was pretty kickass, as I remember it.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 8:36 PM on May 23, 2007

Seconding A Separate Peace, which I read in 8th grade. It is still one of my favorite novels. I also remember reading The Endless Steppes and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry that year.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:43 PM on May 23, 2007

In 7th/8th, I remember reading the first Shakespeare plays (actual text on even pages, with an "English translation" on the odd pages which we were encouraged to ignore.) The two plays were "The taming of the shrew" and "Romeo and Juliet."

You can also introduce Shakespeare with some of his sonnets.

I also remeber enjoying Of mice and men.

Short stories like "Flowers for Algernon," "The Lottery", "The black cat" and so forth may be good choices as well. These mostly came in the form of short story anthologies.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 8:46 PM on May 23, 2007

My kids had...
War of the Worlds
The Giver
Tale of Two Cities
The Westing Game

I had (early 1980s)...

Romeo and Juliet
The Pearl
To Kill a Mockingbird
Great Expectations
The Chocolate War
The Westing Game

Books both they and I read at that age outside school and liked a lot...

Animal Farm
The Good Earth
Nine Stories (JD Salinger)
Moby Dick
dragons and wizards genre fiction

Why don't they teach...

Slaughterhouse Five?
Really -- why not? That would be perfect.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:53 PM on May 23, 2007

In 8th grade I read The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible, To Kill a Mockingbird, and some book about the Civil War. Maybe The Red Badge of Courage? I didn't like it, refused to read it, and aced the exam on it by guessing. One of my finer academic moments. We also did a unit on poetry with a lot of Walt Whitman and some Langston Hughes. Walt Whitman + nerdy thirteen-year-olds = lots of spontaneous, vaguely dirty parody of "O Captain, My Captain". Not recommended.

I can't remember much else that we did. We spent an entire semester on Scarlet Letter, then our teacher broke both her wrists and we ended up spinning our wheels for a while with a long-term substitute teacher. This was 1998-1999 school year.

I read Moby Dick outside of school in the summer before 8th grade and it literally took me the entire summer. I used this experience and a review of the Cliff Notes to write a freaking splendid essay on an AP exam in my senior year of high school.
posted by crinklebat at 9:16 PM on May 23, 2007

Wow. All that you just mentioned was my freshman and sophomore year of highschool (and Slaughterhouse Five was taught, iirc). Middle school required reading was incredibly basic. I remember mostly reading 'personal choice' books off of 'acceptable books' lists - what was actually required was an absolute joke. Freshman and sophomore english covered most of the books listed there, with American lit (junior year) actually getting into stuff like Hawthorne, Salinger, and Steinbeck. American lit and AP English were the first english classes we read anything I felt was 'worth' reading, basically - things before that got ruined by shitty teaching and idiots in the classes.
posted by devilsbrigade at 9:24 PM on May 23, 2007

Fahrenheit 451 was a good one we read in 7th or 8th. Animal Farm as well... those are the ones that stick with me, along with the Illustrated Man (short stories and more Bradbury). We never read A Separate Peace, but other classes did and it seemed like they mostly hated it. 1984 would have been a good one as well. We did A Midsummer's Night Dream in 6th grade. This is from just a couple of years ago... funny that middle school English has changed so little in 20 years.
posted by MadamM at 9:31 PM on May 23, 2007

7th/8th grades started for me in '78. In school, I recall reading:

The Chocolate War
To Kill a Mockingbird
Catcher in the Rye
The Diary of Ann Frank

I'm sure there were others, but I don't remember them. On my own in those years, I read:

The Dark is Rising Series, by Susan Cooper - involves Arthurian legend stuff. Great reads.

All of Dorothy L. Sayers

The Once and Future King, by T.H. White - my preferred version of the Arthurian legend. I'd recommend this highly for 8th graders or ambitious 7th graders.

(Please let us know what you end up choosing!)
posted by rtha at 9:32 PM on May 23, 2007

Ooh, looking at what devilsbrigade said I should specify that what I read was in "gifted" English- I dunno what the regs kids had, but probably more of the same (I seem to remember them reading the Hobbit and Rocket Boys/October Sky).
posted by MadamM at 9:34 PM on May 23, 2007

Ender's Game
posted by niles at 9:37 PM on May 23, 2007

I have no memory or reading "great books" in school before grade nine. That seems rather odd, but anyways, I remember reading John Wyndham's books (Chrysalids, Chocky and the Midwich Cuckoos esp.) outside the classroom at that time and really enjoying them. The characters are very vividly drawn but the setting does have a bit of the "cosy catastrophe" feeling of mid century English science fiction. For your low-level grade seven's I would suggest Paulsen's Hatchet.
Even re-reading the first book of a Series of Unfortunate Events (or better yet, play the awesome audiobook read by Tim Curry) where you pointed out all the literary illusions would be cool. Having the students of course read Baudelaire, Poe etc, etc., and especially interpert Sunny's words such as Bushcheney (a despicable man).
posted by saucysault at 9:51 PM on May 23, 2007

Chrysalids was good. Outside class we read the lord of the rings (maybe the hobbit). I think the Douglas Adams' Hitchikers guide to the galaxy series would be great to teach with (funny, opportunities both with poor/good students).
posted by kch at 9:58 PM on May 23, 2007

I just realized something really really horrible when I was thinking about this question:


I remember reading The Hobbit and Poe's The Gold Bug in 7th grade. There was more, but it was short fiction from a textbook so I don't remember what it was.

In eighth, kids with good grades qualified to take a language instead of reading. In English class, we did almost exclusively vocabulary and grammar. I cannot think of a single work of fiction I was assigned to read! Man, now I'm all indignant.
posted by lampoil at 4:10 AM on May 24, 2007

7th grade was bizarrely easy. We read The Cay and Avi's Nothing But the Truth as a class, and then there was a unit broken into an "advanced" section and a "regular" section, for which the advanced read Jacob Have I Loved and the regular read Bridge to Terabithia.

8th grade also had "advanced" and "regular", but I have no idea what the regular section read. The advanced read Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. The regular section might have read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry...maybe. I'm not entirely sure. 8th grade as a class read Rocket Boys and some Poe.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 5:39 AM on May 24, 2007

My son, who just finished 8th grade, had a reading program where they had to pick novels that were culturally significant and explain why.

He chose:
Farhenheit 451 (Bradbury)
Night by Eli Wiesel
Small Steps (the Sequel to HOLES, by Louis Sachar)

I'm forgetting the rest, but I recommend those three highly.
posted by misha at 7:16 AM on May 24, 2007

A middle school teacher I know taught these books to her 8th graders in a poor, rural New Mexico school district this year:
"Of Mice and Men"
"To Kill a Mockingbird"
"Roll of Thuder, Hear My Cry"
"Diary of Anne Frank"

She's a language arts teacher, and has taken it upon herself to inject a bit of civics/social consciousness into the curriculum at her school, which doesn't offer such things otherwise.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:48 AM on May 24, 2007

Wow, as someone else said, many of these titles are not middle school oriented. Having been an 8th grade teach for a brief time, I don't feel as though my students would've picked up on the more sophisticated themes of those stores. Even the particularly bright ones...

We did things like:

House on Mango Street
The Rats of Nimh
Fever 1793
The Coffin Quilt
Johnny Tremain
A Lewis & Clark story

Some of the books they read on their own:
Harry Potter series
Eragon series
His Dark Materials series
The Edge Chronicles
Friday Night Lights
posted by santojulieta at 9:07 AM on May 24, 2007

Librarian here. Local-underperforming-public-school summer reading for:

6th Grade: Crash by Jerry Spinelli

7th Grade: Loser by Jerry Spinelli

8th Grade: The Man Who Was Poe by Avi
posted by scratch at 9:46 AM on May 24, 2007

Please, please, for the love of keeping kids reading, contact the high schools your kids will filter into and make sure you do not teach any of the books on their syllabi.

If half of your kids have read the book upon which you have based the next grading period, you may hunt down the middle school teacher who took it upon themselves to give their kids a "different experience".

It also helps to talk to their lower grade teachers to avoid duplication.
posted by Seamus at 2:02 PM on May 24, 2007

Response by poster: I'm definitely considering the classics (Farenheit 451, To Kill A Mockingbird), but I'd love to hear about more recent books that I haven't heard of.

If anyone's still reading this question, keep the suggestions coming!
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 4:54 AM on May 25, 2007

About ten years ago, we read:

The Outsiders, All Quiet on the Western Front, Brave New World, The Scarlet Letter, and some other things that must have been unmemorable in 7th grade.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1984, To Kill A Mockingbird, and others in 8th.

Outside of school, I was reading everything by Philip Pullman, Tamora Pierce, and Agatha Christie that I could find.

Here's my school district's current summer reading list.
posted by tuffbunny at 10:35 PM on May 25, 2007

should be taught:

"the perks of being a wallflower" (stephen chbosky)

"the little prince" (antoine de saint-exupery)

"looking for alibrandi" (melina marchetta)
posted by gursky at 9:38 PM on May 28, 2007

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