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Cheryl Floyd

Short but ultimate classical book list

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I've just been asked to take the students at our co-op and offer them a literature class. What was written to me was "a book a week". But I don't know that that is wholly feasible without storming through them. We only meet once a week. The class time would be one hour. They have a separate writing class, so this would be strictly literature discussion. What would you suggest as 10-12 Great Books OR short stories to step off in the second semester with mostly girls, but some boys, 11-15 years old? I thought my first class we would read the account of Nathan using a story to convict King David of his sin. There is power when truths are clothed in story. then for homework I was going to have them read Tolkien's On Faery Stories. When they came back the next week, we'd review what we learned about stories from Nathan, then Tolkien, and then the last 10 minutes of class I'd start reading to them from The Ransom of Red Chief. Their homework would be to finish it. But I bet they could get through a book like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in a week without going so fast they fail to read "slowly". I'd like to teach them the art of reading slowly, that's why I don't think "a book a week" is a good idea. Since this isn't a school, or for a grade, but is in addition to what kids are already doing, I'm sure I was asked for a book a week as something easy-ish for them to go through. So thoughts? Suggestions? Should I have all the books "go together"? Is it ok for them to be more random? 

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As an update, it doesn't have to be a "book a week" she just was asking for reading every week. But I still am trying to figure out the proper balance or a theme for the books with the age range. 

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You could pick one meaty book (contemporary or classic) and discuss a chapter per week, maybe? That gets you some slow reading, allows for in-depth discussion, and isn't too much of a burden on top of their other work.

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When I very briefly taught middle school literature, I had the most success with Treasure IslandJohnny Tremain, and Out of the Silent Planet. If you want to do any Shakespeare, Julius Caesar is pretty accessible at that age level.

As far as topics go, I think it helps to have 2-3 books of similar themes in order to give you opportunity for compare/contrast activities. Treasure Island and Johnny Tremain, for instance, lent themselves to this pretty easily. (Across Five Aprils, which I also taught but found to be less popular with the students, tied in as well.) I don't see why all your books for the semester would have to be the same theme, though.

G.K Chesterton's Father Brown could also be good material if you're looking for short stories. If you want to do any Greek plays, maybe Antigone?

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@Patrick Halbrook I LOVE Antigone! There are terrible things that happen in it, yet it is not shameful to read with students! It is tragic but not nihilistic you know? It is so human in drawing out one's compassion for another person. 

I started my class with sharing with them the account of the profit Nathan approaching King David about his sin. He didn't just point his prophetic finger at the King and say, "You adulterous, murderer!" He used a STORY to capture his conscience! Once David said what the verdict on such a man as would take the sheep of a man who only had one, which he loved as a pet, to simply feed a stranger, ought to be death, THEN Nathan could said - you are that man! All David could do was agree. Aristotle said myth is a truth clothed. Then I had them look up "moral imagination" and start reading Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories". We'll read that in the background while going through Pinocchio and then Wind in the Willows. These may seem like lesser stories for middler schoolers. But I want to use them to practice the skills and tools to approach books like Out of the Silent Plant, The Hobbit, or Father Brown with. 

I used to think we often as a nation have been starting too young with certain works and skills - like annotating. But what I noticed as I-I-I have been trying to learn to annotate in my old age, is that good, personal annotating happens with lots of practice, and little self-criticism. So, as an adult I'm worried about doing it "wrong". But these junior high girls aren't worried about highlighting "wrong"! Thank God! They aren't ruined yet with that mindset. 

Introducing them to beautiful works with abridged versions, or illustrated versions, or going slowly through harder works together has the same effect. If we can build confidence and "strength" in their "literary muscles" then they will have the confidence and fortitude and affection for the greater works as they mature. 

It was a great first class anyway. :) We'll see in a few more weeks. 

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Antigone is a great play to discuss as an example of ambivalent rhetoric, since it is possible to mount plausible arguments supporting Creon as well as Antigone. It works even better if you also use the French playwright Jean Anouilh's 1944 version, which he wrote and directed during the Nazi occupation. It makes clear references to the French Resistance and Nazi leaders, but both the French and Nazi audiences recognized themselves favorably in their reception of the play.

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I have had my 8th graders read a trio of books--the Genesis account of creation and the fall, Perelandra (part of Lewis's Space Trilogy, and a Genesis story), and The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder which is also a Genesis story, but not written by a Christian. It makes for some interesting comparisons.

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On 1/27/2019 at 1:02 PM, KarenG said:

I have had my 8th graders read a trio of books--the Genesis account of creation and the fall, Perelandra (part of Lewis's Space Trilogy, and a Genesis story), and The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder which is also a Genesis story, but not written by a Christian. It makes for some interesting comparisons.

I like the the introduction of the skill of seeing a story in a bigger context than itself. That's what we are! Stories and seeing them in light of each other, history, logic, theology, the Bible, the Tradition, helps us see ourselves in God's story as well. 

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In addition we are slowly reviewing Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairy-Stories,” and I am reading Tending the Heart of Virtue by Vigen  Guroian. 

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