Vampires, games of death, and teenage romance. If your tweens and teens are reading books like Twilight, The Hunger Games, or Matched, you might be thinking that these are idle chapters of teenage pop culture. That is probably just what our grandparents were told about some now classic books. Between cliff notes and online summaries for anything imaginable, there are increasing chances that our kids won’t pick up some of these dust covered classics unless they are a part of a high school curriculum plan (and even then it might be hard to actually get your kids to read these selections – and more schools aren’t requiring them). But these books are classics for good reasons – they get audiences to think, grapple, imagine, and wonder.
15 Books for High School Students
(and that’s just the start)
As I get ready for a year with one child entering high school and another child beginning her senior year, I am determined to make sure that amid the modern selections in their backpacks that they don’t venture out as adults without reading some historically rich, culturally significant, and socially insightful books.
- The Bible – No matter what religious foundation you might have, the Bible is the most known piece of literature in modern history. Read it. Get your kids to read it.
- OK – hard to follow the Bible, but The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank – This poignant and personal look at the life of a young woman during the Holocaust is a moving book that captures the essence of living, even in the face of death.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – This book deals with racism, social injustices, and the intricacies of family dynamics. Read the book with your kids, then watch the classic movie.
- The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane – Set during the Civil War, this book exemplified human nature, including shame, fear, and courage among a descriptive narrative.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain – There is nothing like the language used in Twain’s books, so read this one with your teens, or choose another Twain title such as The Prince and the Pauper. Twain’s books hit the mark when it comes to human character and growth.
- The Giver, by Lois Lowry – I have to admit I found this book unsettling when I read it with my daughter a few years ago. However, the lessons that come from this book about society and the exploration of a utopian and dystopian culture are profound.
- A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens – Again, just make sure that your teens read something by this author. This book is a favorite of mine because it demonstrates that although the dates might change, the relationships people have go through similar struggles. This is a great historical piece that examines social status and its relation to human nature.
- Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe – This adventure story is a must read for my kids, especially the boys.
- The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway – The stereotypical battle of age and wisdom over brute strength is exemplified in this classic story. The aging fisherman wars against a giant fish, but highlights the internal struggles and strength we all have.
- Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell – Based on a true story about survival and self-reliance, this book is touching and inspiring.
- The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas – This classic story is steeped in the dangers of revenge, and is not only written well, but has a thought-provoking message that transcends the decades since it was written.
- The Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller – This story of family expectations and challenges might seem too far removed for high school students, but it is a classic representation of a well written play that resonates with “average” families.
- Julie of the Wolves, by Jean C. George – This classic story tells the adventurous tale of a young girl who rejects the traditional ways of her village and ventures into the Alaskan wilderness, where she forms new relationships – with a wolf pack.
- Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott – I admit it was hard to get my boys interested in this one, just based on the title alone. However, if you present it as a family drama, it takes on a different tone than if you look at it as a romantic tale.
- The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne – If you watch any of the teen dramas or “reality” shows, you might think that you are seeing chapters taken from this book. It deals with single parenthood, social shunning, and significant life challenges.
This very short list in the long line of classic literature are just some examples of the types of books we need to make sure we are reading to and with our kids. Exposing our children to various authors, styles of writing, and genres of books enriches their perspectives on the world, and themselves. Include in your list of “must reads” for your teens things by these authors:
- Stephen King
- J.R.R. Tolkien (I did The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a read aloud with my kids)
- William Shakespeare (The language alone might drive kids crazy, but the tales behind the language are ones that kids usually love – such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)
- Jonathan Swift
- Benjamin Franklin
- Jane Austen
- Charlotte Bronte
- Mary Shelley (Pop culture is infused with the zombie craze – introduce your kids to the classic Frankenstein.)
- Edgar Allen Poe (My kids love to hear the dark poetry of Poe.)
- Virginia Woolf
- John Steinbeck (My husband recently read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time and wondered how he had gone all of these years without reading it.)
These lists could go on, and on, and on, and you get the point. The list of great works of literature awaiting our children (and us) is longer than the list of must see television or the upcoming releases in video games. What is on your list of must reads?
Even though you might agree that kids should be reading more than the instructions for their iPods, it is not always easy to get them interested in or focused on books that don’t have pop culture appeal. On Monday I’ll be sharing some ways to help your kids do more than just use these classic books as doorstops. Stop on by!