Monday, August 29, 2011

Looking for reading suggestions

Unfortunately my vacation nears its end this week. Next week I have to go back to school. That means today, instead of writing, I worked on a pacing plan for the school year. It's actually shaping into a beautiful pacing plan.

As I went through our American lit book to determine which stories I want to cover this year, I noticed we are seriously lacking in two things: Civil War and Slavery. I checked our novel list - same thing. It's like we're intentionally ignoring stuff that makes us uncomfortable. How can you read about American lit and ignore the Civil War?

Yet last year I'm pretty sure I did exactly that. I usually don't do chronological order when planning, but this year we're linking English classes to science and history classes. In other words, I will have the same set of 11th graders as a specific history teacher and a specific science teacher. It's called a Cohort, and I am soooo happy we are doing this.

But history teachers usually work in chronological order, so I decided to plan my readings the same way this year.

So long story short, I need some recommendations. I can't teach Roots - way too long. I have a selection from Frederick Douglass and one brief and somewhat boring slave narrative in the book, but that's it. I'm looking for some good slave stories. The kids need to learn about this and they never really do. A lot of you guys are really well read. Anybody got any good suggestions?

And then there's the Civil War. I may anger some people with this confession, but I am not a fan of Stephen Crane. I'm already reading The Things They Carried for a war novel, so I'm looking more for short stories and poems and non-boring essays about The Civil War. Any suggestions for that?

This all needs to be 11th grade appropriate, so nothing as complex as something like a Lolita or a Catch 22.

I figured it can't hurt to get some input from the group.


  1. Absolutely... Read SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME by Douglas A. Blackmon.


  2. I'm a History major and I can't think of any good Civil War books...proof once again that everything we learn in college disappears the minute we graduate...

    What about Ragtime? Wasn't that a great book before a Broadway play? Or The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison? I think I read that in high school...?

    PS: thanks for the rejection help. ;)

  3. Thanks, Unk! I'll check that out for sure.

    Just Me: Those are both excellent books, but they're not about The Civil War or slavery. I have lots of works to choose from, just not much from those two categories.

  4. "Kindred" by Octavia Butler

    "Confessions of Nat Turner" by William Styron

    "Beloved" by Toni Morrison

  5. Please don't make them read "Across Five Aprils"

  6. Oh Nat Turner would be good. I LOVE Beloved, but it may be too complex for these kids. I'll offer it as an option when I get them to choose an independent novel later in the year.

    Across Five Aprils is middle school material, so no I won't make them read that.

  7. Please Leave Name5:41 PM

    Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

    Shelby Foote's "Shiloh" (Shelby Foote is THE authority on the Civil War, so I hope the history teacher knows that--Ken Burns based his his series on Foote's work)

    Faulkner's (short story) "A Rose for Emily"

  8. Never read any Foote. I'll look into it.

    Never occurred to me to teach A Rose for Emily specifically as a Civil War story, but you're right. Thanks!

  9. I think Huck Finn would be a great choice.

    Because at some point, everyone needs to have pretended to have read it.

  10. For some reason, I just don't want to teach Huck Finn. I don't know why.

    I put it on the list of independent novel projects.

  11. Huck Finn my thought too, esp after reading Hemingway thought it was all kinds of awesome. Haven't read yet, but two books that come to mind, maybe appropriate, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Uncle Tom's Cabin.

  12. Slave Girl's a good idea. Thanks! Uncle Tom's Cabin is okay, but it was written by a white woman, and it shows. I'm always on the fence about teaching it.

  13. Patricia11:07 PM

    Does it have to be set in the US or be America-centric? If not, what about Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?

  14. It's an American Lit class, so it does have to be by an American author.

  15. It's been a long time, but I remember really digging Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" Covers both the (anti) slavery theme and female empowerment.

  16. Oh that's a good one. Thanks!

  17. Wait, ignore me. Forgot you were looking for fiction. Drat.

  18. It doesn't have to be fiction. Nonfiction is also good.

  19. For Civil War fiction, you can't beat The Killer Angels. Brilliant book.

    For nonfiction, MacPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom is generally considered the best one-volume overview of the war.

    I read Catch-22 in high school. I think it was 10th or 11th grade. Can't remember whether it was for English or History, though.

  20. A lot of people read Catch 22 in high school, but it's too complex for the majority of my kids.

    Thanks for the suggestions. I totally forgot about Killer Angels. You're right - good book. Haven't heard of the Battle Cry book. I'll check that out. The history teacher will cover all the factual stuff. My job is to handle the literary aspect.

  21. Sojouner Truth is the first thing I thought of, but if you teach that be aware that the most commonly presented version, ie, "Ain't I a Woman" is a bit controversial. Some say that as she was not a southern slave, and didn't use the dialect that appears in that version. (Published in the History of Women's Suffrage)

    The Wikipedia entry has the first two recorded versions - interesting for comparison, though the language may have been cleaned up by the people transcribing at the time.

    This article by Harriet Beecher Stowe, however, seems to reflect a similar dialect.

    For poetry, perhaps Whitman? The Civil War Poems? The classic being O Captain! My Captain!

    Some other poems from the period include LITTLE GIFFEN by Francis Orray Tickner, After All by William Winter (I like this one)... and well, some more you can find here -

  22. The life of Eluodah Equiano...? I am still on vacation, but it is a good read for my Am Lit kids.

  23. Welcome back, Emily. [Hope to you mentioned the blog at the Reunion]

    For some Back To School ideas, google "In First Lady's Roots"

    Megan Smolenyak [lead researcher] also is an accomplished author on the topic in question.

  24. Thanks for the info, Laura. I've used the Sojourner Truth piece before, but only in a short lesson - never went into that much detail. That's good stuff to know!

    Vanilla, that's the thing that's in our textbook. It's really boring. Do you guys use the McDougall Littel too?

    Thanks for the recommendation, Paul.

  25. Okay, okay. Fiction that deals with slavery.


    End of discussion.

  26. Anonymous9:14 PM

    I hadn't thought about it before, but you're absolutely right. The closest we ever came to reading about slavery in lit class was Huckleberry Finn.

    I know Roots is too long, but is an excerpt do-able?

  27. I laughed, Young. I laughed.

    Probably doable, theemptypen. I would like to use the part from the slave ship. I think that would have a huge impact on the kids.

  28. Anonymous10:59 AM

    The Great Gatsby, Helmet for my Pillow, Enders Game, Cold Mountain.

  29. Thanks! Cold Mountain's a good one. I forgot about that novel. The others aren't really the right era, though.

  30. Have you checked out the textbook/survey FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM by Franklin and Moss?

    That's a pretty thorough - yet accessible - history of African Americans, with primary sources as well as broad overviews.


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