Top 10 teachable novels – a list of sorts

Here’s my list (the order is not important.)

Tomorrow when the war began. For year 9 or 10. Students, even reluctant readers, respond to this book and it would be eminently teachable given that there is now a recent film.

Holes: Easy reading, big themes; an apparently simple book but the result of skilled writing – for Years 7 or 8 (I’d do it at 8). The video adds a good visual comparison.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Year 10 – 11: despite its apparent difficulties (let’s face it – the vocabulary and focalisation {adult sensitivity via a young female} are difficult for many) this is very teachable – even to reluctant readers. I always read and contextualise the opening chapter (show excerpts for the film vesion to help establish the tone and feel of 30s Southern USA. I have also taught this novel in conjunction with the film (what has four eyes and cannot see – Mississippi) with Year 12s. A great novel for links to other curriculum (Modern History). There is also a host of other great teaching ideas out there in cyberspace; look and enter TKAM in the search panel to see an example of what I mean.

The world according to Garp –
 For year 12 and with the qualification that some parents hate the notion of this book being studied in schools.  This gets them reading (and the film with Robin Williams – despite deficiencies – is a good visualisation).

Animal Farm – classic novel for Year 9 – 10 (11s via postmodernist critique). A fable which has these benefits. It’s short and so the length does not put students off. It’s concise – every event tells. It’s lucid, lovely for teaching the power of language. It has a mulititude of links to History. I’d also use it in a Modern History or Senior English class. (Positioning, background on Orwell, deconstruction, and such.)

The day of the triffids – Year 10; great, thoughtful sci-fi (post apocalyptic) novel. And it is not all that sci-fi’ish. Also by John Wyndham and eminently teachable is

The chrysalids – and this one works well if taught in conjunction with a film addressing a similar theme (the opposition of most societies to a difference that they see as threatening.) An example isPhenomenon. Imagine the historical and/or contemporary connections you could make with any oppressive regime – Germany’s Nazis, Pol Pot, Spains Franco, the US and its flirtation with McCarthyism (or Patriot acts maybe), the current administration in Myanmar… alas, the list goes on. 

Snow falling on cedars – Years 10 – 11. A ripping plot, subtly handled.Very good for thematic work on tolerance.

 – Still a great novel that appeals to the innate morbidity of many a student in Year 12. The film with John Hurt has some appeal too.

The English patient – but only with a class of Year 12 fliers. This is great for teaching post modernist rejection of historiography.(I also like making links between Ondaatje and his sapper ‘hero’….)

That’s it – 10. I am sure I could think a little longer and add at least another five. I wonder what other English teachers favour teaching – and why?

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