American middle and high school student must reads?

Ricochet is trying to come up with a Book List, Teen Edition. Ursula Hennessey explains one problem she had:

For starters, I wonder if I’m the only dolt on here who had the following problem: I was asked to read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn before I knew anything about slavery, Animal Farm without grasping the most basic forms of government, The Scarlet Letter without really “getting” adultery, and Romeo and Juliet with only a modicum of understanding of my own English, much less that from 400 years earlier.

Then she poses the question:

What are 5-10 books we should expect middle and high school students to 1) understand, 2) learn some useful history from, and 3) learn a life lesson from?

What say you?

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).


  1. 1) Fahrenheit 451 – on the importance of the written word and the dangers of censorship.
    2) 1984 (instead of Animal Farm) for similar reasons.
    3) The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain My favorite Twain book by far. I doubt that the religious subject matter would make it’s way into any public school (See entries 1 & 2 above).
    4) The Lord of the Rings — Useful history?
    5) The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.
    6) The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. This is a little tough reading, even for adults, but some excerpts could be used in conjunction with 3-5.
    7) Daddy Long Legs – or 84 Charing Cross Road, to introduce the epistolary novel.
    8) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Blade Runner)
    9) Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
    10) Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
    The last three and possibly 1984 should be introduced in senior high, maybe to juniors and seniors, though I read 1984 in the summer between middle school and high school.
    Bonus points:
    11) The Shepherd by Frederic Forsyth
    12) Exodus by Leon Uris
    13) Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
    14) Manchurian Candidate

  2. The three kids out of thirty who will be blown away by Twain or Dickens when they’re 13 will be the same three who’ll be blown away by it if you wait till they’re 21.

    Let ’em read.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.