The Cat in the Hat, The Hunger Games, Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables, Oryx and Crake.
If you were asked which books to read before you graduate from high school, what would you choose?
If you’re a reader with a passion for good books, prepare to go down the rabbit hole:
B.C.’s teachers were asked which books they believe every student should read before graduating, resulting in thousands of submissions from across the province of books they say inspire, resonate with students, and stand the test of time.
The results – released by the BC Teachers’ Federation on the eve of World Literacy Day (Sept. 8) in honour of the federation’s centennial – are the top 100 books recommended for elementary and secondary school readers.
With picks like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 and Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the titles are excellent suggestions for readers of all ages. Book lovers will delight in perusing the recommendations, bound to spark debate over what’s been left out – and which titles to read (or re-read).
The lists reflect the enthusiasm and passion teachers have for literacy and reading, said BCTF president Glen Hansman, adding in addition to books that inspire or resonate, submissions were made based on the outstanding quality of writing or the compelling stories told.
Classics old and new populate the 100 best books for elementary students, from Anne of Green Gables (15) and A Wrinkle in Time (34), and Where the Wild Things are (8) to newer favourites like Neil Gaiman’s creepy but wise modern fable Coraline (82) and – in a choice that will surprise no one – J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, sitting firmly at the head of the class at number one.
The secondary top 100 is diverse and thought-provoking no matter the genre, ranging from Gothic horror – Bram Stocker’s Dracula – to the horror of war (All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarche), and everything in between, starting with The Outsiders (number 1) by S.E. Hinton, followed by To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, the uplifting civil rights precursor by the acclaimed U.S. author, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
Time-tested English lit favourites like 1984, Lord of the Flies and The Catcher In the Rye are also noted.
Teachers picked everything from biographies by contemporary international prize winners like I Am Malala – the first-person account of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Pakistani girl – and the Diary of Anne Frank to seasoned Canadian favourites like Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family and Dystopian allegories like Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.
The top 100 includes novels, non fiction, plays (both Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet make the list) and even graphic novels. Consider Maus by Art Spiegelman, listed at 59 on the 100 list for secondary students. The Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel has been called “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust.” It’s about a cartoonist’s struggle to come to terms with his father’s survival story. In the novel, the Nazis are portrayed as cats and the Jews are mice.
Unsurprisingly considering these are English language books, the list is heavily skewed to American, Canadian, and UK authors.
Just behind the boy wizard juggernaut on the elementary book list is The Wonder by R.J. Palacio in second place. It’s being made into a movie starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay (who was in Room, the Oscar-winning film adapted from Emma Donoghue’s novel, which happens to be a top pick for secondary students), followed by The Giver by Lois Lowry (2014) in third place.
It seems B.C.’s teachers aren’t afraid to expose elementary readers to difficult subjects: Fatty Legs, a true story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Poliak-Fenton and illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes (No. 18), addresses the cruelty and intimidation visited upon students in the residential school system.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is at 41 on the secondary student list, which doesn’t shy from gruesome reality, boasting both Alive, a true story about a group of South American plane crash survivors by Piers Paul Reid, and journalist Jon Krakauer’s chilling and unforgettable Into Thin Air, the real-life tale of the terrifying spring storm on Mount Everest and what it wrought for the guides and climbers wrapped up in the disaster.
To view the lists, visit bctf.ca/100bestbooks, where you’ll find links to every book, along with a reading guide in some cases or excerpts. The BCTF has also sent posters to all public schools, libraries and independent books stores in B.C.