Adding new books to the curriculum…a brainstorming session

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the fact that students need to read current, more relevant material in their English classes.  Then, the stars aligned: when I met with my principal this week, she asked me if there is anything that she can do for me.  I told her that she could help me infuse new titles into the sophomore curriculum.  Then, at our English Department meeting yesterday, the heads of the department mentioned that if we sophomore teachers wanted to discuss new titles, we should brainstorm a list of books to present to them!

While all of this sounds great, there is just one teensy-weensy little problem:

English teachers don’t have time to read for fun!  We spend the school year reading students’ essays, as well as refreshing our memories on the books that we are currently teaching.

I am, thus, in a bit of a quandary: I would love more time to read books that have been recommended to me, but the department needs the list ASAP.

Here are two books that have been recommended to me today:

1.  One of my coworkers suggested What is the What.  Here is the book description, according to

“In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States. We follow his life as he’s driven from his home as a boy and walks, with thousands of orphans, to Ethiopia, where he finds safety — for a time. Valentino’s travels, truly Biblical in scope, bring him in contact with government soldiers, janjaweed-like militias, liberation rebels, hyenas and lions, disease and starvation — and a string of unexpected romances. Ultimately, Valentino finds safety in Kenya and, just after the millennium, is finally resettled in the United States, from where this novel is narrated. In this book, written with expansive humanity and surprising humor, we come to understand the nature of the conflicts in Sudan, the refugee experience in America, the dreams of the Dinka people, and the challenge one indomitable man faces in a world collapsing around him.”

While I have not read this book, it sounds fascinating, and I can “sell” this book to my department and to my principal for a variety of reasons.  It is…

  1. contemporary.
  2. a work of nonfiction (which HUGE because of schools’ increasing push to have our students ready for the EAP).
  3. about real-world issues that continue to exist.
  4. about an immigrant to the United States (which is highly relevant to our students’ backgrounds).
  5. written by a local, award-winning author.

2.  One of my long-time friends (and former colleagues) mentioned The Hunger Games to me today; her school is adding this book to their sophomore curriculum.  Here is’s book description:

“In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.”

While I know that this novel has become a huge phenomenon, and a movie will come out soon, I wonder if it would be too easy for the students, because (I believe) it was written for teenagers.  Then again, if the point is to teach students skills, and not plots, wouldn’t an easier book, make the teaching of these skills easier?

I have been attempting to use the Lexile Framework for Reading to come up with books, but this has not helped greatly, so I am sending this plea out to all of you…

Any suggestions???

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2 thoughts on “Adding new books to the curriculum…a brainstorming session

  1. Hi Zoe,

    I’ve been doing some research on the adoption and integration of new books into curriculum and came across your posting. A lot of what you’re expressing is something shared among many educators. What is the What* is a really great book, though I think some find it a bit long-winded. Worth considering might be The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which is compelling and insightful literary non-fiction, and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. These are both fairly new titles, but Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and the Color of Water by James McBride are also fairly recent publications (last 12 years) while firmly established in many curriculums.

    I’ve been collecting a list of books which are well-reviewed and accessible for K-12 students on my Pinterest account here: I’ve also been collecting a list of non-fiction titles and teaching resources: Hopefully you find it useful!

    Best of Luck!


    *Please pardon my inability to properly underline book titles. :)


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