Stephanie Smith
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What does "Choosing Literature" mean?

Choosing literature, in a simple definition, is when a teacher decides which books to read in the classroom. However, the teacher must take many things in to account when choosing literature in the classroom. Some of these considerations include: the Program of Studies approved list of Fiction and Non-Fiction books, the curriculum and Program of Studies, censorship, gender, cultural issues, parental concerns, resource availability, as well as many others.

This article, Choosing Literature for Younger Readers, explains that both parents and teachers must have a say in the literature that is presented to their children. The quality of the work is the most important aspect to refer to, and trying to get children to actually sit down and read a book is becoming more and more of a challenge every day. In order to instill a love of literature at an early age, many believe that literacy should start before schooling does. Even reading to and with your child 20 minutes a day, every day, from the day they are born, gives them over 5,000 hours of literacy exposure before they start school (Fowler).

Many parents also have a hand in choosing proper literature for their children. Through early exposure to literacy, and interaction with students and teachers, parents can help develop the reading list for their child. Selecting Children's Literature, an article by Pearson Education, found in an early education and literacy handbook, also outlines some hints and tips to selecting the right literature when your child is starting to read. Many things must be taken into account, and by choosing literature that exposes your child to a vast and varied selection of work, parents are advocating open-mindedness in literature and literacy.

What is Censorship?


censor.jpgA censor is "an official who examines books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio and television programs, letters, cablegrams, etc. for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds" (Dictionary.com). Censorship is the practice of censoring these things - deleting or omitting information or text that is considered "inappropriate".

Censorship in literature is widespread and gaining in popularity. There are many reasons that literature is chosen to be censored. There can be inappropriate language or imagery, crude themes, lewd descriptions and action in the narrative, the possibilities are endless. "The marketplace of ideas, left to function on its own without government censorship, has not resulted in the open and free expression of ideas among people" (Cohen, 5).

With the gain in censorship over the past years, it is possible to see that literature has not been overlooked. About.com page, Banned Books - Censorship, outlines many different articles that list books, including many classics, that have been banned. Many of the books that have been banned or censored in some countries and areas are also on the list of classroom literature examples I am including below. For example, The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Lord of the Flies. These all have content that can be considered "suggestive", "inappropriate", and even in some cases, "sexually offensive"!

The partial list discussed above, however does not include plays, yet the article mentioned above does. Many plays at the secondary school level also have extremely sensitive content, such as "Oedipus Rex", "Medea", and "A Streetcar Named Desire". These plays, some of which deal with murder, self-mutilation, and rape, have been considered in some schools and countries to be material too radical for students to be able to read and discuss.

Censorship is a problem that is running rampant across the globe. Many countries preach about the rights of the human being - one of those being the right to free speech. Yet, it causes one to wonder - if we are allowed the right to free speech, but our literature, which is a form of speech, is being censored, are we really free? The answer is up to the individual to decide.

What are Gender Preferences?

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Gender preferences can be easily described as what girls like versus what boys like. Gender preferences have a huge impact on the literature that is read in a classroom. Teachers can gender preference their own book list, as well as the choices that they give to students. These preferences can also be sorted into stereotypes. For example, girls are thought of to be more interested in romance stories, or books with sentimental themes. Boys are thought of to be more engaged when reading adventure stories, that involve violence and action. However, these stereotypes are not always true, or even accurate.

As Elizabeth Dutro states in her article, "But That's a Girls' book!": Exploring Gender Boundaries in Children's Reading Practices', "Boys' rejection of things feminine is documented by researchers who suggest that early in life boys realize that things associated with girls and women are devalued by society and, thus, that it is important that they define themselves against these things" (Dutro, 377). This can be considered true as well. Dutro mentions in the article a Kindergarten boy who chose to pick up a copy of Disney's Beauty and the Beast to read. He was taunted by his classmates for his "girly" choice, and subsequently avoided those kinds of books in the future. Children are almost more subjective than adults when it comes to judging their peers, and can be infinitely more cruel.

As teachers, we are responsible to try and shift the paradigm of gender preferences. Opening up the mind of the children to books and literature they would not normally read is extremely important. By pushing children out of their comfort zone, students become exposed to all kinds of interesting literature that they may have never thought of to try before. By introducing students to books and literature that opens their mind, teachers can entice students into genres, authors and stories that become staples in the children's home library.

What are Cultural Issues?

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Cultural issues in literature are widespread. Easily described, they are problems that specific cultures have with certain types of literature. This link, How Literature May Help Solve Cultural Issues, helps the reader understand that literature does have an impact on cultural issues. Cultural issues are also prevalent both in the culture, and literature about a culture.

Going back to the page cited above on the banning of books in some places, countries all over the world have placed bans on books that are deemed "inappropriate". Call of the Wild by Jack London, a staple in Canadian classrooms, libraries, an University level Children's Literature courses, is banned by the Yugoslavian and Italian governments because the book is considered "too radical". Classics, as well as other pieces of literature, are banned usually because of content, or portrayal of certain types of people.

These cultural issues are prevalent in classrooms as well. Because of the high level of integrated, mixed nationality classrooms that are present in modern-day education, teachers must tread carefully when selecting literature to use. It is a good idea to get a feel for your class before you assign definite novels or literature to cover. By gauging the mind-frame of the class, and how open they are, teachers are able to choose literature that can appeal to all.

Examples of Literature by Grade

In this section, most of the examples of literature have been taken from the Alberta Education Authorized Resource List. Where I have not used texts found in this list, I have used texts from personal experiences and preferences.

Unfortunately enough, the Alberta Education Authorized Resource List begins at Grade 4. This seems to be the grade where novel studies begin in the Alberta Education English Language Arts Program of Studies. This is why there is no list of books for grades K-3. (Sorry to those of you hoping to to use this list for the younger grades!) However, from grades 4-12, this list is provided so that student teachers can have ideas for any possible novel studies. Student teachers should also note that some of the novels listed below cover material of a sensitive content, so caution should be taken with certain selections. Also, some selections deal with characters that are predominantly one gender. In novels where this is the case, teachers may have to devise certain ways to interest the lower-represented gender. These gender preferences do not always take effect, but are important to consider when choosing literature for a classroom.

Grade 4

- The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Set in World War II, and at the same time in a fantasy world that had a series written after, this novel follows the four Pevensie children, and their arrival in the magical land of Narnia. Through a series of adventures, the children encounter all sorts of maladies, mishaps, villians, and heroes. With the help of Narnia's creator, a talking lion named Aslan, the children conquer the White Witch, and restore peace to Narnia. This novel is interesting and engaging, but teachers should note that C.S. Lewis was a leading theologian, who often incorporated biblical allegories into his work. However, with 2 male and 2 female main characters, children of both genders should become relatively engaged within the novel.

- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This classic novel is set in England, and centers around Mary Lennox. While the main character is female, there are also two strong male supporting characters who show up prominently in the book, Dickon and Colin. Mary finds a way in to her deceased aunt's garden, and with the help of Colin and Dickon, restores the garden to it's original splendour, helping herself, her uncle, and Colin regain the strength they used to have. This novel contains some language that is slightly more sensitive, so teachers intending to cover this novel should note the use of language and slang, and have a discussion with their class about the mature nature of this language.

Grade 5

- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Before beginning this novel, students should be warned that they will have to look at death and grieving. However, this process can help students in years to come by analyzing how the characters in the novel deal with this death and grief. In a fictional town in rural Virginia, the fifth grade is intruded by a stranger - a girl by the name of Leslie. When she beats Jess, the protagonist of the novel, in a foot race, controversy ensues, yet Jess and Leslie become fast friends. When Leslie dies unexpectedly, Jess is forced to deal with her death, his maturity, and the legacy they created together - the imaginary land of Terabithia.

- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
This is a science fiction novel in which three children, Meg, George Wallace, and Calvin O'Keefe, travel to a parallel universe to rescue Meg's scientist father. When the children meet three unearthly strangers, they travel with them on their rescue mission. When the children reach the planet Camazotz, George Wallace is forced to fight "IT", the evil power that has brainwashed the planet's inhabitants. Through the strengths of the three, they overcome evil. Teachers should note that the novel also has strong biblical references, which may need to be explained and discussed with the studets.

Grade 6

- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Anne Shirley, a hot-tempered girl with fiercely red hair, is taken in by an aging brother and sister in the small town of Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island. The novel follows Anne's adventures, which more often than not turn into mishaps. Through dying her hair, setting her best friend accidentally drunk, and falling off the ridgepole of a roof resulting in a broken ankle, students may find humour in young Anne's unfortunate luck. While the novel is dominated by female characters, boys have been known to be drawn in by the hijinks that Anne gets up to.

- Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel
Following the story of a young silver wing bat, Shade, the novel chronicles his adventures that occur because of his innate curiosity. After violating the rule of the bats that they must not see the sun rise, Shade accidentally starts a war between the owls and the bats, forcing the colony to migrate. When he is separated from the colony by a storm, he befriends Marina, a bright wing bat. While trying to catch up with the colony, Shade and Marina encounter all sorts of characters, mishaps, and adventures. This novel provides extensive knowledge about bats, as well as centering on themes of betrayal, friendship, and bravery.

Grade 7

- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is a popular novel and prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Bilbo Baggins is whisked off on the adventure of a lifetime by Gandalf the Grey, his wizard friend, and a group of boisterous, yet stubborn and amusing, dwarves. Throughout their adventures, they meet elves, giant spiders, and Smaug, the dragon that stole the wealth of the dwarves' ancestors. Bilbo also comes into possession of a magic ring, and through a riddle game, gets away from the creature Gollum with his life, and the ring. This novel is an engaging story with lots of action, and the intricate language and story will keep readers of all kinds entertained.

- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Focusing on two warring gangs, the Greasers and the Socs, this novel outlines how Ponyboy deals with life, and the events covered in the novel. After being jumped by a group of Socs outside the movie theatre, the events of the novel are spurred on by the increasingly violent and dangerous fights between the two gangs. When Ponyboy's best friend Johnny accidentally kills one of the Socs in a gang fight, Johnny and Ponyboy are forced to go on the run. After hiding out in an abandoned church, when it goes up in flames Johnny and Ponyboy becomes heroes by saving some children. The novel ends with a few more characters dying, but Ponyboy's grieving process is spurred on and outlined by a writing assignment given by his English teacher.

Grade 8

- Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
This novel, characterized by the storytelling of Salamanca Tree Hiddle, outlines the story of her best friend, Phoebe Winterbottom. Salamanca tells her quirky grandparents the story of Phoebe's mother, who left unexpectedly, and who Phoebe considers kidnapped. While telling the story, Sal and her grandparents are retracing the final steps of her mother, who also left the family when Sal was younger. Through telling Phoebe's story, Sal comes to some certain realizations about her life, as well as closing the chapter about the truth of what happened to her mother. This book, also dominated by female characters, reels in readers with the small humourous stories about the eccentric Phoebe.

- The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
This true-story account of having to hide during the Nazi occupation has caused some uproar in the literary community. However, this diary is a valuable tool for the knowledge that it gives us. Anne takes us through how her family had to go into hiding, and the events of everyday life while in confinement. The diary stops abruptly when Anne and her family were caught, but still is valuable in the fact that students have a first-hand account of life while in hiding.

Grade 9

- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
This fantasy novel focuses on the actions of 11-year-old Lyra, who is left by her uncle to be raised by the instructors of Jordan College in Oxford. She is curious about the mysterious happenings at Jordan College, and realizes that Mrs. Coulter, her London benefactress, has been using her to lure children to be kidnapped. Lyra decides to take matters into her own hands, and to find the children and her now-missing uncle. With all sorts of creatures that she manages to ally herself with, Lyra's adventure is one that all kinds of students will enjoy.

- Animal Farm by George Orwell
This satirical novel focuses on a farm, and the animal inhabitants that drive out the human masters. After setting a series of rules and conditons, the intelligent pigs turn the farm into a dictatorship much like that of Russia, in the ideals of Communist Karl Marx. This novel is technically at the grade 10-1 level, but it has a strong relevance to the grade 9 curriculum covering the Russian history, hence why it is included here. Through the use of irony, symbolism, and characters that are strongly personified, this novel is a unique insight into the Russian Communist system, and its downfalls.

Grade 10

10-1
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Set in Depression-era Alabama, young Scout Finch learns some hard lessons about life in her story. It is a well-written narrative told from a child's point of view - one that possesses the insight of an adult. Many characters are complex and many-layered, and the complex ethics and varying prejudices present within the novel a myriad of topics for class discussion. The story, while narrated by Scout, a girl, contains many male characters that are as equally compelling and intriguing to hear about. The lessons Scout learns are ones that students of all ages can take away from the novel.

- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This fable is centered around a shepherd boy, Santiago, and his journey to find treasure. Along the way, his story is filled with philosophical wisdom provided by an alchemist. However, throughout his journey, Santiago is plagued by worries. His experiences lead him to find wisdom and fulfillment, and suggests that we must each go on our own journey to find truth within our lives. A philosophical, but reflective read, Santiago's journey will encourage students to find their own treasure - inside themselves.

10-2
- Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
This novel tells the story of Brian, who is flying to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness. When his pilot dies of a heart attack mid-flight, Brian is forced to crash-land the plane himself. He survives for two months using his instincts, some camping skills, and a hatchet. The novel is well developed, including very in-depth accounts of how Brian is forced to grow and mature to survive. As his challenges increase, readers find themselves cheering him along, praising his ever-expanding knowledge of survival. While this is a male-dominated book, there is plenty of appeal within the character development of Brian, as well as his adventures.

- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Narrated by Death, this novel is as interesting in its story as its set-up within the pages. Divided in to ten sections, The Book Thief tells us the story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl relocated to a small town called Molching. Through the three times that Death sees Liesel, her story is told. Liesel falls in love with words, and her foster father decides to teach her how to read. Through Liesel's many adventures, Nazi Germany unfolds from a different point of view - vastly different. This book is life-changing to some, and extremely influential. Its message and story is one that stays with the reader long after the pages are closed.

Grade 11

20-1
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
After being stranded on a tropical island, a group of English schoolboys create their own island democracy. While the procedure initially goes well with the leadership of Ralph, Piggy, and Simon, a band of the boys, led by the dictatorship of Jack, rebels and ends up turning a tropical paradise into a boy's worst nightmare. After the brutal deaths of Simon, the action culminates in the boys being rescued by the very thing they were trying to get rid of: adults. This novel does have very suggestive imagery, and scenes such as the death of Simon should be thoroughly discussed. The song "Fable" by the band Gatsby's American Dream reflects the action of the novel.

- My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
This novel contains extremely demanding subject matter and understanding from both the student and the teacher. It is the story of a boy named Asher, who is fighting between his natural artistic talent, and the conflict it has with his faith and family values. Asher is expected to follow the family tradition - to spread the word of Ladover Hasidism. But he wants to be an artist. Following the intense family struggles Asher faces, he is torn between his love for art, and his duty to his family. Through his eventual banishment to Paris, Asher finds an uneasy solution to a lifetime of struggles. This novel contains heavy religious symbolism, as well as knowledge and understanding of the Jewish faith is required.

20-2
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
This is a compelling novel that follows Charlie, a man with an IQ of below 70, and his progression to, and regression from, an individual with above-average intelligence. After participating in an experiment that raises his IQ, the novel reads as a diary entry at times, recording Charlie's progress into his newly-acquired intelligence. As he goes through the initiation into society, Charlie's continued shunning from his co-workers, and others is evident. As Charlie's intelligence begins to fade away, the novel comes to a conclusion with the questioning of science. The freedom, and isolation, serve as good discussion topics for a class.

- Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale, Jr. and Stan Redding
This true-to-life novel is written by one of the most notorious counterfeiters in the history of the Americas. Before the age of 21, Frank Abagnale Jr. had cashed over 2.5 million dollars in forged cheques, practiced law without a license, and pretended to be a sociology professor. On the run in twenty-six different countries, as well as all fifty states in America, Abagnale Jr. experienced his crime spree end, and, after a change of heart, turned to help the FBI crime unit, catching people who tried to succeed in his own previous life choice. This is a good choice of novel for a psychological viewpoint, considering Abagnale's audacity and flamboyance.

Grade 12

30-1
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
This classic centers around Elizabeth Bennet, and her happenings with the infamous Mr. Darcy. When the wealthy Mr. Bingley arrives in Hertfordshire, Mrs. Bennet does everything in her power to conjure up a marriage proposal for one of her five daughters. Elizabeth is swept up in accounts of both pride, and prejudice in her judgement of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. While her sisters rove around with their crazy antics, Elizabeth attempts to divine the truth of her feelings for Mr. Darcy, as well as the truth behind Mr. Bingley leaving her older sister Jane. The irony, character and speech development all help along the plot within the female-centered novel, but the male characters do have strong roles to play.

- Night and Dawn by Elie Wiesel
While only Night is on the approved book list, Dawn can be considered its companion novella. Night tells the true story account of Elie Wiesel's capture and subsequent experiences inside the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The content and material is extremely sensitive, and the imagery at times disturbing, so care must be taken when teaching this novella. Dawn is the fictional companion also written by Wiesel. The main character fights against his better judgement about his assignment to kill a British officer. While these books are the first two in a trilogy, they tell us the thought processes of someone during and after the second World War, and cover extremely sensitive material.

30-2
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Dr. Allan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler visit a dinosaur themed island to their great surprise. Jurassic-era dinosaur DNA has been cloned and combined with frog DNA to create life-size, real time creatures that develop overly aggressive tendencies. The text does contain copious amounts of adventure, excitement, and violence, however, so caution should be taken with some students that are more content-sensitive than others. Some of the topics covered in the novel do point towards cross-curricular research, so learning opportunities should be taken when they arise.

- Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
This novel is an enchanting account of a strong teacher-student relationship. Albom tells us of being reunited with his old sociology professor, who is terminally ill. During the course of the novel, Albom visits Morrie every Tuesday so they can discuss life, and the complexities within it. There are numerous flashbacks to when Albom was a student in Morrie's class, and flashforwards to when Albom is spending his Tuesdays with Morrie. Some of the language in the novel invokes realism for students, and this thought-provoking page-turner can be considered for personal reflection and writing prompts.

References


Cohen, Mark. Censorship in Canadian Literature. Montreal, McGill - Queen's University. 2001.

Dutro, Elizabeth. '"But That's a Girls' Book!" Exploring Gender Boundaries in Children's Reading Practices'
The Reading Teacher , Vol. 55, No. 4 (Dec., 2001 - Jan., 2002), pp. 376-384