Recommended Reading
for Secondary English Teachers

1. "Lysistrata" by Aristophanes.

The women of Athens refuse to have sex with the men until they end their war. Funny, scandalous, and insightful, this comedy of Ancient Greece would make a great addition to many secondary curriculums. Follow it up with more ribald classics (addressing issues of gender and sexuality) such as "The Symposium" (Plato), "The Clouds" (Aristophanes), The Satyricon (Petronius), The Decammeron (Boccaccio), The Canterbury Tales (Chaucer), Anglo-Saxon Riddle Songs (Williamson edition is least censored), The Norse Myths (Crossley-Holland edition is least censored), Coyote Was Going There (Native American).

2. "The Tempest" by Shakespeare.

A jumping off point for multicultural teaching, potentially more relevant to students than "Julius Caesar" or "Macbeth." To teach the play as a study of colonialism read also the first three chapters of Zinn. Pair with Morning Girl (Michael Dorris), "A Tempest" (Cesaire), Oroonoko (Aphra Behn), Utopia (Moore), "Of Cannibals" (Montaigne), excerpts from Half Humankind (Henderson) or Masterless Men (Beier), People's History "Chapter 1" (Zinn), even contemporary pieces such as Native Son (Wright), Tar Baby (Morrison), or Philadelphia Fire (Wideman).

3. A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

Indispensable historical companion for secondary English teaching. For more social studies across the curriculum try Native American Testimony (Nabakov), Roll Jordon Roll (Genovese), Working (Terkel), Rachel and Her Children (Kozol).

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

What's an intelligent young woman to do? Consider the same questions with A Room of One's Own (Woolf). Compare with her sister: Wuthering Heights (Emily B). Follow up on the colonial implications: Wide Sargasso Sea (Rhys), Abeng (Cliff), Annie John (Kincaid).

5. Narrative of Frederick Douglass.

Powerful work for English teaching, perfect compliment to Huck Finn . Continue to teach about slavery with "Confessions of Nate Turner" (Grey not Styron), Roots (Haley), Jubilee (Walker (Margaret not Alice)), Uncle Tom's Cabin (Stowe), Life of Olaudah Equiano, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Jacobs) Up From Slavery (Washington), and, of course, Huck (Twain) but read also Satire or Evasion: Black Perspectives on Huck Finn. For post-bellum period read Marrow of Tradition (Chestnut).

6. In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck is rightfully a secondary English staple. Get a look at the radicalism of the man by reading this one. Know his other works, too, especially The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, The Red Pony. Terkel's Working could be an interesting pair here. Steinbeck wrote the screenplay to "Viva Zapata," a good film about Mexico. Other politically engaging fiction for secondary includes Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (Crane), The Jungle (Sinclair), evenThe Great Gadsby (Fitzgerald).

7. Native Son by Richard Wright.

Still frighteningly relevant to Black American oppression and White American fears in 1990s. An entry point to current inner city youth crisis (see Monster below) or to African American literature such as Black Boy (Wright), Invisible Man (Ellison), Their Eyes Were Watching God (Hurston), Bluest Eye (Morrison), Gorilla My Love (Bambara), any Langston Hughes writing (don't miss his biography, The Big Sea).

8. The Diary of Anne Frank.

Addressing war and holocausts is one of our most important jobs. Traditional works such as The Red Badge of Courage (Crane), All Quiet on the Western Front(Remarque), and World War I poets like Winfred Owen are important. Night (Wiesel) is a very powerful and frequently taught text. Consider also "Schlinder's List," Maus I & II (Spiegleman),1984 (Orwell), Lord of the Flies (Golding), Farewell to Manzanar (Houston), Hiroshima (Hersey), Zlata's Diary.

9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Postcolonial and Third World Literature ought to be a vital part of our teaching. See Achebe's other works and Efuru (Nwapa), Joys of Motherhood (Emecheta), Nervous Conditions (Dangarengba), Xala (Sembene), Cry the Beloved Country (Paton), Nectar in a Sieve (Markandaya). (See also suggestions under I, Rigoberta Menchú.)

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

The only currently "most taught" book in secondary schools by a woman is a good one but needs to be balanced with an African American perspective on growing up in the South. Try also I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Angelou), Warriors Don't Cry (Beals), The Color Purple (Walker (Alice not Margaret)), Not Without Laughter (Hughes), Black Boy (Wright), even Marrow of Tradition (Chestnut).

11. Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.

Contemporary Native American literature can make a vital contribution to our classes. Alexie is stunning. For secondary students also read: Fools Crow (Welch), Water Lilly ( ), Mean Spirit (Hogan), Way to Rainy Mountain (Momaday), Two Old Women ( ), Life Among the Piutes (Hopkins).

12. A House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

There is excellent Chicano writing that offers a great deal to students. Also try: This Migrant Earth (Tomas Rivera), Barrio Boy (Galazara), Bless Me Ultima (Anaya), any of the young adult fiction by Gary Soto such as Taking Sides or Jesse. For history see Occupied America. Don't miss the films "Salt of the Earth," "El Norte," and "La Familia." Try Mexican writers like Rulfo, The Burning Plain or Pedro Paramo, or Traven, Rebellion of the Hanged.

13. I, Rigoberta Menchú.

I think this work is so important that I edited a book about the experience of teachers using it in their classes (titled Teaching and Testimony). The testimonial form adds richly to our reading. Try also When Heaven and Earth Change Places (Haslip), Malcolm X (Haley), Lakota Woman (Crow Dog), Kaffir Boy (Mathabane), Life Among the Piutes (Hopkins),Voices from the Field, Let Me Speak (Chungara).

14. Monster: Autobiography of an LA Gang Member by Sonika Shakur, aka Kody Scott.

Gangs are of interest to all secondary students and a matter of life and death for some. There is good recent material, consider also: Always Running (Rodriguez), Scorpions (Meyers), Makes Me Wanna Hollar ( McCall), Inside-Out ( ). For background see Deadly Consequences (Prothrow-Stith). Don't forget West Side Story, the S.E. Hinton novels, and, possibly, Romeo and Juliet. View current inner city films, especially "Strapped," and "Hoop Dreams."

15. Am I Blue? by Marion Dane Bauer

Address homophobia and heterosexism in yourself, students, and community. This collection of short stories is excellent and will let you teach at your own level of comfort. Also read Annie on my Mind (Garden), The Drowning of Stephen Jones (Green), Jack ( ). To learn about the experience of gay teachers read The Last Closet (Kissen).

Professional Books

1. In the Middle by Nancy Atwell.

There is a growing number of fine books by secondary English teachers focused on teaching writing. They are extremely helpful and worth returning to again and again. I also like Clearing the Way (Romano),Seeking Diversity(Reif),Word Weaving (Johnson).

2. Weaving in the Women by

This is an exciting read and resource for thinking about the inclusion of women writers. Other useful books on teaching literature in secondary schools are How Porcupines Make Love (Purves), Literature in Secondary Schools (Applebee),Social Issues in the English Classroom (Hurlbert). On English teaching in general read Making the Journey (Christenbury).

3. Rethinking Classrooms by Rethinking Schools Collective.

An exciting book for thinking about social justice pedagogy. Other important books to read in this vein are Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (Freire) Schooling in Capitalist America (Boles and Gintis), Keeping Track (Oakes), Critical Teaching and the Idea of Literacy (Knobloch and Brannon) and I Won't Learn From You (Kohl).

4. First Day of School by Harry Wong

This book will tell you how to set up your class, maintain discipline, and create high expectations as a first year teacher. Do you think you might need it???

Professional Journals

1. English Journal published by the National Council of the Teachers of English.

Part of being a professional is joining NCTE (National Council of the Teachers of English) and MCTE (Michigan chapter), attending conferences, and reading regularly the English Journal. It is loaded with useful ideas and important dialogue, spend time in the library with back issues. There is a new NCTE journal for middle school teachers, Voices from the Middle.

2. Rethinking Schools published by Rethinking Schools Collective.

This journal offers a vital way to stay informed on issues in teaching, multicultural materials, and meaningful teaching approaches. Other journals that also are useful in this way are Teaching Tolerance, Teacher, and Educational Leadership.

Suggested Multicultural Reading List


A People's History of the United States (Zinn)

African American

Narrative of Frederick Douglass

Life of Olaudah Equiano

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Jacobs)

Up From Slavery (Washington)

Roots (Haley)

Jubilee (Walker (Margaret not Alice))

Marrow of Tradition (Chestnut)

Native Son (Wright)

Black Boy (Wright)

Invisible Man (Ellison)

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Hurston)

Not Without Laughter (Hughes)

The Big Sea (Hughes' autobiography)

Malcolm X (Haley)

Bluest Eye (Morrison)

Gorilla My Love (Bambara)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Angelou)

The Color Purple (Walker (Alice not Margaret))

Monster: Autobiography of an LA Gang Member (Shakur, aka Scott)

Makes Me Wanna Hollar (McCall)

Warriors Don't Cry (Beals)

Native American

Life Among the Piutes (Hopkins)

Coyote Was Going There

Two Old Women

Fools Crow (Welch)

Water Lilly

Mean Spirit (Hogan)

Way to Rainy Mountain (Momaday)

Lakota Woman (Crow Dog)

Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fist Fight in Heaven (Alexie)

Hispanic American

This Migrant Earth (Rivera)

Barrio Boy (Galazara)

Bless Me Ultima (Anaya)

A House on Mango Street (Cisneros)

Last of the Menu Girls (Chavez)

Always Running (Rodriguez)

Taking Sides, Jesse (Soto)

Asian American

Farewell to Manzanar (Houston)

When Heaven and Earth Change Places (Haslip)

The Joy Luck Club (Kingston)

Third World

Things Fall Apart (Achebe)

Efuru (Nwapa)

Joys of Motherhood (Emecheta)

Nervous Conditions (Dangarengba)

Xala (Sembene)

Cry the Beloved Country (Paton)

Kaffir Boy (Mathabane)

Nectar in a Sieve (Markandaya)

I, Rigoberta Menchú

Let Me Speak (Chungara)

The Burning Plain or Pedro Paramo (Rulfo)

Rebellion of the Hanged (Traven)


Am I Blue? (Bauer)

Annie on my Mind (Garden)

The Drowning of Stephen Jones (Green)


Web Links

Yahoo Young Adult Literature A useful search engine.

Young Adult Literature A rich page for teachers.

Another fine multicultural literature resource, includes reviews and other links

A Young Adult Literature Web Site with many resources, especially from a feminist perspective.

Literature TeacherResources Lots of links, especially for multicultural literature.

Young Adult Literature A recommended reading list.