High School Literature for Reluctant Readers

I love to read. But not all of my kids like to read, which I can’t figure out. This presented a bit of a challenge when it came to reading lists for high school literature. I had naively expected that my kids would love books and be interested in studying literature, and that the biggest difficulty would be in narrowing down the list of books that they wanted to read. That’s not how it’s turned out. Instead, we’ve needed to narrow down the list of books to those that I think are the most important for them to read, and that they were willing to tackle.

In our state, literature is a required component of high school English, although students are not required to have a full credit of Lit. They are required to have some literature included in their studies. This does leave quite a bit of latitude for deciding how to approach the subject. Some English courses are all-inclusive and grammar, composition, literature and more are all part of a basic overview course. Our choice has been to include literature within the context of history. We particularly like the high school history courses from Notgrass. These courses provide study material for three full credits – one each in History, Literature (or English), and Bible. Since my boys weren’t super-excited about reading novels, we selected from the list those that we felt were most relevant to the history study, the most important for them to be familiar with, and the most likely to capture their interest. And then awarded a half-credit in Literature. I also limited the writing assignments they had to do related to Literature, so as not to bog them down further. I asked only that they describe the book and answer some questions that demonstrated that they’d actually read and understood the story and its context. Personally, when I was a student I found it frustrating to not feel like I could just get engrossed in a story because I had to be prepared for the test or to write a detailed literary analysis; so I decided that one literary analysis paper during their high school career would be enough, and other than that I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to enjoy the stories.

Wondering what we read? Here are the lists that we’ve chosen from – for each student, the selections have been a little different, and each student only read (or will read) a small number of titles from the list:

Brit or World Lit

Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
The Cat of Bubastes – G.A. Henty
The Art of War – Sun Tzu
Julius Caesar – William Shakespeare
The Imitation of Christ – Thomas a Kempis
Here I Stand – a biography of Martin Luther – Roland Bainton
Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Hiding Place – Corrie ten Boom
Bridge to the Sun – Gwen Terasaki
Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Eric Liddell: Pure Gold – David McCasland
Animal Farm – George Orwell
1984 – George Orwell
The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis
Ivanhoe – Sir Walter Scott
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
The Lord of the Rings trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
Dracula – Bram Stoker
Around the World in Eighty Days – Jules Verne

American Lit

The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Narrative of the Life of David Crockett – David Crockett
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass – Frederick Douglass
Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
Company Aytch – Sam Watkins
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Humorous Stories and Sketches – Mark Twain
Up From Slavery – Booker T. Washington
In His Steps – Charles Sheldon
Mama’s Bank Account – Kathryn Forbes
Christy – Catherine Marshall
Miracle in the Hills – Mary T. Martin Sloop and LeGette Blythe
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Giver – Lois Lowry
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
The Last of the Mohicans – James Fennimore Cooper
The Great Gatsby – F.Scott Fitzgerald

I’m sure I’ve forgotten many excellent possibilities, and I haven’t read all of these either. The difference is that I would actually like to read them all!

How do you include literature in your homeschool, and do your students read eagerly or reluctantly? Leave a comment and let us know!


Kym (34 Posts)

Kym is in the middle of her 17th year of homeschooling her four kids, two of whom have graduated. She and her husband of 27 years are Canadians transplanted to Maryland. Kym loves coffee, history, and homeschooling, and you can join her for coffee break at her blog, Homeschool Coffee Break.

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  1. says

    Mostly I tend to do a lot of reading aloud, listening to book on CD with my boys and taking turns reading pages with my very reluctant reader; thankfully we’ve got another year to go before high school so I am hoping to be ale to turn more of it over to him as he gains confidence in his reading.

    • says

      We’ve made use of books on CD to take a bit of pressure off the reluctant readers too. I found that following along in the book while listening to the audio helped a lot! Good thinking!

    • says

      That was a huge factor in my oldest son being willing to take on Notgrass – knocking off 3 credits with one course. Thankfully, we all enjoyed the study too!

  2. says

    I have a very reluctant reader and he will begin high school next year. I’ve pinned this post to use as a resource when planning next year’s curriculum. Thank you!

  3. Dawn says

    I’m not sure if I’d call my eldest daughter a reluctant reader because she does love to read, but she is v-e-r-y s-l-o-w!!! Everything is slow. It takes her forever to get anything done. But when she is done, it is done well. We changed to Notgrass last year. I’m glad to see how you modified the program. Keeping up with a special project every week on top of in-depth Eanglish and History was overwhelming. Glad to hear we are not alone!

    • says

      That’s a good description of my daughter too. She does like to read, and she’s a good reader, but she reads SLOWLY. I had originally planned to have her do almost all the novels, since she likes reading, but soon realized we didn’t have that kind of time! LOL

  4. Ashlee Garcia says

    I teach 10th grade English, and their favorite read by far is Of Mice and Men, also by John Steinbeck. It’s short and presents a lot of ideas about life, moral dilemmas, and dreams/goals. We do it every year, and after teaching it so long, I still find things that I didn’t before. I recommend adding it to the list, which is already fantastic, but this book is one of my favorites, and I’ve seen the students gravitate towards it more than anything else we teach.

  5. says

    I’m always eager to look at lists like these, especially since my oldest is starting high school next year and I’ve started gathering up her curriculum. Our state (TN) requires a literature component incorporated into the English 9, 10, 11, 12 classes.
    The Giver seems like the odd duck on your American Lit list, being the lone science fiction book amongst historical fiction. It’s the story of a young boy coming of age in his futuristic, dystopian society. It’s an excellent book that makes you think, and a classic, being a Newbery Medal winner, but not historical fiction.
    Another historical fiction classic I would add to your American Lit list is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the poignant coming-of-age story of girl growing up in the slums of turn-of-the-20th-century Brooklyn.

    • says

      Yes, The Giver is a bit different – it comes from the Notgrass list as the final novel in the American history study, when the focus of the study shifts to what the future may hold. Animal Farm is the similar futuristic novel from the Notgrass World HIstory study. (1984 is my own addition to the list) In the context of the studies, I think those are both fitting choices for the student to consider an author’s vision of a possible future.

      A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an excellent addition to the list as well – thanks for suggesting that!

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