25 Classics All Kids Should Read Before They Go to College

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ReadingMy daughter sticks an invisible dagger in my heart every time she declares that she doesn’t like to read. I have no idea how it happened. When I was holed up in the house all big and bulky during my pregnancy, I ate books. Classic books, trash lit, how-to guides, anything I could get my hands on.

When she was a baby, even up until she was a fourth, maybe fifth grader, we read together every night. She loved the Junie B. Jones series, and I even passed down books I used to adore when I was a budding gal like her, like my Sweet Valley High and Fabulous Five collections. In mint condition, if I do say so myself.

Alas, the love of the written word just hasn’t been passed on to Young Harris (insert long, baleful moan from her writer/editor mother). That she can recite every word to “We Found Love” but gives me a long, blank stare when I quote a line from Charles Dickens, even A Christmas Story, makes me feel like I failed the child.

I don’t think her school is helping the situation, either. I remember reading books together as a class and discussing them and that was back in the ancient 80s and 90s. Not once, ever, never, has that child come home with anything that she was instructed to read chapter by chapter and be prepared to talk about the next day. I’m glad it’s her last year at this school and keeping my fingers crossed for the high school she’s gearing up to go to.

Ever the drum major for education — and the do-it-yourself go-getter — I stopped by the library and brought home Little Women, thinking maybe, just maybe if I sold it hard enough, it would resonate with her like it did with me at that age. Unfortunately, it became a door stop, a lap desk when she needed something to bear on when she was writing, I think it even held a bum window open at one point. Getting her to actually read it was like pulling teeth; getting her to enjoy it proved completely impossible.

But like it or not, there are just some books that she has to, has to, has to read before she leaves my house, one way or another. I don’t care if she downloads them to her iPod and relishes in the convenience of audio books. It ain’t reading, but hey — I’ll take it. Heck, I think there are certain classics that all kids need to have scratched off their lists before they can call themselves ready to graduate:

25. Great Expectations Charles Dickens

24. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

23. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

22. Call of the Wild by Jack London

21. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

20. Art of War by Sun Tzu

19. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

18. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

17. Something, anything by Edgar Allan Poe

16. Fences by August Wilson

15. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

14. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

13. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

12. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

11. The Bible (you don’t have to believe in its teachings to glean historical and sociological perspective from it, so calm down)

10. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

9. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

8. Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

6. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

5. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

4. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

3. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

2. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

What would you add to the list of must-reads for well-rounded kids?


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college, activities, school

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nonmember avatar Jay

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, 184 and Animal Farm by George Orwell, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Fear and Loathing is Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

acrog... acrogodess

I've read books 24, 22, 18, 17, 11, 6, and 2. Books I feel were left off the list that should be on it are : Tom Sawyer, Fahrenheit 451, Catch 22, and Dante's Inferno

nonmember avatar Amber

On the Road (kerouac) and Lolita (nobokov)

Badge83 Badge83

I'm proud to say I've read all the listed titles. Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky), The Night Trilogy (Weisel), anything by Euripides or Aeschylus, and as a pp suggested, Dante's Divine Comedy. However, I would further like to see students actually UTILIZE the lessons taught in an English class - spell things out correctly! Use proper grammar!! I am so sick of the crazy texting shorthand!!!

Melissa Ruel

Night and A Separate Piece, both great Holocaust stories.

Em Chappell-Root

South Carolina College Preparatory track, had to read all of those but the Art of War by the 9th grade. And everyone puts down our education system.

orang... orangetree

Bless Me Ultima, Diary of Anne Frank, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Night, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, As I Lay Dying, My Antonia, Dracula, Watership Down, Pygmalion, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Gone With the Wind, Edith Hamilton's Mythology, Pride and Prejudice, Black Elk Speaks, Hamlet, Red Badge of Courage, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, the Jungle, Heart of Darkness, Out of Africa

butte... butterflymkm

I love to read and have read everything on this list but I gotta say..I just read "the great gatsby" again for an ethical lit class and it is THE MOST dry boring book ever written. It's like one long adjective.

Matthew McCrady

I'd exchange Hamlet for Romeo and Juliet. Kids relate better to the star-crossed lovers, despite Hamlet's reputation as a moody adolescent. Plus there are important lessons in Romeo and Juliet about adolescent crushes, like don't kill yourself over a girl or boy. And rather than Sun Tzu, if you must have an important philosophical work on the list, Machiavelli's "Prince" will inspire more debate than "The Art of War." Plato's "Republic" is also important for its influence on western literature and culture. I consider it essential reading.

nonmember avatar Julie

Ack, I couldn't disagree more. I had tried and failed to read a number of these books while at high-school and I was/am an avid, voracious reader, who went on to major in English Lit at university and now writes for fun and profit. But these books are heavy, the language seems difficult to modern ears and most of them will do NOTHING to encourage a reluctant reader that reading is a worthwhile pastime.

They are all great, great books and should probably be on a list for people in the 20s, who need to fight the intellectual vacuum that threatens to envelope most people after college. But teenagers? Let them read whatever lights their fire.

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