10 Must Read Classics for High School

Looking for the “must-read classics” you should be including on your high schooler's reading list? Here's a list to get you started.



I thought I was well-read. 


English/language arts had always been my favorite subject. And I was the kid who was never without a book. From the time I was tiny, my mom read aloud to me. And, as soon as I could read independently- about the age of four- I picked up books and never looked back.


In school, I was always the student that would finish the required reading first. And then I pulled out my own reading-for-fun book and kept going. I frequently asked my English teacher for reading recommendations in high school. And I liked- and still do like- to read big, thick, meaty books.


So, I thought I was fairly well-read.


But, when my oldest children were approaching middle school, I came across an article about must-read classics for high schoolers. I realized that there were a number I had never read. 

How could this happen?! 


Well, I realized later that the very conservative curriculum in my private Christian school was a little, shall we say, “selective” about the books we were assigned. I quickly set about to remedy the situation. Some of those “classics” turned out to be books I was glad I had skipped over in high school. But there were a few that stuck, and I’ve tried to bring them to my own kids to read as they’ve headed into high school.


I have strong feelings about censorship of books that I could probably write long posts about. Although here I'll give my shortened opinion. I think it's a great idea to have high schoolers read broadly. And, that can often mean reading books with different perspectives than our own. Why? Because that gives us the opportunity while our kids are at home and in the habit of having conversations with us about the books they read to discuss those books. And book discussions can bring up fictional situations that allow us to have these conversations from a “safe” viewpoint.
  

For example, The Lord of the Flies, listed below, has multiple instances of people choosing extreme violence. It gets pretty dark. In reading that book, however, you can have the opportunity of discussing those choices with your kids. You can talk about why the characters make the choices they do, whether the kids think the scenarios are realistic, and how things could be different. Reading that book that is somewhat disturbing can create the possibility of having good conversations and building your kids' critical thinking skills.

must-read classics for high school

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Just a disclaimer here…any list of must-read books for high school depends partly on what you’re hoping to accomplish through your literature selections. Do you want a focus on British literature, American literature, Shakespeare? Do you want a variety, or are you focusing on a specific theme? 

The books in this post are a mixed bag, chosen more because I think they have a strong message, interesting themes, and great opportunities for discussion-which is one of the greatest parts of reading great books. In addition to some basic information about the book, I've suggested some ways in which you could use the book as a part of homeschooling. 

About the Book


This classic is told in the first person from the viewpoint of Scout, a young girl whose father- a lawyer-is defending a black man charged with raping a white woman. It’s a coming of age story in the midst of the racism of a small town. It’s moving and beautiful, and sometimes really harsh and sad as well. 


Suggestions for Teaching


This is a great book to introduce in an American Literature course. It's written by a well-known American writer-Harper Lee. It's also a good fictional book to read in studying the Jim Crow era of the American South. 

1984 by George Orwell


About the Book


Although the real 1984 has come and gone, this dystopian novel is a frightening look at a future where thinking for yourself can be an awful thing. It’s a warning story. I’ll give a spoiler that it’s dark with a pretty dark ending. But there are lots of good talking points in this book.


Suggestions for Teaching


George Orwell is the pseudonym of British author Eric Arthur Blair. This book is often included in a British literature course. Orwell was born in India in 1903. His father was a British official in the Indian Civil service, so he grew up seeing the effects of colonization in the country. As a result, this would also be an interesting book to introduce the conversation of how British colonialism affected George Orwell. He has some short stories and another novel-Animal Farm-that also help readers to get a glimpse about this.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens


About the Book


Charles Dickens can get a little wordy. But this is a great book for its historical significance as well as for the story. Set during the French Revolution, it’s a tale of adventure, daring, intrigue, love, and sacrifice.


Suggestions for Teaching


This book is frequently included in a British Literature course because of the prominence of British author Charles Dickens. You could do an entire unit study of his books, ranging from the novella, A Christmas Carol, to some of the large classics like this one or David Copperfield. Historically, this book is set during the French Revolution. So, it would be a good accompaniment to studying that period in a world history class.



The Adventures of Tom Sawyer/ The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain


About the Books


Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are two of Mark Twain’s iconic American boys. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is sometimes suggested for middle school. And The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is recommended for high school, the dialect in both can cause a problem for readers, so I think high school is appropriate for both. Tom Sawyer is a little more light-hearted, and Huckleberry Finn deals a little more heavily with the topic of racism and the injustices of slavery in the South.



Suggestions for Teaching


Mark Twain is a well-known American author. In addition to these two novels, he has some great humorous, satirical short stories. His works make a great addition to an American literature course. And his works provide opportunity to discuss heavier subject like racism using more humorous literary works.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare


About the Book


Romeo and Juliet is usually a good choice for a high school introduction to Shakespeare. It’s well-known. They’ve likely heard about it before, even if they’ve never read it. The No Fear Shakespeare version is one I really like because it gives the original spelling and word structure on one side with modern English on the other. (By the way, you definitely don’t need to wait until high school to introduce kids to Shakespeare. This post is all about introducing Shakespeare to your younger kids.)




Suggestions for Teaching


When reading Shakespeare with kids of any age, the idea is to make it very accessible. The No Fear Shakespeare series helps with that. And if you've never read Shakespeare with your kids when they were younger, I suggest reading E. Nesbitt's storybook adaptation to give them an overview of the story. You can read it online here.  Then, as students are reading the play, take some time to read it aloud with each of you- and other kids-taking different parts. Because it's written as a play, it's meant to be read this way. I also recommend watching an adaptation after students have finished the book. This is a good older version.


The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom


About the Book


The Hiding Place is a memoir by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie was a Dutch woman whose family hid Jews during the Holocaust. She and her family were betrayed and sent to concentration camps. This is a story full of faith, love, sacrifice, and even forgiveness in the face of unspeakable cruelty.



Suggestions for Teaching


This is a great book to add to a study of the Holocaust. Corrie Ten Boom wasn't Jewish. But she was part of a Christian Dutch family that helped to hide Jews. So, while I would make sure to also include books from a Jewish perspective, I think this is one that can demonstrate how the Holocaust affected Jewish allies as well. This book isn't fiction. It's true. And that makes it all the more compelling when reading about this horrific event in from history.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte


About the Book



This has been one of my favorite classics of all time. Admittedly, your girls may enjoy it more than the guys. But it’s an excellent example of 19th century British literature and easier to read than some of the others, in my opinion. It’s a love story-of course- but there’s much more to it than that.




Suggestions for Teaching


As I mentioned above, this is a book that girls will likely relate to more. If you want to use it as part of a British Literature course, though, you could ask guys to think about how the story might be different if it was the story of a boy growing up at the time. Or how the love/relationship part of the story might look from Mr. Rochester's perspective instead of Jane's.

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan


About the Book


Many Christian theologians consider this allegory by John Bunyan second only to the Bible in its importance to Christians and the Christian walk through the ages. It follows the Christian on his journey to the Celestial City, allegorically portraying the life of a Christian from salvation to Heaven. In my 10 Must-Read Classics for Upper Elementary, I recommended Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen L. Taylor. It’s an adaptation for kids and will greatly help your high schooler to understand the real thing later.


Teaching Suggestions


Some students have more trouble with allegory than others. For that reason, I suggest taking time to discuss the symbols in the story as you read through the book. Historically, this is a good book to read when you are discussions, the Puritans of England and their thoughts and belief systems. Author John Bunyan was a Puritan pastor. And his beliefs and expression of them caused him to be thrown in jail, where the book was written.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis


About the Book


Mere Christianity is one of Lewis’ nonfiction works. It’s a great look at Christian doctrine and one that high school students should have the opportunity to read. Home School Adventure Co. has a great journal that you can use to accompany a reading of Mere Christianity.


Teaching Suggestions


If you have read any of Lewis's fiction with your kids-The Chronicles of Narnia for younger kids or the space trilogy for older ones-this is a great addition to help readers glimpse Lewis's beliefs and perspectives on faith. Lewis came to faith as an adult and a former atheist. So, I find his thoughts on faith and our relationship with God to make for some great discussion with the older kids.


Lord of the Flies by William Golding


About the Book



Although I don’t always recommend much the darker classic literature that is sometimes on a high school reading list, this is one I think worthwhile. It’s definitely dark. It’s the story of a plane of boys from a boys school who are crashed and left to survive with no adults. The themes and glimpse of human nature are worth reading and discussing, even though the story is, admittedly, dark and sometimes disturbing.








Suggestions for Teaching


William Golding was a British author. And Lord of the Flies is often included in a British Literature course. This book, as I mentioned above, has so many great opportunities for discussion. It also has some interesting character development, and it offers a good opportunity to teach about plot, characters, and themes.


must-read classics for high school


The high school years are a great time to introduce literature that allows for discussion of different worldviews. Some of these recommendations are a good way to do that. And some are just books your student needs to be well-read and able to discuss good literature.


If you love teaching with great literature, you can pick up a free e-book of literature unit studies here. Most of these are for younger kids, so if you only have high schoolers, there may not be many here for you, but please don't hesitate to pass the link along.

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