Out with the Old~In with the New..

Or Not?

Think About it:

Why do we teach the classics?

Why won't students read them?


Which would YOU rather read?

• The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help. That way even if you sniffle a little they won't hear you. If anybody knows that you are crying, they'll start talking about it and soon it'll be your turn to get beat up when the lights go out. (1) • Walter Dean Meyers, Monster

• In the days when the spinning wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses-and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread-lace, had their toy spinning wheels of polished oak-there might be seen in districts far away among the lanes or deep in the bosom of the hills, certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny country folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race.( 1) • George Eliot, Silas Marner

It's Not Classic v. YA ~ It's Classic + YA

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How can we pair them?

  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Plot Structure
  • Topics
  • Literary Concepts

Pair Classics with YA Counterparts

1. Classic Novel: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Great YA Pairing: Monster by Walter Dean Myers or Black and White by Paul Volponi

I love teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. How neat would it be to pair it with Monster or Black and White? Students would be able to look at racial relations as they exist today. Both of these YA books incorporate justice and law, so there would be many parallels!

2. Classic Text: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Great YA Pairing: The Fault in our Stars by John Green

In Shakespeare’s classic romance/tragedy, the lovers are torn apart — or, “star-cross’d,” to use the play’s phase—by the feud between their families, the Montagues and Capulets of Verona, Italy. In John Green’s bestselling novel — the movie version of which is set to hit theaters in early June — the lovers are torn apart by cancer.

Both Hazel and Augustus have had experiences with the c-word, but Hazel — whose thyroid cancer has spread to her lungs — is the “grenade” in the relationship, threatening to explode at any moment, and break Augustus’s heart. The novel, which takes its title from another Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar, continues in the tradition inaugurated by Romeo and Juliet, illustrating love’s ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

3.Classic Novel: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Great YA Pairing: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

If you haven’t already jumped on the Hunger Games bandwagon, now’s the time. Collins’ bestselling trilogy pays tribute to Lord of the Flies with its story about a world in which teenagers have to fight each other to the death to survive. Just as in Golding’s classic, the experience proves humanizing for some, while others slide all too easily into kill-or-be-killed mode.

4. Classic Novel: 1984 by George Orwell

Great YA Pairing: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent is a much easier read than 1984. That being said Divergent also gives a more familiar point of view to the student, seeing as it addresses issues every teenager goes through, such as questions in identity, self worth, loneliness, boys/girls. 1984 is somewhat harder for students to relate to, it's written from an adult's standpoint, and it's based on a different time (WWII era). While these books are to encourage critical thinking and non-conformity, they also address every person's fear of being alone. Tris's Character in Divergent completely compliments 1984's Winston, who feels alone in a world of fear and pain.

5. Classic Novel: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

Great YA Pairing: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me is a deeply intertextual book. That means When You Reach Me often refers to other books and depends upon those other books to help it make meaning – kind of like a book having a conversation with other books.

In this case, the book that's most woven into the fabric of When You Reach Me is Madeline L'Engle's young adult fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time. Stead's' heroine, Miranda, carries a copy of A Wrinkle in Time around with her and closely relates to the protagonist of that novel, Meg.

Classic Novels Paired by Theme

1. Dystopian Themes

Upper Elementary

  • The Giver
  • The City of Ember

Middle/High School

  • Fahrenheit 451
  • 1984
  • Animal Farm
  • Brave New World
  • Lord of the Flies

2. Coming of Age

Upper Elementary

  • Little Women
  • The Yearling
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • Sign of the Beaver
  • Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl

Middle/High School

  • The Outsiders
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

3. The Hero's Journey

Upper Elementary

  • Wizard of Oz
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
  • The Princess Bride
  • A Wrinkle in Time

Middle/High School

  • The Odyssey
  • The Hobbit
  • Adventure's of Tom Sawyer
  • The Alchemist
  • Into the Wild
  • Grapes of Wrath

So... How do we Get them Interested?

21st Century Learners Need 21st Century Tools

book trailers!

The Count of Monte Cristo Book Trailer 2
The Witch of Blackbird Pond -- Book Trailer

Google Lit Trips

The short version is simple. Google Lit Trips are free downloadable files that mark the journeys of characters from famous literature on the surface of Google Earth. At each location along the journey there are place marks with pop-up windows containing a variety of resources including relevant media, thought provoking discussion starters, and links to supplementary information about “real world” references made in that particular portion of the story.

The focus is on creating engaging and relevant literary experiences for students. I like to say Google Lit Trips “3-dimensionalize” the reading experience by placing readers “inside the story” traveling alongside the characters; looking through the windshield of that old jalopy in The Grapes of Wrath or waddling alongside Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s duckling family in Make Way for Ducklings.”


free e-books

There are a few services on the Internet where teachers and students can find classic literature titles available as free downloads. These ebooks can be downloaded onto most computers and devices in the form of pdf files and epubs. Some of these ebooks can even be downloaded to Kindle and mobile apps for the iPad, Android and Window tablet platforms.

Exemplar Texts