Particularly in the last three years, following Michael Gove’s decision to axe American literature from the GCSE English reading list, I’ve paid close attention to the types of literature I’ve been exposed to in school. Here’s all the books I’ve studied from year six to year twelve:
These books are great and generate a lot of discussion. This year, I’ve really enjoyed Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I don’t mean to say these texts aren’t worthy of studying – but classrooms would hugely benefit from more diverse and current books, especially from this century. This is already happening, to a certain extent – for example, with Noughts and Crosses.
I think YA is more likely to make an impact on a student’s life. The YA section in a bookstore is where you’ll find some of the most influential and life-changing reads, as well as a plethora of diverse stories. So much of what I read in these categories spark important discussions.
In my opinion, the current syllabuses fail to do so – of course, there’s discussion of race and patriarchy, but often in the context of eras gone by. As important as historical literature is, it’s also integral to make syllabuses inclusive of books that deal with issues in the current state of the world.
It’s also so vital children see themselves represented. I’m yet to find literature by authors of any Asian origin on a syllabus, and LGBT* representation is shockingly sparse. The ratio of black and female authors to white and male authors is also far from equal on reading lists.
So, what would I put on the curriculum?
A while ago, I wrote a post based on a Twitter discussion, about what books others would like to see in school. I wanted to revisit this idea, using some of my recent reads! Without further ado, here’s a shortlist of books I’d give students, if I had the power:
GCSE and A Level: If You Could Be Mine is a beautifully written book about two girls in Iran, who have feelings for one another but can’t express it publicly. It would be awesome to see an Iranian author on the syllabus, and the story is an emotional one with lots of themes to be talked about in class, from sexuality and religion to society and tradition.
Middle Grade Reading: George would be a fantastic book to discuss with younger pupils. Not only is it a really fun, heartwarming read – it’s also the perfect way to start a discussion about gender with children and promote tolerance of trans kids. Trans children are more likely to feel alienated and be victims of bullying in school: wouldn’t it be incredible for them to see themselves in the books they read?
A Level: The Bunker Diary is controversial, to say the least, and it’s incredibly hard hitting. That’s why I hesitated to put this on the list. But I think it would be fascinating to analyse for students who would feel comfortable talking about its themes. In particular, the narrative is a really interesting point; it’s constantly evolving and switching as the protagonist spends longer in the bunker.
GCSE: Especially on the GCSE curriculum, opportunity to talk about current events is very limited. Police brutality and racism in America is a really important topic to engage students in so they’re aware and informed. The Hate U Give is perfect for this. It’s also a fantastic read that’s hard to put down.
GCSE and A Level: Wide Awake is definitely underrated and I’m always eager to recommend David Levithan! The current state of the US is pretty depressing, but this book explores the idea of a gay Jewish president being elected, and the diverse celebration surrounding his campaign. It’s brilliant! David Levithan’s writing is absolutely beautiful and it would be so wonderful for it to be reflected on in classrooms.
Middle Grade Reading: Wonder has to be on this list! I’m pretty sure some primary schools have already used this book as a talking point. Wonder is written from multiple perspectives and follows Auggie as he starts mainstream school with a facial deformity. This book is so heartwarming and has already inspired so many young people to promote kindness.
What books would you put on the curriculum?