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Good Books for Grades 7-12


Q. Do you have a list of suggested books for a really good literary education for the secondary student?


Yes, I do, and I love sharing this list, which I've developed over many years. Yes, I've read all of these, and my older children have read most of them, too:


* = for reluctant readers

*** = for advanced readers



Adventure and Coping Skills


Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling

*** Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott

Don Quixote of La Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes

Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana

The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper

A Lantern in Her Hand, Bess Streeter Aldrich

Heidi, Johanna Spyri

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Kate Wiggin

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maude Montgomery

Pollyanna, Eleanor Porter

The Railway Children, E. Nesbit

The Ramsay Scallop, Frances Temple



All-Around Great (most of these are ***)


The Holy Bible

The Iliad and The Odyssey (abridged version, perhaps?), Homer

The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer

A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, The Old Curiosity Shop, David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls,

Ernest Hemingway

The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner

The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Jane Austen

Madame Bovary, Gustav Flaubert

The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Paradise Lost, John Milton

The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri

War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

The Return of the Native, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the

Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Prince and the Pauper, Mark Twain

Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson

Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe

Billy Budd and Moby Dick, Herman Melville

O Pioneers!, My Antonia, Death Comes for the Archbishop, One of Ours,

Willa Cather

The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck

The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck

Rabbit, Run, John Updike







The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan, E.B. White

Bambi, Felix Salten

Black Beauty, Anna Sewell

Treasury for Children, collected animal stories of James Herriot

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit et. al.)

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Rudyard Kipling (and other stories from The Jungle Book)

Old Yeller, Fred Gipson

The Yearling, Marjorie Rawlings

Lassie series, Eric Knight or modern versions

Big Red series, Jim Kjelgaard

My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, Green Grass of Wyoming, Mary O'Hara

The Call of the Wild, White Fang, Jack London.

Winnie the Pooh stories, A.A. Milne

The Story of Dr. Dolittle, Hugh Lofting

Misty of Chicoteague, King of the Wind, Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague, Born to Trot, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, Black Gold, Stormy, Misty's Foal, and Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West, all by Marguerite Henry

Black Stallion series, Walter Farley

The Incredible Journey, Sheila Burnford

Smoky the Cow Horse, Will James

Rabbit Hill, Robert Lawson

Summer of the Monkeys and Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls

* Runaway Ralph series, Cousin Marky and Other Disasters, Beverly Cleary

* The Warm Place, Nancy Farmer (baby giraffe in Africa)





Biography Men


Any American president, but at minimum George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,

Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S Truman

Daniel Boone, James Daugherty

Thomas Alva Edison, great American inventor

Orville and Wilbur Wright, inventors of the first powered flight

Charles Lindbergh, first to fly over the Atlantic Ocean

Galileo Galilei, broke the code of the stars, invented modern science

Leonardo da Vinci, Italian artist/inventor, perhaps greatest genius ever lived

Michelangelo, Italian painter, perhaps greatest painter ever lived

Pablo Picasso, greatest 20th Century artist?

Johann Sebastian Bach, German composer

Ludwig von Beethoven, German composer

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer

Sir William Blackstone, great British lawyer and writer

William Ewart Gladstone, British leader

Oliver Wendell Holmes, great judge and thinker

Winston Churchill, greatest British leader ever?

Geronimo, courageous Native American warrior

Dr. Martin Luther King, great American black leader

George and Ira Gershwin, great American composer-lyricist brothers

Albert Einstein, biggest brain ever?



Biography Women


Queen Esther, Biblical queen

Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt

Mary, Queen of Scots

Joan of Arc

Marie Antoinette

Lady Godiva

Queen Elizabeth

Catherine the Great of Russia

Madame de Pompadour, the woman behind Louis XV

Josephine, Empress of France and wife of Napoleon

Mata Hari

Sacagawea, guide for Lewis and Clark

Queen Victoria, possibly greatest queen of all time

Jane Addams, American social reformer

Clara Barton, ground-breaking nurse

Rachel Carson, environmentalist

George Sand, great female French short-story writer, "love conquers all"

Isadora Duncan, great dancer

Amelia Earhart, aviatrix

Martha Graham, great dancer

Grandma Moses, painter

Billie Jean King, ground-breaking athlete/tennis star

Clare Boothe Luce, diplomat, politician

Margaret Mead, anthropologist

Florence Nightingale, great nurse, Lonely Crusader, Cecil Woodham-Smith

Sandra Day O'Connor, U.S. Supreme Court justice

Georgia O'Keeffe, artist

Sojourner Truth, suffragette, abolitionist

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, great athlete

The Unsinkable Molly Brown, heroine of Titanic, Denver philanthropist)

Sophie Germain, a founder of mathematical physics, expert on elastics

Hetty Green, brilliant financier, "The Witch of Wall Street"

Margaret Knight, inventor of the grocery bag and heavy machinery

Belle Starr, female outlaw

Helen Keller, multiply handicapped woman becomes champion overcomer





Person vs. person:

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

Person vs. society:

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

1984, Animal Farm, George Orwell

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, Anthem, Ayn Rand

Person vs. self:

Shane, Jack Schaefer

Person vs. nature:

My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George.

The Red Pony, John Steinbeck

Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O'Dell



Mayflower Compact

Pamphlet, Common Sense, Thomas Paine

Declaration of Independence

Federalist Papers, 1787-88, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay

U.S. Constitution, 1787

Emancipation Proclamation, 1863

U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, 1954

Robert's Rules of Order (parliamentary procedure)





The Clouds, Aristophanes

Oedipus the King, Antigone, Sophocles

Electra, Euripides

Our Town, Thornton Wilder

Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller

Pygmalion, Arms and the Man, George Bernard Shaw

Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Julius Caeser, Macbeth, Hamlet, William Shakespeare

A Doll's House, Peer Gynt, Henrik Ibsen





Aesop's (over 100 with neat drawings by Alexander Calder in $3.50 paperback: "Fables of Aesop," according to Sir Roger L'Estrange, New York: Dover Publications, 1967).

"The Gorgon's Head," "The Three Golden Apples," Nathaniel Hawthorne.


Fairy Tales


The Little Mermaid, The Nightingale, The Little Match Girl, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, Hans Christian Andersen

Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, Bluebeard, French writer

Charles Perrault

Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Tom Thumb, Rapunzel, and others of the more than 200 tales written by German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi

The Rose and the Ring, William Makepeace Thackeray

The Selfish Giant, Oscar Wilde

Rootbaga Stories, Carl Sandburg





Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; The Horse and His Boy; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis

The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

Loretta and the Little Fairy, Gerda Marie Scheidl




Figures of Speech / Vocabulary Development


Crossword puzzles

Word play books

Slang (several slang dictionaries available)

Foreign phrases

Cliches (several trade books available)

Symbolism (dictionaries of literary symbols exist)

Proverbs (Biblical book)

Poor Richard's Almanack, Benjamin Franklin





The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White

The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Robert Browning

The Arabian Nights, or The Book of the 1001 Nights, told by Scheherazade

Mules and Men (African-American tales), Zora Neale Hurston

William Tell, Swiss hero

Robin Hood

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

"The Boy Who Kept His Finger in the Dike," Holland

"The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story," "How Brer Rabbit Was Too Sharp for Brer Fox," and others, from Uncle Remus, His Songs and Sayings, Joel Chandler Harris

American tall tales: Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, Pecos Bill, etc.

"Jackalope" bragging and other folklore by Nebraskan Roger Welsch, the "Liar from Dannebrog,"The Treasury of Nebraska Folklore and Uncle Smoke Stories




Goodbye, Mr. Chips, James Hilton (beloved English schoolteacher)

The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom (Dutch lady saves 700 Jews from the Holocaust and survives concentration camp)

Number the Stars, Lois Lowry (fictional account of how the Danes saved 90% of their country's Jews from the Nazis)

Biographies of American military geniuses such as George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, George S. Patton, and Jeremiah Denton (the latter blinked out "S O S" and "torture" in Morse code while being interrogated as a POW by the Viet Cong, encouraging and inspiring other Americans to rescue him)

Biographies of excellent achievers who are non-athletes and non-politicians (kids get enough about them as it is!) such as singer Ella Fitzgerald, zillionaire Warren Buffett, the story of the Hallmark Cards founder, photographer Margaret Bourke White, etc.



Historical Novel


Ben-Hur, Lew Wallace

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Drums Along the Mohawk, Walter D. Edmonds

Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes

Little House on the Prairie (and eight others), Laura Ingalls Wilder

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

The Slave Dancer, Paula Fox

Across Five Aprils, Irene Hunt

The Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, John Steinbeck

A Night to Remember, Walter Lord (the sinking of the Titanic)

The Bridges of Toko-Ri, James A. Michener (U.S. Navy during WW II)

The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Pierre Boulle (Allied POWs in Japan)

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexsandr Solhenitsyn

* The Midwife's Apprentice, Karen Cushman





The Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Black Cat, Edgar Allan Poe

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

* The Ghost of Whispering Rock, Nancy Kay Robinson

* Shark Shock, Donna Jo Napoli



Human Relations


*** The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

*** Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

Uncle Wiggly, Howard Garis

* The Shorty Society, Sheri Cooper Sinykin

* Colt, Nancy Springer

* A Girl's Best Friend, Harriet May Savitz

* The Toilet Paper Tigers, Gordon Korman

* How to Be Cool in the Third Grade, Betsy Duffey

* Fig Pudding, Ralph Fletcher





* Top Secret, John Reynolds Gardiner

* Mr. Popper's Penguins, Richard and Florence Atwater

* The Extraordinary Adventures of an Ordinary Hat, Wolfram Hanel

Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

The Big Bazoohley, Peter Carey

* The Marvin Redpost series

* The Molesons series

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, and Math Curse,

Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

With All Disrespect, Calvin Trillin

Anything by Erma Bombeck

Quotations from Will Rogers

Quotations from W.C. Fields

Quotations from H.L. Mencken

Contemporary cartoon books, such as The Far Side

Keep a scrapbook of newspaper comic strips and analyze what makes them funny.






Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad

Black Elk Speaks, John G. Neihardt (25 chapters; easy to take excerpts; Nebraska

poet laureate and perhaps best interpreter of Native American culture).

The Light in the Forest, Conrad Richter (white boy raised by Indians)

* Guests, Michael Dorris

The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu (Japanese woman wrote what some think

is the world's oldest novel; died in Kyoto in about 1025).

A Raisin in the Sun, first Broadway play by a black woman playwright, Lorraine Hansberry.

Dragonwings, Laurence Yep

Jewish folk tales by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

Biography, Mahatma Gandhi.

Ramayana and Mahabharata, epic poems of India

Dhammapada, the Path of Virtue, Buddha

Poem for the inauguration of President Clinton, Maya Angelou.

Quotes from Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois

Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington

Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton

Native Son, Richard Wright

Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin

The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Gifted Hands, Ben Carson, M.D. (disadvantaged black boy becomes leading doctor in the

separation of Siamese twins)

Optimist's Daughter, One Writer's Beginnings, Eudora Welty

Middlemarch, George Eliot

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, Lillian Schlissel





The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles,

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Father Brown detective stories, G.K. Chesterton

The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Tales of Mystery and Imagination,

Edgar Allan Poe

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

Lord Peter Wimsey stories by Dorothy Sayers

The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, Raymond Chandler

I, the Jury, Kiss Me Deadly, Mickey Spillane

The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett

The Big Four, Agatha Christie

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Original Nancy Drew series, Carolyn Keene

The Hardy Boys series

Mrs. Frisbie and the Rats of NIMH, Robert O'Brien





Greek, Roman, Norse, Celtic, Mayan, Aztec, Native American, Chinese and other cultures

Selections from The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer

Selections from the "mother of all myths," Beowulf (3,000 lines, so use excerpts, please!)






The Black Pearl, Scott O'Dell

Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

A River Runs Through It, And Other Stories, Norman Maclean

Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen

Silent Spring, The Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson





The Republic, Plato

Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, Esther Forbes.

Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, economics and capitalism

Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville, 1830s

Abraham Lincoln, The Backwoods Boy, Horatio Alger

Self-Reliance, 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Expedition of the Donner Party and Its Tragic Fate, Eliza P. Donner Houghton (1840s emigrants to California trapped by treachery, starvation)

Shame of the Cities, Lincoln Steffens (1904 muckracking of political corruption)

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair (1906 expose of meatpacking industry).

The Elements of Style, Strunk and White (the latter is the E.B. White who

wrote Charlotte's Web, etc.), greatest writing manual ever.

A good atlas



Oaths and Prayers


The Lord's Prayer

The Apostle's Creed

The Beatitudes

Wedding vows

Presidential inaugural oath

Boy Scout oath and Boy Scout law

Hippocratic Oath (physicians)





"The Lamb," 'The Tyger," William Blake

Robert Browning

"Don Juan," Lord Byron

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Khan," Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

e.e. cummings

Emily Dickinson

"Death, Be Not Proud," John Donne

The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot

"The Choir Invisible," George Eliot

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The Duel," "Little Boy Blue," Eugene Field

"The Road Not Taken," "Mending Wall," Robert Frost

Edgar Guest

Shakespeare in Harlem, Montage of a Dream Deferred, Langston Hughes

"La Belle Dame sans Merci," and nightengale and Grecian urn odes, John Keats

"If," Rudyard Kipling

Tales of a Wayside Inn, The Song of Hiawatha, The Courtship of Miles Standish, Paul Revere's Ride, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters

"In Flanders Fields," to war dead, John McCrae

"The Metamorphoses," Ovid

The Raven, Edgar Allen Poe

Chicago Poems, Fog, Good Morning, America, Carl Sandburg

"Ozymandias," Percy Bysshe Shelley

A Child's Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson

"The Charge of the Light Brigade," Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"O Captain! My Captain!" Walt Whitman

"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," William Wordsworth

"Sailing to Byzantium," and other poems, William Butler Yeats





Proverbs, book of the Old Testament of the Bible

Leaders in hard times, such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy

American patriots

Famous "sound bites" throughout history

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations

"Meditation," by John Donne

Dorothy Parker

James Thurber





Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand (immortal love story based around a big nose!)

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

Seventeen, Booth Tarkington (humorous account of a boy's first love)





Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift

Babbitt, Main Street, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis.



Science Fiction


Foundation trilogy, I, Robot, Isaac Asimov

The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne

The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells

Slaughter-House Five, Kurt Vonnegut

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle




Short Stories


"The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Ernest Hemingway

"The Devoted Friend," Oscar Wilde

"The Gift of the Magi," O. Henry

Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson

Complete Short Stories, Mark Twain

Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling

Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (first collection of short stories in America;

includes "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleep Hollow"), Washington Irving

A Good Man is Hard to Find, story collection, Flannery O'Connor

48 Saroyan Stories, Love Here Is My Hat, Peace It's Wonderful, collections by William Saroyan



Song Lyrics


Yankee Doodle (American Revolution)

America (My country 'tis of thee), Samuel Smith, 1832

America, the Beautiful (Katharine Lee Bates, inspired by view from Pikes Peak)

Star-Spangled Banner (Francis Scott Key, War of 1812)

Battle Hymn of the Republic, Julia Ward Howe

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (Southern spiritual)

Simple Gifts (American Quakers and Shakers)

Clementine (American Gold Rush)

Oh! Susanna (settling the American West)

Shenandoah (importance of rivers in early America)

She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain (hillbillies)

I've Been Working on the Railroad (How the railroads built America)

Home on the Range (cowboys)

John Brown's Body (Underground Railroad fights slavery)

This Land is Your Land (Woody Guthrie, American folk song, 1940s)

If I Had a Hammer (peace song)

Big Blue Frog (Peter, Paul and Mary song from 1960s, allegory about racial prejudice)





Hamlet's soliloquy, "To be or not to be," Hamlet, Shakespeare

Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, March 23, 1775

Nathan Hale, "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country," before his execution

"The Conscience of the Nation Must Be Roused," Frederick Douglass, 1852

Gettysburg Address, "Fourscore and seven years ago," Abraham Lincoln, 1863

William Jennings Bryan's "cross of gold" speech, 1896

Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech to Congress, asking for declaration of war, 1941

Winston Churchill's "blood, sweat and tears" speech

John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, 1961

Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, 1963




Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan (Christian "journey" in classic form)

Quo Vadis, Henryk Dienkiewicz (conflict between paganism and Christianity in Nero's Rome)

Ben-Hur, Lew Wallace

Jewish folk tales, Isaac Bashevis Singer




Homework: "The Ultimate Reading List" has many of these titles, and is posted on:


You and your child might want to print out one or both of these lists and set a goal of reading even 10% of these by high-school graduation. Note that in yesteryear, students read almost all of these books. They were considered "the canon," or must-reads, of American literary competence, back in the day.


By Susan Darst Williams Reading 14 2008


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