As this semester (and year) comes to a close, I can honestly reflect back and say how much I’ve learned about the interconnectivity of different types of texts and the uses those texts have in the classroom. As educators, we often like to dive head first into a text and truly embrace all that it has to offer as it stands alone. However, so many students find it challenging to embrace texts the same way. That’s where introducing interrelated texts can help. By examining how the ideas of one text bleed into another and even prompt the ideas of other authors, the universality of a theme or an idea becomes more and more prevalent. Without connecting students to that universality, teachers run the risk of students walking away from reading a text without any more insight into the world. And isn’t that the reason we study books? We look at them for all they have to offer. We want to know how to apply those ideas in a modern context and how those ideas have shaped the modern world. Even more so, it differentiates the instruction for students when teachers use shorter texts and texts with visuals as supplements to the master text. Incorporating those texts helps the teacher meet the needs of the individuals within the class. That is always the most i
Brosgol, V. (2014). Anya’s ghost. New York, NY: Square Fish
This graphic novel tells the story of a young girl who falls down a well and meets a ghost, who eventually becomes her spooky best friend. The pair end up experiencing a lot together, especially Anya’s insecurities about herself, her family, and her life. Thematically, this text would be good for lessons on self-acceptance. There was no lexile level available, but based on the content, this graphic novel would best serve eighth or ninth grade classes.
Butler, N. (2011). Pride and prejudice. New York, NY: Marvel Enterprises, Inc.
Nancy Butler’s forte clearly seems to be in recreating Jane Austen’s novels as graphic novel format. This particular remodel of the Austen classic of the same name follows the Bennett family, all five girls, as they navigate the choppy waters of courtship and love. Thematically, this text follows the themes of Austen texts, such as female independence and strength of individuals. Again, no lexile level was available, but Jane Austen’s texts are typically studied in eleventh and twelfth grade.
Moore, A. (2009). V for vendetta. New York, NY: DC Comics.
This graphic novel reflects the more common conception of what a graphic novel is. The main character is a man in a mask whose priority seems to be fighting oppressors through many means, typically violent or outlandish acts. The character stands on the thin line between good and evil as his action seems justified, but his actions are not quite justified in their extremity. This text deals with a lot thematically, like the struggle of individuals to overcome oppression, abuse of power, and the morals of society. These themes are typically discussed in tenth and eleventh grade classes.
Morales, R. (2004). Truth: Red, white, and black. New York, NY: Marvel.
As a branch of the Captain America series, this graphic novels gives the background information on what occurred before Steve Rogers became a candidate for the serum. The idea is that the serum was tested on a group of “subjects,” who just so happened to be African American soldiers. When the serum was completely developed, the “subjects” were gotten rid of, with the exception of one. This text would likely be best for ninth or tenth grade, based on its themes of empowering an individual and facing fears. There was no lexile level available.
Yang, G. L. (2008). American born Chinese. New York, NY: Square Fish.
This graphic novel speaks to a major adolescent theme: fitting in. In the story, three Asian-American boys growing up in America face many challenges as they try to blend in with the world around them. By the end of the graphic novel, it becomes clear that the three boys, while very different, are actually all the same boy dealing with three major parts of being Asian-American. Similarly to Anya’s ghost, this text deals with themes of self acceptance and finding a place. No lexile levels were available.
Spitz, D. (1970). Power and authority: An interpretation of Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.” The Antioch Review, 30, 21-33.
This article is very similar to the article by Thomas et al because of its approach to explaining the power dynamic, as it would be for a group of young boys. However, this article also adds the element of explaining the worldview of power in general. Spitz explains that for the most part, people see power as balanced with unbalanced power arising every once in a while. When the reality is the opposite of the statement. Spitz goes on to explain that it is the human way of thinking to attempt to turn something negative into a positive before actually analyzing it in its full negative capacity. This is especially important when studying the abuse of power because powerful people do not just appear; they come from a place where they are well supported.
Sunderman, W. L. (1999). Reading, living, and loving “Lord of the Flies.” The English Journal, 89, 49-54.
This article is an interesting approach to the theme of power in a text. Sunderman is an educator at a high school, and she wrote about the different ways she attempted to engage the students with the text before reading it with them. To address the component of power within the text, Sunderman did a simulation of the events that transpired in the books and had the students reflect on how they would respond to the events. As Sunderman’s class progressed into reading the novel, not only did the students pick up on the different power struggles, they realized which end of the power struggles they were on based on their reflections from the simulation. By examining the text in this way, the students not only read and make sense of the meaning of power, they also live it.
Thomas, P.L., Mason, Y. Sturgill, E. & Adams, C. (2006). Teaching English in the world: Language we don’t understand: Considering America through words born of ashes. The English Journal, 95, 96-99.
If the words “rigid sense of justice” are not enough to pull a reader in, the words “adolescents have a” right before the first phrase would be. In this short section of an article, the author argues that much of what stems from the abuse of power within The Lord of the Flies and similar texts is the absence of understanding what having power means. Young people do not have the same balanced mind of most adults because they have not yet received all of the information they need to obtain that. It is for that reason that many educators find The Lord of the Flies, a text worth reading. It examines what it means to be a naïve young person and the effects of all that entails.
Wheeler, T. E. (2006). Lessons from the “Lord of the Flies: Protecting students from the internet threats and cyber hate speech. Journal of Internet Law, 10, 3-13.
This article was one of the best that I found because it takes the thematic content of an old text and makes it contemporary in its examination of a “modern theme.” In this article, Wheeler discusses how the power struggles between the characters in the novel came down to the individual interests of each person. Such is the same in the modern power struggle of cyber superiority. Young people are so concerned with being in places of power based on the comments they make, the number of people who agree with them and support them, and the influence they have over others. By discussing the theme through this light, the author makes it possible for students to explore the theme with a more modern understanding of the theme at work.
Wicher, L. (1985). Power and progress: Themes in fiction for a technological age. The English Journal, 74, 64-66
This article is similar to the Wheeler article in its examination of the modern vision of this older text. This article, though, focuses on the component of technology and the role it plays in the power struggles. In modern America, people with innovative ideas are considered more reliable just because of their abilities to create things. This is seen as a way of progress the way of living and life itself. Wicher goes on to discuss how this mentality presents itself in a variety of texts, and how various authors develop the progression of this theme in different ways.
Briggs, J. (2006). Virginia Woolf: An inner life. Thornwood, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
While many people are familiar with the story of Virginia Woolf and the stories she created, not many people know a lot about her inner workings. In this biography, Briggs attempts to get into the mind of Virginia Woolf past the complications of depression and anxiety. Through Woolf’s letters, diaries, and annotations on her own texts, Briggs attempts to draw the mind of the well-known author. Thematically, this biography deals mostly with the processes of construction and finding success in failures. While these are highly relatable themes for secondary students, the lexile level of 1400 makes this text challenging. With some modifications to language and length of certain portions, this text could absolutely be used as an additional resource in the classroom.
Gottfried, M. (2004). Arthur Miller: His life and work. Boston, MA: De Capo Press.
This 500-page biography of Arthur Miller attempts to discuss the extent to which Arthur Miller’s life affected the wide variety of texts that he created. Gottfried begins with the basics of a biography, but eventually moves through Miller’s childhood to the most impactful time in Miller’s life. It is Miller’s role as an American during 1940s and 1950s that goes on to characterize the thematic content and story lines of his works like The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. Quite clearly, this biography is meant to reflect how an author’s life is reflected in his/her works. Thematically, this biography also speaks to the influence of behaviors and patterns of behavior in others on an individual’s psyche. With a lexile level of 1340, this text would be very challenging to present to almost any secondary classroom without extreme complications. However, many excerpts from the biography would be worth bringing into the classroom, especially those that are in context with the current text being studied in class.
Max, D. T. (2013). Every love story is a ghost story: A life of David Foster Wallace. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group
This biography of the contemporary novelist David Foster Wallace is what one might have expected of a biography about Virginia Woolf. Max pieces together the world of Wallace as he struggled to move through his depression and produce stories for audiences to find solace in. Wallace committed suicide at a young age, and many critics have said that more would have been expected of him. Reading this biography, however, makes it clear that what Wallace gave was so impressive considering his state of mind. Thematically, this biography deals with the concepts of living with figurative ghosts and working through mental stress. There was no lexile level available for this text, but the concepts are very relatable for many young learners.
Milford, N. (2001). Savage Beauty: The life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group.
Very few secondary classrooms examine the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay, even though she was the first female Pulitzer Prize winner and is as renowned as F. Scott Fitzgerald in her ability to convey a voice. In addition to these fetes, this biography speaks to Millay’s impact on the minds of her generation and on the people who surrounded her. Milford goes in depth into the relationships of Millay’s youth that impacted her choices the most. Thematically, this biography deals with the impact of choices on a person’s success and the power of family. With a lexile level of 1460 and rather abstract approaches to the thematic content, this bibliography would be hard to bring as a whole into a classroom. However, in studying units on Millay’s most famous poems, portions of the biography that reflect the background of the poems would be great assistive resources.
Wellar, S. (2006). The Bradbury chronicles: The life of Ray Bradbury. New York, NY:
Of all of the biographies examined, this one is probably the most approachable in thematic content and readability. What originally started as a story for a magazine, turned into a full-fledged biography about the great contemporary author. Wellar began his journey into Bradbury by conducting several thorough interviews, the results of which are clearly organized into various “sections” of Bradbury’s mind. From there, he worked through Bradbury’s life with a fine-tooth comb to find the portions that would explain what had not been already thoroughly explained, including the impact of Bradbury’s youth and education on his thought processes in writing. Thematically, the text deals a lot with stories as a reflection of personal experiences. Paired with a lexile level of 930, this biography would be most appropriate in ninth or tenth grade classes, especially when accompanying any of Bradbury’s texts.
Eliot, T. S. (2012). “The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock” The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock and
other observations. Denver, CO: Balefire Publishing.
“The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a poem about an emotionally insecure man who longs for someone he believes is above him in more than one quality. Throughout the poem, the narrator describes his longing for a heated interaction between himself and the one he desires, but eventually he comes to the conclusion that the differences between him and the one he desires are far too great for any interaction at all to occur. The poem is well-liked because of Eliot’s ability to take the reader into the mind of the narrator and keep him/her there with the uses of both an almost stream of conscious style narration and direct allusions to other texts that enhance the narrator’s description of the situation. Thematically, this text deals mainly with the idea of unrequited love and the image of the self brought on by comparing ones self to others. The lexile level for this text was unavailable, but most teachers find it to be a challenging text. For this reason, it would most likely be appropriate for a tenth or eleventh grade classroom.
Ibsen, H. (1992). “A doll’s house” Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
Henrik Ibsen’s play is about the seemingly simple life of a family during the late 1800s. The dynamics of the family start out very normal or average for the time period, but as the play progresses, it becomes clear that the main characters are purposefully given mannerisms that signify them as anything but the average family. Nora is a wife and mother who illegally borrows money from the bank under her father’s name. Her husband is businessman who is very concerned about the appearances of his business rather than his actual successes in the industry. Thematically, the idea of roles and rights comes up throughout Ibsen’s play and remains one of the most clear messages from his text. The lexile level for this text was not available; however, scholastic recommends the book for students between seventh and ninth grade. Content-wise, it would probably be most appropriate in an eighth or ninth grade class.
Plath, S. (2013). Selections from Ariel. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
This collection of poems by Sylvia Plath is great texts to accompany many lessons and topics in a variety of English classrooms. Her poems like “Lady Lazarus,” “Tulips,” and “Daddy” are great for teaching lessons on the impact of word choice and the influence of various literary devices on the establishment of an idea. Her poems also reflect important ideas like the power of people and the inner psyche of humans as a part of the human condition. A lexile level was not available for this text, but it seems to be most appropriate for ninth or tenth grade students both in content and complexity of ideas.
Poe, E. A. (2013). “Ligeia: Short Story” Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada.
What could be more interesting than opium-induced visions of loved ones in a gothic setting and style of writing? The answer is, nothing, especially for high school students. “Ligeia” tells the story of a man who falls for a woman of almost otherworldly beauty. Over the course of his relationship with her, she becomes ill and eventually passes away leaving him in emotional distress. Eventually, he marries again, but his new love is not comparable. During the course of his second relationship, the second wife falls as ill as the first. It is during this time that the narrator admits to being high on drugs for much of his time with the second wife, which may or may not have caused visions. Thematically, the story deals with coping with the self and the desires of the self. Most of Poe’s stories have a lexile levels from about 1200 to 1300. For both the topic and reading level, the text would then be used most appropriately in eleventh or twelfth grade classrooms.
Whitman, W. (2005). Selections from Leaves of grass: First and “death-bed” editions. New
York, NY: Barnes and Noble.
One of the most optimistic collections of poems is Walt Whitman’s Leaves of grass collection. His poems deal mostly with Whitman’s views about the world and everything that makes up the world. Almost all of his poems reflect positively on the experiences that people have living their lives. Particularly his use of descriptive imagery and literary devices to heighten the sensations presented are well-worth examining. No lexile level is available for the selections; however, Whitman has such a wide variety of poems and poem complexities in his collection. At least one or two of the poems in the collection would be appropriate for students from sixth to twelfth grade.
Boyne, J. (2007). The boy in the striped pajamas. New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books.
Set in Berlin Germany during World War II, The boy in the striped pajamas tells the story of a young German boy and his discovery of a friend living inside a concentration camp in the German boy’s backyard. The young boy, Bruno, never realizes that his friend, Schmuel, is a Jewish prisoner of the Nazi regime. The boys’ friendship grows despite the wire fence that represents the political and social issues that separate them. Eventually, an opportunity arises for Bruno to go inside the camp with Schmuel, but the field trip ends tragically for both boys. Thematically, this story deals with the power of friendship and the idea that prejudice is something learned not something engrained in our DNA. With a Lexile level of a 1080 paired with the content, this text would be most appropriate for a seventh or eighth grade class. It would also do well in any grade where the Holocaust is examined through various mediums (statistics, personal accounts, etc).
Crane, S. (2015). The red badge of courage. North Charleston, SC: CreatSpace Publishing.
The red badge of courage is another war novel written about a young infantryman in the Civil War. In the story, the infantryman flees from his first battle and ends up deeply regretting his decision because it reflects his lack of courage. He wishes he had received a “red badge of courage” or wound to account for his actions, but without one flees the ranks of his comrades to hide his cowardice. When he runs into a group of injured men, a moment of panic occur and the young man gets wounded. He returns to his comrades with the wound and discovers his infantry is one of the worst in the war, and the generals know it. During the next battle, the generals accept the fact that the infantry will fall, but they pursue the battle even so. The young man and three others escape injury, but become captured prisoners of war. Thematically, the story is about facing and overcoming fears after accepting their existence, as well as the romanticism of war. The lexile level for this text is a 370. When paired with the higher-level content, the lexile level would make the book most appropriate for fourth grade students.
Keneally, T. (1993). Schindler’s list. New York, NY: Touchstone.
Studying the Holocaust is tricky enough for students who have low learning levels, but to engage students with higher reading levels, a text like Schindler’s list would be very appropriate. Set in World War II, this novel tells the story of German factory owner who begins to question the choices that Hitler makes regarding the lives of so many people. As a result, he decides to use the hold his factory has on the fulfilling the needs of the soldiers to save the lives of thousands of Jewish people. This text deals with a lot more, graphically, than many World War II texts. Thematically, it speaks to the concepts of rebellion and the impact of our decisions on our conscious. It has a lexile reading level of 1150, which would really make it most suitable for eleventh and twelfth grade students, or students in honors curriculum classes.
O’Brien, T. (2009). The things they carried. Thornwood, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Set in a more modern time period, this novel tells the story of a team of men in the Vietnam war who are weighted down by physical objects and mental instability brought on by their involvement in the war. Over the course of the novel, the reader grows a deeper understanding of just who these men are, how some of them die, and how some of them struggle to live. Unlike some of the other war novels, this one takes the reader right into the front lines of battle, and the battle of the psyche faced there. Thematically, this story deals a lot with burdens, the effect of the conscious, and loss. With a lexile level of 880, this text would be most appropriate in an eighth or ninth grade class.
Zusak, M. (2007). The book theif. New York, New York: Random House Children’s Books.
Another World War II novel is Markus Zusak’s The book thief. It tells the story of a young girl who is separated from her mother during World War II and sent to live with an adoptive family. At first, she is at odds with her new surroundings and the new people in her life. Her “mother” is very strict. She is made fun of at school for not being able to read. She even believes that her mother was a bad person. Over time, she begins to find happiness and peace in her new surroundings. She realizes that her mother’s harshness is mostly for her protection. She makes friends at school and she takes reading lessons from her father to fit in better with her classmates. Throughout this time, she is also encouraged to join a Hitler youth group, but she is faced with the issues of what she believes is right. Her family ends up harboring a Jewish boy for a few days, which she struggles with understanding. Thematically, this texts deals a lot with independence, family, and choosing to do the right thing. The lexile level of this text is 730. Content-wise this text would most-likely be used in a seventh or eighth grade classroom.