Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Books I Remember Reading in School

We're homeschooling our preschooler pretty much all year round so Back to School doesn't mean much around here, but today's Top Ten Tuesday theme got me thinking about some of the books I read during my own public school career (1987-2000). For some strange reason, I couldn't think of a single book we read in school in second grade, so I had to skip that year, but otherwise, I remembered a book (or story) from every single grade. Here are 12 books I remember reading in school:


Mrs. Wishy-Washy by Joy Cowley
I went to kindergarten pretty much already knowing how to read, but I still loved our classroom choral readings of Mrs. Wishy Washy. To this day, when I read the board book version to my own kids, I can hear my teacher and the voices of my 20 classmates exaggeratedly saying, "Oh lovely mud!"

First Grade

Pierre by Maurice Sendak
I had an amazing first grade teacher, so I remember lots of books from this year. Pierre stands out in my mind because of the musical accompaniment (by Carole King, from Really Rosie) which my teacher sometimes played for us after lunch, and because I bought my own copy of the book from the Scholastic book fair and I still have it.

Third Grade

The Fantastic Flying Journey by Gerald Durrell, illustrated by Graham Percy
I had the same teacher in third grade as in first grade, so again, there are lots of bookish memories. The Fantastic Flying Journey is one of my favorites, though, because we did an entire geography unit based on the book, which included "traveling" to each continent, eating an explorers' snack called "gorp" and hearing the book read aloud. I recently read the book again and it didn't seem as magical; I think that is just a testament to how much more engaging it became when my teacher put in the extra effort.

Fourth Grade

Socks by Beverly Cleary
All I really remember about my fourth grade teacher is that she was really involved in the social dramas of the girls in our class and not as enthusiastic about anything academic. So it's no surprise that the book I remember is one I chose for myself. Socks is the book I brought in for SSR, or Sustained Silent Reading. Because I read so much faster than a lot of my classmates, I read chapters over and over again in order to avoid having to admit that I was finished with the book. It seemed like we spent a lot more time on silent reading that year than was really necessary - I think the teacher just liked us to all sit quietly.

Fifth Grade


Into the Dream by William Sleator
My fifth grade teacher forced all of us to do something called Books I Have Read, or BIHR, and the better a reader you were, the more pages you were expected to read. It was a nightmare in record-keeping that took all the joy out of pleasure reading, so most of my reading related memories from that year involve whining about the unfairness of having my free reading monitored. But I do also remember keeping a reading journal in class and being allowed to choose the books I read for that from a set of pre-approved selections. Though I was never an avid fantasy or sci-fi reader, I remember choosing Into the Dream because I thought the concept of telepathy was cool. I don't really remember much of the story, but I am impressed by my willingness to read outside my usual genres!

Sixth Grade

The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Sixth grade was a tough year for books. I hated almost everything we were assigned in school, and The Cay was no exception. The thing I remember most, aside from hating the story (which now I don't even really remember) is that the project after finishing the book was to rewrite the ending. I struggled so much to come up with something, and wound up rewriting the story so that the main character was not blind as he is for most of the book, but was color-blind instead.  I think the teacher thought I was lazy, but really I just couldn't stand any kind of unhappiness in books and took my opportunity to fix what I could.

Seventh Grade


Losing Joe's Place by Gordon Korman
My seventh grade English teacher always made it a point to read aloud to the class, and even though I was a kid who liked to read independently, I loved being read to. My favorite read-aloud that year was Losing Joe's Place. I had English at the very end of the day, and there was something really nice about sitting there before the last bell of the day listening to a funny, relaxing realistic fiction story.

Eighth Grade



My eighth grade English teacher spent most of the year showing videos and assigning group work, only to magically become interested in the classics in the Spring. We were all given paperback copies of Beowulf and then we had to go around in a circle and say something we observed about it. I distinctly remember that when it came to my turn, I had absolutely nothing to say, so I took a chance and came out with, "I read it, and I understood it, but I don't have anything else to say that hasn't already been mentioned." Only half the class had gone before me, but, to my amusement, everyone who came after me repeated my response in their own words. Not long after that, the same teacher tried to assign Julius Caesar, only to collect the books a few days later because we "weren't ready."

Ninth Grade


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Thanks to a really exceptional teacher, my ninth grade year was a wonderful introduction to short stories, epic poems, and classic novels. Great Expectations was probably the most difficult book I had been assigned to this point, but thanks to my teacher's enthusiasm, I fell in love with it and never thought of it as hard. Miss Havisham remains one of my all-time favorite characters, and this is one book I'm really looking forward to teaching my kids when they are tweens and teens.

Tenth Grade


A Separate Peace by John Knowles

My tenth grade English teacher focused the entire year on an anti-war unit, which became tedious fairly early on. I did enjoy a number of the books we read, including All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Night by Elie Wiesel, but A Separate Peace wound up being my favorite because it was about teens at a boarding school and was not set on a battlefield or in a concentration camp. I have never gone back and read the book again, but entire scenes of the story still stick with me, and I still think about Finny, who was the most intriguing and complex character.

Eleventh Grade


Moby Dick by Herman Melville

My eleventh grade teacher was not that much older than I was, and I was not impressed with him at all. I became kind of obnoxious during his class, constantly correcting his spelling and asking annoying questions that I would never have been comfortable asking an experienced or more mature teacher. When he assigned 100 pages of Moby Dick in a single night and then asked us to discuss its "deeper meaning" the next day, I made a little speech. I said something like, "If you want us to find the deeper meaning in this book, you need to assign less reading." And the whole class broke out into spontaneous applause. I don't remember whether the teacher changed the assignments or not, but I do know I never bothered finishing the book. I loved the writing at the beginning ("Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul...") but have never felt the need to read 700 pages about a whale. Maybe someday.

Twelfth Grade


"Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor

Finally, in twelfth grade, I took two half-year English electives rather than AP English. This wound up being a great decision. In the second semester, my class was Short Stories, and though I had heard of Flannery O'Connor before, this was the very first time I discovered her for myself. When we finished reading Good Country People, I could not stop talking about it. I loved the characters, the writing style, the sense of humor, and the wonderful Catholic writer behind it all. Four years later, inspired by this initial introduction to her unique writings, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Wise Blood. She remains one of my favorite authors.


  1. Beowulf and A Separate Peace are the only two I read. We moved a few times and I ended up reading Lord of The Flies 3 times! The worst book I had to read was The Fifth Child. My favorite unit was the dystopian one: 1984, Anthem, and Brave New World. Those were all 10th or 11th grade; my memory isn't as good as yours! stephanie@oneaponceatime

  2. This is a fun idea for a post!

    I remember reading A Separate Peace in school as well, and just like you it has stuck with me even though I've never reread it. I'm kind of afraid to reread in case it doesn't hold up to my memories of it. :)