Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Should Be (But Probably Aren’t) On the School Syllabus

TTT Top Ten Tuesday The Book Wars


These are books I wished I’d read in my IB English class. Not sure how one would go about teaching them, though?

  1. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
  2. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
  3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  4. Laurinda by Alice Pung
  5. The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Excerpts from books like The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, Migritude by Shailja Patel, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.


I think I’ve blocked most of my elementary / high school English classes out of my memory (an act of self-preservation, I assure you….), but I don’t recall being particularly engaged by any of the books we read and picked apart, which is a shame. Here are just a few books that I think have great potential as classroom texts, whether in elementary, middle or high school.

  1. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky
  3. Wonder by R. J. Palacio
  4. George by Alex Gino
  5. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
  6. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson
  7. The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner
  8. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  9. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
  10. Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton


Unless I’d read a book before it was assigned in-class during elementary school, it always had a slightly unreal quality – as though the book did not exist as part of a literary tradition or as a work on its own, but belonged solely in the classroom for teaching purposes. I do not want any of these books to suffer that fate; nevertheless, here are a few marvelous books that I would like to put in the hands of every legal minor in Canada.

*** I would love to fill a library in every community with extraordinary books; those below are some of the ones that came to mind first ***

  1. The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson; art by Kelly Mellings
  2. Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson; ill. E. B. Lewis
  3. Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
  4. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
  5. The Water of Possibility by Hiromi Goto
  6. Young Man With Camera by Emil Sher; photos by David Wyman
  7. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
  8. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
  9. A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James
  10. And if I may include a film, because my English teachers usually had us watch a movie at some point during the year, Smoke Signals.


The prescribed reading in Fijian English classes was abysmal at times. We did read Things Fall Apart and I Heard the Owl Call My Name which were interesting (not that I thought so at the time). But for the most part, the reading is not diverse and focuses on old (dead) white men. If I had a chance to change the syllabus, I would introduce these books to the fold:

  1. All the Rage by Courtney Summers
    I feel like this one will make people talk in the right direction about gender, rape, and blame.
  2. Alif the Unseen – G. Willow Wilson
    One of the strongest characters in the book is a hijabi girl. Plus this is a fun book and can be used as a springboard for many discussions.
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
    I shouldn’t have to explain why.
  4. Migritude – Shailja Patel
    For any social studies class or a study on immigrants and immigration. This would be a superb book to explore for a performing arts class as the cohesion of a piece of art in two different mediums.
  5. The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom – Christopher Healy
    I feel like this does enough to subvert the fairytale and bring ‘masculinity’ to the forefront that it will be a helpful and fun book to add to the syllabus…particularly a creative writing class for a lesson on rewriting.
  6. Born Confused – Tanuja Desai
    Oh man, can you imagine how thankful kids will be that the teacher picked a book that basically defines them?

8 responses to “Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Should Be (But Probably Aren’t) On the School Syllabus

  1. Great lists. I really liked George (despite its title!), and I hope it will make its way into classrooms. My sister, a teacher, recommended it to me after one of her colleagues encouraged the teachers at their school to read it. I’ll have to ask her if they’ve also started assigning it in English class.

  2. Janet – you’ve made a great point, I wouldn’t want any of these great books to fall victim to the dreaded “school book” curse! I still can’t even look at a Margaret Atwood book without shuddering, thanks to my high school English class experience….

    • Aw. That’s too bad! I’ve mostly managed to overcome it with books, but still – little sense of context for short stories and poetry. I mean, of course teachers have to do overviews and cover a vast amount of material (and I had great teachers!) but an indepth look at one period or author, including historical and cultural context is so much more satisfying. Thank goodness for university! :)
      How about you? Have you ever returned to school books?
      (Maybe you could try Louise Penny’s murder mysteries? Canadian, and one of the characters is a poet, whose poems are IRL Margaret Atwood’s.)

  3. I’d recommend adding to the list When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah, Good Muslim Boy by Osamah Sami, and Rebecca Lim’s The Astrologer’s Daughter, Mercy & Afterlight. Also the non-fiction anthologies, Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia (Ames Pajalic & Demet Divaroren eds) & Growing Up Asian in Australia (Alice Pung ed).

  4. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could teach books in a way that didn’t drain all the fun out of them? I enjoyed Alif the Unseen and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and they definitely have some discussion-worthy themes! My TTT

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