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September 11, 2006



Thanks for all you've written on the problems surrounding outdated English curricula -- I agree completely! Think about it: we would all complain loudly if high school science classes were still teaching the same information since the 1960s. Why put up with it in literature courses?

Okay, enough soapbox time. Shannon, let me take a moment to say that I finished "River Secrets" on Saturday night, and it was just perfect. Your writing gets tighter with every book! Razo was a character worth writing about -- thanks so much for taking time with him. By the way, is it pronoucned "RAH-zo" or "RAY-zo"? (I've gone with the former.)

By the way, do you remember Michael and Brian Shirts from high school? I'm Brian's wife. Thanks for autographing all the books my in-laws have stuck in front of you.

I'm also a children's librarian for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; I'd like to say that I recommend your books a lot, but I don't have to -- they are always checked out.

Keep up the good work!


Great points, Shannon! I am only in 8th grade, but with both sisters graduated, I know that there is not enough variety in High School english classes. Varity is a vital part of English!

On another note, I have to admit that I have become OBSESSED with this website! Hopefully, I am not the only one!:)


Oh, those darn classics. I like to read them anyway. Even if they are not the stuff every poor, depressed, asocial adolescent individual reads. I find them really awesome. Also, I am reading an awesome Markus Zusak book called The Book Thief which is about Nazi Germany about, of course, a theif of books. It is an excellent book for history and is also an engaging read, although the narrative is rather surreal, since it is narrated by Death, the end of all life. Nancy Farmer is also an excellent author. I know children who read The Ear, the Eye and the Arm for their summer book essay. I am talking essay here. Not book report. Essay-all five pages of it. The teacher was very fierce editorially. Man, she made them get their metaphorical writer's butts moving! Whatever. I think the classics are excellent. The teacher should read it aloud to them until a cliffhanger. Besides, most classics are nice if read aloud as a group. Take turns between chapters reading loud and clear! CLASSICS ARE AWESOME!!


p. s.- Geez, mayday. An eighth grader should now to spell VARIETY correctly. Then again, I know some college students who probably could not spell correctly to save their lives



Verity means truth, of which the above statement is an excellent example. Was that what you meant by "varity"?


The only reason I have so many is because there is no edit comment function. However, those with a psycholological personality might find this an interesting way to see my though process. Brooke- The pronounciation you were using is correct. If it was to be RAY-zo, it would be spelled Razoe. It matters not. Shannon the omniscient of all things Bayern will tell us if we idiot mortals deserve such knowledge, panting about for plotlines, characters, and literary entertainment as we are already.


I agree completely! I'd state my opinion again, but that would just be a waste of time, considering you wrote it all down for me. I just started high school, and hope we don't have to read a bunch of boring classics over and over again... I wouldn't mind reading a few, don't get me wrong, but a little more variety would be nice. I was glad when we had to read the ALchemist for summer reading and not anything else! But someting tells me that our teacher this year isn't going to be that great...


Just started River Secrets! It's great so far! I remember someone once commenting in the blog, "There was something different about RS that set it apart from the other books... then it hit me. It's because it's a guy main charactor!!!!" I couldn't figure it out as well, but now I get it. It's really good!


I totally agree with you Shannon. Classics are important in their own respect. They show us where literature has been. But what's more important are the modern day classics that show us WHERE LITERATURE IS GOING! At least, that's my opinion.

For instance, I'd rather read a Stephenie Meyer book over something by Jane Austen. (That is, if Shannon Hale wasn't a choice.)


Another comment is that classics are exactly that...classics. So they're old. Hard to connect to, I guess. Dunno, but I agree with Shannon most of the way.


I agree! There should be more modern day books. I was really happy this year because all of our summer reading books were recently published. The year before I had to read Of Mice and Men by John Steinback and The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. Those would DEFINITELY be considered classics. I mean, some classics are great. I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain and A Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and they were excellent! More variety and the more kids you will have enjoying what they read!


Megan: Could I agree with you more??? lol.

But yeah, exactly. Classics are supposed to be timeless, and the books you talked about are! They are important to history.

But a lot of kids even in high school won't want to read classics...

So teachers and school board members should wise up and introduce modern books that their students will enjoy!


I agree with all of you that there should be more variety in the works drawn on in high school English classes, but I also have some beef with just the way that classics are TAUGHT. What with standarized exams and only having so much time, my English classes, and probably many others, tend to turn reading a classic into a sort of literary death march -- you get a couple of weeks to grind your way through a thick book written in outmoded diction and syntax, and the emphasis is on yanking themes and devices out of it that you can later spit out on demand. Better understanding the nuts and bolts of a book does help you enjoy and appreciate it more, but I think we've been losing perspective. That is not what books are meant for.

Lauren A.

Ooh this is an interesting discussion once again. I think a healthy mix of both is good...

Megan T.

I can definitely relate to the literary death march that Holly is talking about. The only way I kept sane through my high school AP English class was by reading other books that I found exciting and interesting. I really could have lived the rest of my life without reading Crime and Punishment.

I love to read and usually have at least 5 books on hold at the library at a time. Shannon, River Secrets just came in for me and I am excited to read it.


The classics are fine- for some. I am repeating everything said so far, but I agree on this.

Before it is tomorrow, today is September 11, so please Remember...


holly: (the one with no caps) We have the same name...


I got into reading the classics by first reading YA books! I seriously read Tuck Everlasting when I was in 2nd grade. Of course I'm one of the lucky ones who's father read to her out of a chapter book everynight before bed when she was little girl. Chronicles of Narnia, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nihm, and Little House on the Praire...all great classics that get kids attention too! I hope future generations dont get too bored by books. They are too amazing to loose


I can barely remember what I read in high school. Definitely none of the ones that I hear other people say they read in high school. Gatsby. Catcher in the Rye. Huck Finn. There was some Tobias Wolff and some Maya Angelou, and that's about all I remember. I went from feeling quite apathetic about reading during and after high school, to rediscovering my love of books and getting a Bachelors in English. I read it all in those three years. And I do believe variety is a good thing -- with some classics thrown in. I'm a big fan of them now.

Jaya Lakshmi

I agree- there should be a balance between contemporary books and classics. I'm still struggling through several classics (A Connnecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Samuel Clemens, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, and Middlemarch by George Eliot). However, I think that some books like The Anybodies by Julianna Baggot, Princess Academy by Shannon (this isn't pure flattery; I think you can have oodles of discussion on the academy and the setting of the story), The Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfield (or just the first book), several stories from Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King, Coraline and American Gods (both by Neil Gaiman), and plenty of other fantasy books.

Laura Rebecca

I understand where both sides are coming from in this discussion. While I definitely agree that it's not wise to say, "You can only teach the classics," neither do I think it is wise to dismiss the classics based on the argument that "They're out of date," or "They're too hard." If you never challenge yourself and reach out of your comfort zone, you'll become stagnant. We need appreciation for both.

That being said, I am in the midst of getting my B.A. in English (Creative Writing, specifically), and it is one of my biggest pet peeves that there appears to be an unwritten rule (more like a law) that states that nothing happy or uplifting may be studied in English courses. It drives me nuts that almost all English professors seem to believe that it's not great literature if it doesn't focus, graphically and depressingly, on the depravity of mankind.


As an English teacher, I have to say that we do have to teach to the test in some ways. A student will fail the AP test if they don't use one of the books on the list, and, fortunately or unfortunately, those books are the "classics."

I agree that change is in order, that we should add to the canon. I adore current young adult lit and know many teachers (like myself) who use it in their curriculum, recommend it, and even use their own money to provide it for kids. But teachers aren't the only ones to be held accountable for what is taught!

Be proactive in getting the tests changed, in voicing opinions (especially students and people like you, Shannon, who have some clout). In this era of No Child Left Behind, tests are the name of the game, and teachers want to keep their jobs. Print off this blog and comments and send it to your senator! Start a petition! Write an article for your local newspaper!

And encourage dialogue like this. ;)


Like with everything, there needs to be balance.
i for instance adore the austens and the brontes, but tried to read War & Peace (my dads idea) and it didnt exactly peace me out.
Ok, thats a bad example.
I dont like most things branded 'chick lit'that are about 30 pages long (i wont name any, even though im pretty sure they cant sue me for something) but if you see something that has got an excellent review and it ISNT 100 years old, why not?


I'm not usually one who would respond, I tend to be one who enjoys the process of reading the ideas of others and learning from them without interacting, but this one has me really "wound up"!

Shannon, I couldn't agree with you more! And not just because I have seen these youth, I was one of them!

I grew up in a home that had little respect or love for literature, not that I think it was intentional, it just was. My parents parents were both blue collar workers and my father was too. My mother did some reading for "pleasure", but very little, and I don't recall being read to as a child outside of the classroom! Consequently, I DID NOT READ! Don't confuse this with skill, I could read as in decode, but I struggled with engagement. The lack of engagement led to lack of comprehension and I did not learn to enjoy reading until I was an adult!

So why then am I here, among "avid readers" with a wide range of options? Because, as an adult (twenty something) the very concept that reading should be enjoyable, "clicked", and I taught myself to ENJOY the process! Once all the dictates of education were gone and I didn't have the constraints of time, limits on material, tests or reports...I took off! I'm now an insanely avid reader. I'm still not the fastest reader, but who cares?! I read, I comprehend AND I ENJOY what I read! I've since learned to read and enjoy many of the classics. Many of them I read in high school, but I didn't comprehend a darn thing, because nobody taught me how to extract pleasure from books and I don't think that could have happened until I had exposure to a greater variety.

The point I'm making, should be clear; had I not given myself the liberties and options, explored what I liked and why, I would STILL, at age 36, not be a reader...and I shudder to think of how much of life I would be missing out on...like Shannon's books, for example!

I also agree that it would be a wonderful utopia society if all parents could see this and expose their children to diversity in literature, at home, from a young age...but that's not reality. And I don't believe for ONE second that my parents thought that they were in anyway being neglectful by not exposing me to books, they just had the same experience I did, and never broke the cycle. The only reason my story ends differently, is that I married someone who values books and modeled that for me in a loving and NON-JUDGEMENTAL way!

Public education must decide that they are willing to meet students where they are, wherever that may be! Kids need to feel "safe" to learn and casting judgments on their intellect because of their exposure or lack thereof, to literature, will not allow them to feel safe!


i completly agree with you. i am in eleventh grade and i have not read a good book yet...in school. my summer reading assignment was "A Man for All Seasons" not the best book i have ever read. i love reading but whenever my garde is assigned a book for school everyone assumes its going to be horrible,which is usually the case, and sparknotes it. a good book would be a nice change

Carl V.

I still fall right in the middle of this and believe that the most well rounded approach to this 'problem' would be to teach classes with a mixture of classic and contemporary literature. I don't believe that it is a faulty assumption that people today will love the classics. By and large they truly will, depending on what the 'classic' is...many of them stand the test of time for a reason and only need to be taught by someone with the ability and passion to make the literature 'real' to today's audience. On the other hand there is alot of fantastic reading to be had from the books that are being written now. I think all history is important and that teens should be allowed to have some appreciation for books they might not pick up on their own (I am thrilled with what I learned about Shakespeare, etc. in high school).

I think the only danger is in going with one extreme or the other...with staying 100% with the old, ineffective methods or abandoning all classics for only modern stuff. I think fairly recent films like Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You, etc. serve a purpose in showing that the classics are a gold mine for knowledge, enjoyment, and entertainment and can be taught in new and interesting ways.

shannon hale

Ally--thanks so much for voicing in. Hooray hooray to all you said. I'm going to post about NCLB soon--I'm discovering that not enough people know about it and the negative impact it's having on teachers and students.

A side note--for my AP English exam, I chose to do my essay on a Marsha Norman play that had been written in the past ten years, a text that wasn't on our long list of approved AP books. I still passed the test.

Julie--marvelous personal example. Thank you.

Laura Rebecca--I don't know that the classics are always just too hard, but I believe that too often they are irrelevant, cumbersome, depressing, or boring. I do have to argue with the idea that recently written books don't have anything to challenge readers. Even so, I don't think there's anything wrong with finding a comfort zone with reading, if we're understanding that term in the same way. If the only books we give to teens use 100-year-old language (or 400) and teach that life is a real downer, what are we saying about reading? Why would any teen have a desire to keep reading on his/her own? Is it right to assert that only books that are hard to read are good?

Again, a mix of contemporary and classic would be my preferance.


I agree completely.

Also, entertainingly enough, I just know figured out that the name of the poster comes after the post, not before.


I've already commented on this sort of thing before, but I just wanted to say something about the classics. I think we should all watch more Wishbone. I know that sounds completely bizarre and nusto probably, but seriously, because I watched Wishbone when I was a kid, I actually want to read the classics. I really wish that Wishbone was still on air where I live; I want my kids to be able to watch it someday.

Anyway, I definitely think that a mixture of books should be taught. I'm actually considering becoming an English teacher or something so I can attempt to reform the curriculum or something.

Laura Rebecca

Just for clarification, I do agree that both classic and contemporary literature should be taught. And I don't mean to say that classics should be taught just because they're "hard," nor that modern works aren't challenging. I was just saying that I don't think it's a valid argument to dismiss classics because they may seem, at first, to be cumbersome.

And I do think that those of both parties--those who hate contemporary as well as those who hate classics--need to branch out of their comfort zones. Extremes aren't good on either side. There should be a happy medium.


I have to admit that for someone with a degree in English, I am pathetically under-read as far as the classics are concerned. However, I've been an avid reader of what I like my entire life. My parents were very encouraging when came to reading for pleasure. My mom always read what we were reading and took us to the library every week to check out books. My dad taught elementary school, and he would bring books home from his classroom to read to us at night. We got a good balance of classics and contemporary writers. When I got to college English classes, I hadn't read half of the "recommended reading list" for high school graduates. But I still made good grades and was able to finish my degree, without ever reading Joyce's "Ulysses."

shannon hale

Thanks, Laura Rebecca. Good points.


I don't know. I actually felt that the public school system did a decent job of introducing me to various genres until I found several things I could sink my teeth into. And, the books I was most upset about having to read were the cheesy plot-lined teenage romance + extreme ridiculosity books. But, now that I think back on them, I'm really glad I read those in school too, because I wouldn't have found them myself, and...I can now remember the good parts without thinking on the parts which annoyed me most.
But, my point is...I wasn't bothered by the set-up. I thought I got introduced to new varieties as well as the classics through school.
AND I STILL can't find myself a copy of River Secrets. I've been practically stalking my local b&n, as well as the small indepenedent bookstore by school. I think the independent bookstore will actually be getting it for me faster. GO INDEPENDENTS! And not having River Secrets has been...probably...worse for my Organic Chemistry and Extreme Calculus studying as having the book is going to be...mostly worse because I DON'T HAVE River Secrets. (They actually had the adacity this morning to flaunt a copy that someone else had reserved in my face...and I have three copies on reserve for me now in various places.) (Oh, and everytime I talk to my best friend she greets me with, "Oh, River Secrets is BEAUTIFUL, by the way.") Oh, the woes of the green face.


And I loved Wishbone! I watched it at least four times a day during the summers as it alternated PBS stations...even the same episode twice each day. Great show.


I just started high school this year and I hope our reading list will have a variety of different kinds of books. Personally I haven't had much success reading classical stories. I've tried reading a few and I just got bored of them about half way through. Maybe as I get older I'll find it more interesting. But for now I hope our class has a variety, to make things interesting. It would be a nice thing to do considering that most of my other classes are getting boring. We need to spice it up.


Congratulations Shannon ! ! !
I think that River Secrets might be my new favorite book. I couldn't put it down.
S H A N N O N R U L E S ! !


At risk of making Alauna kick me (I'm the slandered "best friend" in her post), I'm going to have to agree with Bonnie. River Secrets is wonderfully, beautifully, fantastically amazing. Crashed straight to the top of my top ten most favorite books.
And I would agree with Alauna, that the public schools I went to did a good job of introducing to various genres, etc. of literature. Even AP English, where teachers are "teaching to the test," we got a healthy mix. My teacher's philosophy was that we should be exposed to a little of everything. And you don't have to use a book from the list on the AP test, the lists they give at the end of essay questions are merely suggestions. I didn't use books from the list, and I got a 5.


Wishbone is my life. I miss that show so much; I feel that he did such a good job of introducing classics to young kids. Through the book series, it also gave kids a chance to test out contemporary fiction, too. I second that comment, Jordan!


I have good new for you--a friend of mine who is in 8th grade just read "Princess Academy" as part of her required reading. There are SOME teachers out there who don't use just "the Classics". :)

Oh, and River Secrets was just about perfect. :D


sorry i'm confused.
What is wishbone?


Oh, Cicely, I'm very sorry you missed out. Wishbone is a PBS kid's show from the 90's, where each episode would revolve around a different "classic" book, and the main characters would face dilemmas similar to the problems in the novel. Simultaneuously, Wishbone (the Jack Russell terrier) would imagine himself as the main character in that novel (i.e. Rip Van Winkle). I learned about greats such as the Odyssey, Oliver Twist, and many more from that "little dog with a big imagination."
I had the biggest crush on Joe and I dearly wish they would come out on DVD.


I heard the made one or two full length Wishbone movies. I never saw them though. I actually found an online petition somewhere to put Wishbone back on air. It'd be a bazillion times better than some of the weird shows they've got on PBS now...


I agree that there should be a healthy mix. I'm always so glad that I'm well-versed in quite a few classics and that they were fed to me through-out elementary school, middle school, and now highschool, because so many "new" books have references to classics! Every time I catch an allusion I shiver with delight!


Wishbone was great! And I agree that they should put it back on. Another show I really miss was Rocko's Modern Life. (I know, not educational at all, but awesome.) Watching Wishbone was basically the reason I started loving reading, that and the lovely Beverly Cleary.


Back on the topic of classic reading, I'm also happy that I've read my fair share of classics. I didn't like all of them, and some I was a little too young to understand. (Like my grandfather attempting to read me The Pickwick Papers, at seven years old!)

I'm also strangely obsessed with Shakespeare and epic poems like Beowolf. (Spelling on Beowolf is hesitant...)

This is going to sound totally random, but if you think about it, it's not, at least I hope not. I love old TV shows, because they have the same feeling of classic books. I don't like all of them, but some are great. Such as Leave It To Beaver, Green Acres, and The Addams Family. They are so much funnier yet simpler than what's on the boobtoob today. So if it makes any sense, you can compare classic tv shows to classic literature. I think.

Sorry. I had coffee, so I'm totally wired and kind of crazy.


Shannon, I just noticed you're at the Tattered Cover today on your events page. I was there this spring and absolutely fell in love with that bookstore, so I hope you're having a good time!


I loved Wishbone so much! He wasa man's best friend... Demi, I am in the exact smae boat as you, and so far am looking towards English as, um, interesting. The teacher is very back and forth. If she doens't like a book, we won't have to read it. That's good right?
The Uglies Trilogy is for sure one of my favorite series of all time. (Thanks to my good friend Megan D. Thanks Megan :o) And don't forget- I know where you live!!! Ha-ha Do you know when swim team starts? Anyways) That is on the list at our local school district and has earned the right to be on it. It was such a good book and a MUST READ (!!!!) for anyone going into High School!


Wishbone was the coolest! I wish that they had it back on. I am actually interested in some classics from what I saw on Wishbone. I think that if you know a story fairly well (like watching Wishbone, I kinda knew/remembered the plot of some classics) it makes the classics a little easier to read. I don't know, just a thought . . .


Mads: Uglies rocks! Have you read any of Scott Westerfield's other books?


No I haven't yet, Holly, but do you have any suggestions of his other ones? I heard some were a little weird...

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