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Recommended Reading

Published: 27.09.2012, Updated: 23.06.2017
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This list of recommended books may be used in teaching Social Studies English. The list is in no way complete and we will update and revise it regularly. To make this site a useful tool, we would appreciate your tips and recommendations.

Book coverThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close PosterExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close Poster Bokomslag A Long Way GoneA Long Way Gone The Tortilla CurtainThe Tortilla Curtain The HelpThe Help Book Cover Life of Pi PosterLife of Pi Poster  Nineteen Eighty FourGeorge Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four (1949) 

A more extensive list of literature can be found on Shmoop, a site which also offers learning guides with summaries, questions, description of characters, quotes, themes, quizzes, facts, essay questions, photos and more. GCSE Bitesize Literature offers study guides to prose fiction, short stories and dramas. The site also provides audio clips and videos.

A lot of students will be asked to write a novel report. If you are looking for other ways to work with novels, we recommend Working with Novels. If you are asked to analyze novels, you will find useful links at How to Analyze a Novel.

Alexie, Sherman: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007)

What is it like to be an American Indian today? Arnold Spirit Jr. is a fourteen-year-old Indian growing up on the reservation. However, he is the reservation outcast – an outsider – and he is routinely bullied and beaten up. Arnold, like Sherman Alexie, makes a choice to leave the reservation and attend a white school. Considered a traitor, Arnold is caught between two worlds: his home on the reservation and the white high school he attends. You can listen to the first chapter and read the two first chapters from the book here.

Beah, Ishmael: A Long Way Gone (2007)

12-year-old Ishmael Beah lives a fairly happy life in Sierra Leone until the civil war breaks out and he is forced to run for his life. By the age of thirteen he is forcefully recruited by the government army and trained to kill his enemies in the most brutal ways.

In the book we follow Beah through the years as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. We also see him through the period after he is released by the army and sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center. Finally we follow him to the USA where he now lives.

Read more about the novel, including an excerpt, and watch an interview with Beah on A Long Way Gone.

Boyle T.C.: The Tortilla Curtain (1995)

The Tortilla Curtain is set in Topanga Canyon, California during the 1990s. The novel is considered one of Boyle's most controversial books with its focus on illegal immigration, middle-class values and how two different groups interpret the American Dream. It deals with two couples, Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher, a yuppie American family, and Cándido and América Rincon, Mexican illegals living in the bushes on the outskirts of the city. Boyle focuses on the hardships and brutality illegal immigrants experience at the hands of unscrupulous “patróns” or Mexican and American employers once they get over the border.

Read more about the novel, including an excerpt, and learn more about the writer on The Tortilla Curtain.

Cleave, Chris : The Other Hand (Little Bee) (2008)

The Other Hand also known as Little Bee is a story about Little Bee, a Nigerian asylum-seeker, and Sarah, a British magazine editor, who meet during the oil conflict in the Niger Delta, and are re-united in England several years later. The novel examines the treatment of refugees by the asylum system, as well as issues of British colonialism, globalization, political violence and personal accountability.

Waterstonescom has made this promotional video of the novel featuring Chris Cleave. The Other Hand 

Douglas, Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978)

Douglas Adams' comic science fiction novel consists of three parts. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was adapted to film in 2005 and there have been numerous adaptations for radio and TV. In all the versions we follow the adventures of the unlucky Arthur Dent, but we also get familiar with other major characters: Ford Prefect, Ford's relative the Galactic President, the robot Marvin, an alien from another small planet, and a researcher for the guidebook and Trillian, a woman who together with Arthur, is the only human who survived the destruction of the Earth. The last part is The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. In Chapter 16, p. 82 you will find a scene where the dish of the day presents itself. Read an excerpt here.

Foer, Jonathan Safron: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005)

Oskar is an extraordinary child in many ways. He loves French and one of his dearest idols is the physicist Stephen Hawkings. To cope with his feeling of guilt for not picking up the phone when his dad called from the Twin Towers and the loss of his best friend, his dad, he starts a quest to find a lock matching his dad's key. Oskar believes that the lock belongs to someone by the surname "Black" that can reveal more about whom his dad was.

Watch this video with Foer to learn more about the novel. Read an excerpt here.

Ford, Jamie: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (2009)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is about the love and friendship between Henry Lee, a Chinese American boy, and Keiko Okabe, a Japanese American girl. They are both American citizens but their ethnic backgrounds impact their destinies in very different ways during WWII.

Kelko and her family are forced to leave Seattle and live in an internment camp because the government orders all persons of Japanese descent to evacuate their homes and submit to voluntary internment.

Forty years later, Henry is standing outside the Panama Hotel which has been boarded up for decades, hiding the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps. In the hotel’s dark basement Henry begins looking for signs of the Okabe’s belongings. Read an excerpt. You can find a study guide here.

Gilbert, Elizabeth: Eat, Pray and Love (2006)

In Elizabeth Gilbert's novel, Eat, Pray and Love the protagonist sets off on a journey of self-realization. The journey brings her to Italy, India and Bali. The first part is dedicated to exploring the famous Italian cuisine. The novel was adapted to film in 2010 featuring Julia Roberts as the protagonist. Read an excerpt from chapter 26 where the protagonist discovers that food and eating out is an inextricable part of Italian culture here.

Hill, Lawrence: The Book of Negroes (Canada)/Someone Knows My Name (the USA, Australia, New Zealand) (2010)

The novel is inspired by a historical record of slaves, known as The Book of Negroes.Through his protagonist, Aminata Diallo, Hill recapitulates the abduction of people by British slavers from West Africa to labor on the plantations of the colonies in the Carribbean and America. In the mid-1700s eleven year old Aminata is kidnapped from her local village and brought to South Carolina as a slave. We follow Aminata on her way to freedom.This leads us to South Carolina via Nova Scotia, Canada and Sierra Leone and eventually ends up in London. Aminata's story has many parallells to the historical Olaudah Equianao, a freed slave that became one of the first black spokesmen for the abolition of slavery. Hill describes a memorable encounter between his fictional Aminata and the histroical Olaudah in London. Read Olaudah's own account and general information about the slave trade here.

On the author's home site you may gain general information about the novel, browse into the book and listen to an excerpt. Harper Collins has a very useful novel guide The Book of Negroes Study Guide.

Humphreys, Margaret: Empty Cradles (Oranges & Sunshine) (1994)

In 1986, Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker, received a letter from a woman who claimed that, at the age of four, she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British government. At first, Margaret Humphreys found this hard to believe, but soon discovered that this woman's story was just the tip of an enormous iceberg. As many as 150 000 children had been deported from Britain and shipped off to a new life in Australia, Rhodesia, New Zealand and Canada. Margaret Humphreys reveals how she gradually unravelled this shocking secret.

You can read the opening pages of the book here. The book has also been made into a film. Watch the trailer.

Kennedy, Douglas: The Pursuit of Happiness (2001)

At her mother’s funeral Kate Malone observes a mourning woman that she does not recognize. Days later, however, she is accosted by this same mysterious woman named Sara Smythe. Sarah tells Kate that she knew her as a little girl and gives her a manuscript revealing how she knew Kate because she was close to her father. Upon reading Sara's story, Kate realizes that she hardly knew her father.

The funeral is set in the present time, while Sara's story is unraveled in postwar New York. The story gives an insight into how the nightmare of the McCarthy witch-hunts affected the lives of innocent people.

Read an excerpt. A reading guide can be found here.

Kidd, Sue Monk: The Secret Life of Bees (2002)

The setting is South Carolina in the American South, and the year is 1964, when civil rights for African Americans were being put into effect. We are introduced to the 14-year-old, motherless Lily and the black maid Rosaleen, who acts as her surrogate mother. As part of the application of the Civil Rights Act, African Americans were called to register in order to vote, and Lily accompanies Rosaleen to town. There she gets first-hand experience of the injustice of racism. The story also entails Lily's need to find out about her mother's destiny and from there - define herself as an individual and a young woman.

Study guides to the novel are found on such sites as sparknotes.com, enotes.com and cliffsnotes, and us.penguingroup.com has a good teacher's guide with some references to the film. A good way to work with the novel is exemplified at The Secret Life of Bees Wiki where Grade 10 students in Melbourne have created a wiki about their work with the novel.

Lee, Harper: To Kill A Mocking Bird (1960)

This novel is one of the most read novels in the USA.This Gothic story from 1960 is based on the author's childhood experiences in the Deep South and a particular criminal act that occurred in a neighbouring city in 1936. This incident ignited the latent racism and hatred in the local community.

To work with novel, you may use this link.

Levy, Andrea: Small Island (2004)

Inspired by her Jamaican parents' stories from their first encounter with England in the immediate years after World War II and the Jamaican British diaspora's experience, Levy brings to life the young school teacher Hortense and the RAF sergeant Gilbert. Thus she gives a voice to the Afro-Caribbean immigrants in post-war UK. World War II transformed the lives of the English couple Queenie and Bernard and the Jamaican couple Hortense and Gilbert. This is a novel depicting lives that are mysteriously intertwined and with huge culture clashes, but in spite of everything, new options open up which bring hope for a brighter future. Read more about the novel and work with tasks at here.

Martel, Yann: Life of Pi (2001)

"Jesus, Mary, Muhammad and Vishnu, how good to see you, Richard Parker! Don't give up, please. Come to the lifeboat. Do you hear this whistle? TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! You heard right. Swim, swim! You're a strong swimmer. .." How does the protagonist Pi end up with a bengal tiger by the name of Richard Parker as his ship mate? The fantasy adventure novel, Life of Pi, highlights religious thinking and different beliefs and invites its readers to ponder existensial issues about life and identity. From his childhood years in India Pi started to reflect on religious issues and he soon ended up in an argument with his father about practising all the main religions at once. Read an excerpt here. You may also find resources about the film adaptation on Life of Pi Film Education.

Orwell, George: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948)

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian science fiction story about a nightmare society.The novel depicts a state controlled by rulers who abuse the available technology to repress the population. George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948) scared the wits out of contemporary readers in the 20th century. The only comfort was that a Big Brother society ruling out all individual thinking and the subsequent alienation experienced by the protagonists in the novel, seemed unlikely to happen in the near future. Read an excerpt.

Salinger, J.D. : The Catcher in the Rye (1961)

The Catcher in the Rye has been a best seller for decades and created a whole new trend of writing. It stands out as the most iconic novel about a new type of protagonist - the young and disillusioned Holden Caulfield. We meet him in New York City and at Pencey Prep School in Pennsylvania during a long weekend. Read an excerpt from the opening of the novel and work on tasks.

Sharak, Elif: The Bastard of Istanbul (2006)

One of the issues that official Turkish authorities traditionally have put a ban on is to discuss the Armenian Genocide (1915 - 1919). In A Bastard of Istanbul, Elif Shafak's fictional character, Armanoush, had a grandfather that was murdered in the genocide. Because of the novel the author was put on trial for offending "Turkishness". Read an excerpt here.

Steinbeck, John: Of Mice and Men (1937)

George Milton and Lennie Small are migrant workers traveling together to find work on farms in California. They are best friends and hope that they one day will attain their dream of settling down on their own piece of land. However, although they are good workers, they seem unable to hold down jobs for long. This is mostly due to Lennie's urge to to pet "soft things," including, mice, rabbits, puppies, and…women. In this way they constantly get into trouble. In Soledad, however, everything seems to work out – until the inevitable happens. Shmoop offers a good study guide on Of Mice and Men Study Guide  and on GCSE Bitesize  you will find videos on plot, characters and theme.

Stocket, Katheryn: The Help (2009)

The Help focuses on the stories of three women dealing with the problems of segregation and race relations in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. A young, white woman, Eugenia Phelan, and two black maids, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson, speak out against inequality and institutionalized racism. With the threat of isolation and brutal violence hanging over their heads, they choose to cross lines and tear down the old barriers between blacks and whites, built up from the time of slavery and the establishment of the rigid Jim Crow Laws. Read more about the novel, including an excerpt, on The Help . If you want to work with the complete novel, you will find a study guide here.

Updike, John: Terrorist (2006)

What makes an 18-year old become a terrorist? In the novel Terrorist, the American author, John Updike, gives a portrait of a young boy on his way to become a suicide bomber and jihadist. Read an excerpt from the novel and work with related tasks here.