Animal Farm by George Orwell

animal farmReading level: 9.0
Lexile: 1170
Genre: Fable, satire
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Orwell wrote Animal Farm as commentary on the Russian Revolution, and each of the characters can be compared to an actual person in that time period. Even separate from the historical context, this story is much like 1984 in that Orwell reflects critically on the state of politics and the antics of politicians and ignorant people throughout the world. In Animal Farm, the animals drive out the horrible farmer and lead a democratic, animal-centric life. Slowly, the pigs take charge, one more than others, so that by the end, the pigs are indistinguishable from humans and they’re right back where they started.

I have been burned out on YA lit lately (blasphemy, I know), so I opted to read some adult or at least more “sophisticated” literature in preparation for a YA reading marathon this summer. I had read Animal Farm in middle school because it was short and looked funny, but I didn’t truly understand it until I read it again as an adult.

Wikipedia can tell you all you need to know about how the characters in the book are actually about actual historical figures (Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin), and for a while I thought that Animal Farm would really need to be taught alongside a history unit on the Russian Revolution. However, after some thought and looking at teaching materials, I don’t think this is the case. Even without any of that historical context, Animal Farm is still a striking commentary on how leaders gain and keep power and how the masses are fooled and mistreated throughout history and around the world. This book can help high schoolers learn to think critically about what they are told and “learn” and how to be a conscious voter and thinker.

I did a simple internet search for “teaching Animal Farm” and found lots of information, so I will not think up my own lesson plans or ways to use this book in the classroom. But here is one link from Penguin (the book publisher) that has a fairly detailed, if slightly simplistic, unit plan: Penguin’s Animal Farm Unit Plan.

I’m wondering now, though, about the benefits to teaching Animal Farm over 1984. If one were to teach Animal Farm without the historical context of the Russian Revolution, the important messages seem to be almost identical to those in 1984, though it has been many years since I’ve read it. One advantage is that Animal Farm is very short and might be better for struggling readers and ELLs. Less time reading means more time discussing and researching. Also, because Animal Farm is so short and written fairly simply, it would be easier to stop after each short chapter and talk about the lies and deceptions that happened. Because the character development and plot is not as complex as in 1984, there is, again, more time to dissect and discuss the blatant lies and trickery happening.

It’s certainly a book for high school students, and it’s also one of those pesky classics that ought to be read as a class and discussed in order to fully understand and appreciate it. I feel like I could learn a lot more about it and am no expert as of now, although I take comfort in there being plenty of teaching resources available.

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Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt

tuck everlastingReading level: 5.9
Lexile: 720
Genre: Fantasy, classics
ELL-Friendly: Not particularly
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.

Tuck Everlasting is as beautiful and sweet as the cover portrays. Somehow I’d never read this classic until now (I mean, the audiobook was only 3ish hours long). My favorite part was definitely the poetic language, and lots of teachers read this book as a class and teach it because of the language. Plus, it’s a short read.

The message of the whole book was beautiful too, and it makes the reader think about whether or not you would drink the spring water and live forever. The point is that, no, you probably wouldn’t. ThenĀ  you’ll stop and think about life – how everything has a purpose and eventually lives out that purpose, not to mention how hard and lonely it would be to stay the same while everybody and everything changes.

This book was also kind of weird. Like, Winnie falls in love with her captors pretty quickly. Sure, she didn’t love her home that much, but she’s a little girl! Sounds a little like Stockholm Syndrome to me.

The weirdest part was Jesse falling in love with Winnie. He had JUST met her, and she’s, what, 10 years old? Stop it, Jesse. You’re desperate. Before it could get too creepy, though, the book had a lovely ending. I won’t spoil it, but I was very pleased just as I was thinking, “Winnie, you best not spend eternity with a boy you don’t know.”

Read aloud as a class, I think ELLs would be alright. However, the regional dialect spoken by the Tucks might be confusing for low level students. That said, Scholastic has determined that the interest level is 3rd grade, and it’s definitely a middle level book and too young for high school…unless the readers are quite low and need a short, simple book with complex themes.

The Saturdays – Elizabeth Enright

the saturdaysReading level: 5.8
Series: The Melendy Family series book 1
Genre: Classic
ELL-Friendly: Kind of
Library recommendation: Middle school

The Saturdays is certainly outdated (written in the ’40s), but in a heart-warming way. Think Anne of Green Gables or Little Women. I can’t say I liked it very much because there wasn’t much substance, character development, or problems. It was just a bunch of well-off, white kids being bored and getting into minor trouble. The book really was dripping with privilege. I also found it unrealistic that all four siblings got along so well all the time.

As I read The Saturdays, I wondered if students would actually enjoy this book. It’s got no action, has strange words, and is lacking a plot for the most part. There are lots of positive reviews on goodreads about children liking it, so we’ll see.

I say that it’s “kind of” ELL-friendly because you’ll be reading along, everything’s great, then – what is that word? There were a handful of words I’d never seen, and there were also outdated words like “swell” and “keen.” The dialogue between some characters may also be confusing to all students due to how various dialects are written. I think most of the servants and workers of the Melendy family were not white – maybe African American? The only hint of racism I found was at the end when Wilkins calls Mrs. Oliphant “Mrs. O,” and the lady explains that Wilkins only likes to talk in short sentences and abbreviates names.

It’s definitely a book for middle school, and I think that if kids are still reading classics now-a-days, they might enjoy this book too.