To Kill a Mockingbird or To Kill the Love of Reading? That Is The Question

The Good, The Bad, and The So-Bad-They-Took-It-Out-Of-The-Curriculum

When the Emperor Was Divine: A Story on Ignored History – Sophomore English Accelerated 

Julie Utsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine centers around an unnamed Japanese American family as they faced internment during World War II. With complexity, beautiful writing and a topic that sparks wider conversations, this book consists of everything that makes for a perfect classroom discussion. It seems impossible for anyone to read When the Emperor Was Divine without getting teary eyed, even for the most indifferent of high school students. Besides being good fuel for essays, the book’s plentiful metaphors are genuinely interesting, and even if symbolism isn’t your thing, the raw story on its own is enjoyable and engaging. It also creates an opportunity to talk about the broader historical context of the book. As conversations about the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II can sometimes be left out of history classes, When the Emperor Was Divine fills a gap in the curriculum while also being enjoyable. 

EBR Grade: 4


Fair is Foul, Macbeth is not – Sophomore English Accelerated

Focusing around a prophecy, a murder and a war, Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is definitely one of the most iconic texts taught sophomore year. It’s part in the universal American high school experience guarantees its perpetual relevance in pop culture, and with its references in Hamilton, Tiktoks, and Sparknotes memes, it’s good that many Stevenson students won’t be missing out. Macbeth leads to interesting moments in class too. My class, as well as most of my friends’ classes, read much of the play out loud, creating lots of fun moments as we attempted to act out the most dramatic scenes. With all of the action and gore in the plot, Macbeth is genuinely exciting to read, and it’s definitely a part of the curriculum that incoming sophomores should look forward to, even if they didn’t enjoy The Tempest. Even 400 years after its release, Macbeth’s suspense continues to keep modern readers on the edge of their seats.

EBR Grade: 3


The Alchemist: A Crime Against Literature Freshman English Accelerated

Although The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho may be unfamiliar to current Freshman and Sophomore students, there’s also a good chance that Juniors and Seniors who took Freshman English Accelerated are still having nightmares about this book. The book focuses on Santiago, a young boy from Spain as he goes out to find a treasure that he dreamed was beneath the Egyptian Pyramids, and then (spoiler) realizes it was right where he started all along. The Alchemist is quite possibly the worst book I’ve ever read, both in English class and outside of it. With its worst crime being taking itself too seriously, it makes sense why it would be chosen for high school English curriculums. However, The Alchemist is a pretentious mess, and it has no benefit toward the people being forced to read it in class. The book reads like Coelho wanted to say something, but then halfway through writing it realized he had no mind-blowing message that would reveal the meaning of life, so he resorted to giving the book a quick ending that it is somehow both overly convoluted and too simple. Luckily, this book has been replaced in the curriculum by more meaningful books, and good riddance! Let’s hope it never makes its return to the English curriculum. 

EBR Grade: 1-


The Catcher in the Rye: A Lesson on Empathy – Sophomore English Accelerated  

Unless you’re a real phony, you’ll remember Holden Caulfield and his iconic red hat, his brother’s baseball mitten, and his ongoing trauma that made all his adventures so fun to read. While reading it, you probably got tired of Holden’s continuous pretentiousness and ‘holier than thou’ attitude, and by the 48th, “they’re all phonies,” you for sure chucked the book across the room in annoyance. However, there were telling signs of a deeper story, and somewhere between the flashback to his old boarding school and running away from his teacher’s house, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him and understand empathy just a little bit deeper than before you opened the book. From starting out as a racy novel to becoming an English classroom favorite, Holden’s story is certainly worth the read. 

EBR Grade: 3- 


To Kill a Mockingbird and My Motivation – Freshman English Accelerated 

If you cross white savior with a bunch of teachers trying to claim diversity, To Kill a Mockingbird is the perfect book to read. Featuring a grand total of two main Black characters, this book isn’t the radical view of race in the 1900s that teachers try to portray— instead, it is a novel centered around a young white child growing up. While racial dynamics play an element in Tom Robinson’s conviction because of Mayella Euwal’s false claims of rape, the novel itself is a story of childhood and how a white family did all they could to help the victim out. Even while Atticus ultimately failed, they are still remembered as the protagonists of the play. The adoration that readers give Atticus Finch for believing that discrimination is wrong feeds directly into the white savior narrative that activists are battling today. If you want to teach race, choose a novel that introduces it differently from the one narrative that has always been portrayed. The book was taught as a story, more than as a reflection of the time, and this continued erasure of Black history allows us to ignore the injustices that happened in the first place.  Not only that, but the book is often mishandled when taught. In my freshman english class, we debated whether a rape victim or a Black man should be believed, an activity that is completely inappropriate when I look back upon it.            

EBR Grade: 2 


The Tempest: A Comedy to No One but the Dead – Freshman English Accelerated 

Shakespeare may have been iconic in his time, but today, he’s nothing more than an annoyance. Besides increasing the number of Sparknotes visits, The Tempest is only good for confusing students and analyzing in overly complicated essays. The Tempest has the honor of being one of the most mind-numbing books I’ve read. It features old time commentary on gender roles and indigenous people’s role on land, and some wonderful ideas on revenge. Reading books often allows the pleasure of learning more about the world and gaining a deeper understanding of life. Somehow, after reading The Tempest, I understood even less. This book had no bearing or takeaway morals, contained humor that is funny to quite possibly no one, and was oftentimes downright creepy. If teachers are looking for ways to enrich students’ minds, I guarantee that this book is not the right route. 

EBR Grade: 1+