Summer is drawing to a close here in Canada, which means children are gearing up to go back to school. The books we read in school can spark a love of reading, teach us critical thinking, and help shape our tastes and reading habits for later in life.
One of the earliest books I remember reading in school was Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, when I was about eight. The first few minutes were torture - I was expected to sit still, stay quiet, even put my head on the desk, and the urge to fidget, run and shout was overwhelming. (If only I'd known then what a rare luxury in life it is for someone to read to you while you listen peacefully). The story was engaging, and soon my restlessness melted away, replaced by rapt delight upon meeting Charlotte the grey spider, Templeton the rat, and of course Wilbur (some pig!). I fell in love with reading in school.
The first book I recall reading in high school was J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit when I was 13. From the first mention of Bilbo Baggins and his eleventy-first birthday, I was hooked and looked so forward to the reading every day. It was a much more adult read than I was used to, with sophisticated words, ideas and descriptions, and as much adventure and peril as anyone could ask for.
Some of the books assigned by teachers could have the opposite effect, as well. My colleague Richard mentioned having read The Return of the Native in school, and upon discovering with dismay a description no fewer than six pages in length of the gorse-covered heath, knew he would never read a word of Thomas Hardy again.
The same went for John Steinbeck and me, so I thought - we read Steinbeck's bleak, hopeless and ugly novel The Pearl when I was about 15, and I loathed it so bitterly I resented having to read it. To me, it was despair for despair's sake, with no redemption and no hope. When we were assigned Of Mice and Men a year later, I hunkered down, heaved a sigh and…loved it. It was still depressing and unjust, but the characters felt real, vibrant, understandable. The mean were mean, the kind were kind and hardly anyone got what they deserved, but I became enthralled nevertheless.
Until my coworkers and I started talking, I didn't realize how many of the books I've loved best were originally assigned to me as a high school student. I wondered - are the same books assigned to high school students worldwide? If not, what do students read in other countries? With staff from The United States, Canada, Mexico, the Phillippines, Russia, China, the Ukraine, Germany, Venezuela, and more, AbeBooks seemed to be a good place to ask. I found that some assigned reading was universal (almost all of us read Shakespeare - Macbeth, Othello, A Midsummer Night's Dream and more - and at least one Charles Dickens, one John Steinbeck, one Jane Austen), but there were a lot of differences as well.
Here are just some of the books the AbeBooks staff read in school that started us off on our love of books.
Sienna from Alabama Read:
Nori from Alaska Read:
Marc from Alberta Read:
Ludivine from Belgium Read:
Beth, Lily, Jessica and Darryl from British Columbia Read:
Noémie from France Read:
Thomas and Nadine from Germany Read:
Pilar from Mexico Read:
Lawrence from the Philippines Read:
Tatiana from Russia Read:
Richard and Sarah from the UK Read:
Anton from the Ukraine Read:
Fernando from Venezuela Read:
Feeling international? Check out some of our Books of the World: