I am looking for a novel that is about/appeals to students from low-income, rural families. Our students are very - unmotivated - "I'm just going on welfare" mentality. I need to find a novel that will show them that they can do more if they try. I am desperate.
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A very under rated book that I have used both in the US and Korea, and a few times in Japan, is the novel Johnny Tremain. It has something for everyone: a little action, a family problem, a situation at home in which Johnny has to struggle with himself after the accident, etc. And with a backdrop of the American Revolution, it is an easy winner with kids, not just with one type of student. It is always the novel I recommend for just about everyone, since it was so well written. I believe it also won the Newberry Book Award for Adolescent literature.
Not sure of the grade level of your students, but may I suggest 'Freak the Mighty' by Rodman Philbrick? My daughter read it in elementary school (GT class), and I read it with both middle school (6th grade reading) and high school students (mixed class reading challenged).
The story is about friendship and overcoming obstacles. Max, a large but learning disabled boy, befriends Freak, a physically challenged genius. Both have many issues to deal with; parent in jail, single parent family, raised by grandparents, death, and of course their own disabilities.
It is a moving story that most kids can relate to and might be a way to discuss overcoming the odds, without the story focusing on the poverty that is bringing down this particular group.
Also for struggles, 'Holes' was great and though I haven't read it, I understand that 'A Hero Ain't Nothing But a Sandwich' deals with poverty and is supposed to be a good read.
So, it's not just high interest you are looking for? It's not just getting them to read something, it's getting them motivated by the issues in the book too.
Sometimes, I think it's good for kids like that to see characters who they can relate with and thus it might take two books... a relater, and then a motivator...
A few ideas I would have:
Speak, Twisted, any Chris Crutcher work...
anything Sherman Alexie (make sure to connect with the movies... they are fun-ny!)
Both: Tuesdays with Morrie
In focusing on the rural aspect, I like "Tex" by Hinton. Being set in Oklahoma and focusing on horses as it does could be a realm where connection to a rural predicament could be felt. It also helps to enforce the idea that individuals are active agents of their own setting, and not passive objects. All individuals, at some level, make conscious choices on who they are and in what they believe. Another work set in Oklahoma, but focusing on the depression of the 1930s would be Hesse's "Out of the Dust." If individuals possessed voice and activity during this difficult time, then the argument could be made that don't they always have this level of activity? The other works mentioned do much of the same, but I like these for the rural condition that might speak to some of your students.
Please consider giving them Hinton's The Outsiders. In many, many years, I have never given this book to a student who did not like it and finish reading it. It was always my go-to book for any kid who said "I hate to read." I have taught in a small rural school and in a huge inner-city school, both of which educated very poor student populations. In both of these schools, The Outsiders always proved to be a big hit and a great teaching tool.
I love the novels already suggested--I was going to suggest those very same ones!
The only one not listed thus far would be The Giver by Lois Lowry. You can address all the issues you mentioned, it's fairly easy to read, and students can do lots of hands-on, group and individual projects. Plus it involves morality and ethics, which will allow for debates, or at the least, some good writing prompts!
Two more novels that might work are the Lypsite's The Contender. It's about a low income teenager who becomes a pretty good boxer while his friends get in trouble breaking and entering. Another novel that might work is Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. This one has worked well for me over the years with weaker readers. It deals with poverty, racism, coming of age. And, I agree with the post above--The Giver works very well. If your population is primarily male, they might like the sci-fi classic Ender's Game. It has a compelling story, dealing with high stakes video games. Actually, most girls like this novel too.
I think that any Walter Dean Myers work would work, but especially his novel Fallen Angels which follows a young African-American through his experience in the Vietnam War. He joins the army because while he is smart enough to go to college, he doesn't have the means to buy clothing to go to college or to support his mom and little brother. I have had many students who are "non-readers" tell me throughout the years that this is the only book that they read for school.
For a rural appeal for your students, My Louisiana Sky is a great one for younger students (6th grade or so).
Another writer who appeals to adolescents from low-income homes is Sharon Draper. I have students who have read every book that she has written.
One more thought--have you tried interesting nonfiction? This often works very well with male students. Freakanomics is a gripping read for my high school boys who do not normally choose to read, and it does discuss socioeconomic issues which might cause your students to think more about their futures.
I'm not sure which grade level you need, but I work with 8th graders and would highly recommend some of these novels which have been received positively by some of my more reluctant readers:
1. Life Is So Good by George Dawson -highly inspirational! the story of George Dawson, an African-American man, who at 103 wrote his memoire and share valuable life lessons. Oh, by the way, he only learned to read at age 98!!
2. A Hope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind - the true story of Cedric Jennings, an poor, inner-city kid who overcomes great odds to graduate from Brown University.
3. Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez - The autobiography of a child who was raised by migrant workers. He aslo overcomes great adversity to be the first in his family to attend college and "make something of himself." Very humorous as well as inspiring.
The Fiction Books I Can't Keep on my Shelf:
1. The Hunger Games - by Suzanne Collins
2. Shattering Glass - by Gail Giles
3. Skulduggery Pleasant - by Derek Landy
4. The Alchemyst Series (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flammel) - by Michael Scott
Hope some of these suggestions help! Good luck!
Most of the suggestions here are YA titles and I certainly would agree with these as well. I'll offer instead three adult titles that might also work well with high school students.
Mitch Cullen's Whompyjawed is fascinating story of mentally challenged, high school football player in rural, west Texas.
Kent Haruf's Plainsong is the story of a pregnant teenager and her struggles on the high plains of eastern Colorado.
The Motel Lifeby Willy Vlautin is the story of two brothers living out of their car and series of cheap hotels in the Nevada desert.
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