My Reading List for My Kids for When They’re in High School

book stack

by John Ellis

This past Sunday, a friend of mine asked me to write an article listing the books that he should’ve read in high school, but probably didn’t. To be fair to my friend, he’s a nuclear engineer, and having not read these books has not stunted his ability to be a productive adult; assuming that he hasn’t read the following books, that is. On the other hand, I know people who have read the following books who have not been very productive as adults. Make of that what you will. Anyway, my friend’s request is only one of the reasons why I compiled this list.

For years now, I’ve been saying that I am going to have a list of books that my children will be required to read over the course of their high school career. For years now, I have failed to put much thought into that list, much less produce one. Well, my daughter begins middle school next year. Time’s a runnin’ out! That’s the second reason why I compiled this list.

However, the most important reason for this list is probably self-evident – reading is important. Furthermore, it’s important to read certain books in order to be conversant with Western culture. Certain works of literature have so shaped our society that a lack of interaction with them will leave your cognitive scaffolding incomplete. Sadly, that seems to be the norm, and many people approach worldview-level opinions and beliefs like they would the buffet at a Golden Corral. And similar to food on Golden Corral’s buffet, those opinions and beliefs end up lacking any meaningful substance. In fact, often, Christians will unwittingly adopt beliefs and opinions that are actually contrary to their Christian worldview. Identity politics comes to mind as an obvious example, or, rather, it should be an obvious example.

A few housekeeping notes before the list: 1. I am simply going to list the book and author. Maybe at a later date, I’ll divide the list into manageable chunks and provide a brief argument for each book’s inclusion. 2. This is my first attempt at the list. To that end, I am operating under the assumption that over the next two years, which is how many I have left before my eldest starts high school, this list will evolve. No doubt, I have forgotten a book or three that I love and believe important, and will be embarrassed upon finding out that I failed to include them on this list. 3. This list is heavy on fiction. If I were to make a list for college students, more philosophy and theology books would be included. 4. As my kids read these books, they will be required to discuss them with me. 5. To help me with number 2, please let me know which books you believe I’ve omitted but that should be on the list. 6. I am admittedly and woefully ignorant of much of the non-Western literary canon. The following list reflects my literary shortcomings. 7. Several of the selections will be tough for high schoolers to read. That’s a good thing.

Without any further ado, the list (unless I counted wrong, there are 100 books, plus some poetry selections):

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

All My Sons by Arthur Miller

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Apology by Tertullian

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Candide by Voltaire

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

City of God by Augustine

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Hamlet by Shakespeare

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

History of the Christian Church by Eusebius

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

King Lear by William Shakespeare

Le Miserables by Victor Hugo

Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Lord of the Rings by J.R. Tolkien

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Meno by Plato

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Metamorphoses by Ovid

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Fredrick Douglass

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Oedipus the King by Sophocles

Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford

Paradise Lost by John Milton

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin

Republic by Plato

Richard III by Shakespeare

Roman Lives by Plutarch

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

The Aeneid by Virgil

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Castle by Franz Kafka

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Divine Comedy by Dante

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill

The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Plague by Albert Camus

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The Prince by Machiavelli

The Seagull by Anton Chekhov

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Tempest by Shakespeare

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Trial by Franz Kafka

The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes

Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

Trifles by Susan Glaspell

Ulysses by James Joyce

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriot Beecher Stowe

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Selected poems by John Donne, T.S. Eliot, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Keats, e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, Anne Bradstreet, Lord Byron, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Wallace Stevens, and others.


4 thoughts on “My Reading List for My Kids for When They’re in High School

  1. I hope to return to this.
    I would start some of them at least 2 years before high school, along with C.S. Lewis’ Narnia in Middle School, if it’s not already been read.
    I’d do Midsummer & Hamlet in MS. Anne Frank, The Little Prince, LOTR, Call of the Wild, TKAMB, and Time Machine.
    They prepare for the more challenging text & give an overview of the list.
    I love when the reading occurrs at the same time as the same time period in history.

    Many thoughts, I’ll return as I have time.


    • My fifth grade daughter has already read a few of the books on the list, and has her eyes set on a few others to read this year (she averages reading a book a day). I’m writing another post to better explain the motives and structure, but this list isn’t simply for them to read. It’s being designed for me to take ownership over my kids’ language arts education. Each book will require a discussion session with me and, at times, a paper.

      Thank you for reading and for commenting. Looking forward to your further thoughts.


      • Right, I assumed from #4 that this wasn’t just hand her a book & let her have at it.

        I’d add Gulliver’s Travels in the next couple of years, also.

        I like when lit works together to give fuller understanding of a theme, era, etc.
        I also like to contrast lit. For example, Jack London drops a character into a setting to see what the character will do; but, I think, Robinson’s Crusoe’s moral character is known and he behaves in accordance with his character. Nice contrast / comparison.


  2. EXCELLENT list, John. Three best books ever: #1, the Bible; #2, Les Miserables; and #3, Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers. As an English major and voracious reader, I have read a lot of fiction, Bible commentaries, and non-fiction in my lifetime. I literally wept when I read the last 50 pages of Les Miserables. Thanks for calling parents and their children to this reading challenge!


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