I've decided: I don't want to be on the literature selection committee.

I thought it would be a fabulous job: reading books, sharing ideas and making what I consider ‘valuable’ decisions. Having spoken to a number of teachers and colleagues about which titles they thought should appear on the prescribed list I’ve realised that it is a mammoth task, and, sadly, you are never going to keep most people happy!

It’s not only that people’s views about what constitutes a good book are so diverse, but there seems to be very little  concurrence about the level at which books should be taught. For example, a number of teachers have suggested that ‘Room’ (Emma Donoghue) and ‘The curious incident of the Dog ...’ (Mark Haddon) are excellent novels to study ... but at what level? Opinions vacillate from grade 8 through to grade 12. Personally I would have thought that ‘Room’ was too intense for a grade 8 learner, but I am now beginning to question my own judgement. Perhaps I am trying to ‘shelter’ learners when I shouldn’t be, or perhaps I am assuming innocence and naivety when it doesn’t exist. (I didn’t quite realise that considering a list of setwork books was going to turn into an exercise in existentialism!)

Looking at reviews of the titles doesn’t help much either – for every glowing review that you read, you will find a damning one.

The trick must be to draw up a list of criteria that titles should adhere to. What would you include on the checklist when trying to decide on a setwork?

Here are a few ideas to get you started ...

  • Well written (that is a discussion all of its own!)
  • Should reflect a popular style of writing or expose learners to a new way of expression
  • Interesting characters and/or plot development
  • Showing some relevance to the lives of learners, or teaching lessons

Let me hear from you so that we can publish what we consider a useful checklist when selecting prescribed works.


P.S. If you don’t know ‘Room’ and ‘The curious incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, here are some reviews to consider.

Room – Emma Donoghue
New York Times: On the whole, Donoghue goes the distance with ‘Room’, and she brings her story to a powerful close that feels exactly right. This is a truly memorable novel, one that can be read through myriad lenses — psychological, sociological, political. It presents an utterly unique way to talk about love, all the while giving us a fresh, expansive eye on the world in which we live.

The Guardian: Donoghue has not been so crass as to make light of their plight: at times it's almost impossible not to turn away in horror. When Ma's kidnapper comes to the room in the evening, she makes Jack hide in the wardrobe, where he listens as they get into bed: "I always have to count till he makes that gaspy sound and stops." Ma has days where she is "gone" to blank-eyed depression and Jack, left to his own devices, reveals: "Mostly I just sit." But the grotesque is consistently balanced with the uplifting and there is a moment, halfway through the novel, where you feel you would fight anyone who tried to wrestle it from your grasp with the same ferocity that Ma fights for Jack, such is the author's power to make out of the most vile circumstances something absorbing, truthful and beautiful.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
The Guardian: "This will not be a funny book," says Christopher. "I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them." But it is a funny book, as well as a sad one. Christopher's compulsive noting of mundane facts provides comedy reminiscent of the best of Adrian Mole, especially in his dealings with the police and his special-needs classmates. And Haddon's inclusion of diagrams, timetables, maps, even maths problems, extends the normal scope of novel-writing and demonstrates the rich idiosyncrasies of the autistic brain. The Curious Incident is published simultaneously for adults and older children; despite its clarity and simplicity, it operates on several levels. I'd love to know what a reader with Asperger's thinks of this book. I think it's brilliant.

Categories: Macrat Musings

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