Classic childhood books for 8th graders
The Fellowship of the Ring
by: J.R.R. Tolkien - (Houghton Mifflin, 1954)
An epic work of meticulously wrought fantasy, the first of Tolkien’s three-part series is first and foremost a great and gripping adventure about fellowship, and about a boy who finds strength deep inside himself. While the movies stay fairly faithful to the spirit of the original, they can’t begin to convey the rich texture, careful plotting, and underlying morality that Tolkien brings to each page.
Perfect for: Any tween or teen ready to delve into a magical, incomparably complex world.
Find The Fellowship of the Ring at your local library.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
by: Zora Neal Hurston - (SparkNotes, 2014) 96 pages.
Janie Crawford relates her life as an African-American in 1920s Florida. The narrative describes three very different marriages and the protagonist’s search for true love. Primary themes explore male-female relations, identify, self-autonomy, community, and race. Stylistically, it’s noted for its use of distinctive Southern black dialect.
Perfect for: Young adults interested in gender relations.
Find Their Eyes Were Watching God at your local library.
All Creatures Great and Small
by: James Herriot - (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1998) 448 pages.
This is a compilation of stories about a Yorkshire veterinarian’s animal patients and their relationships with their human owners. The doctor’s wide-ranging clientele — from pampered Pekinese to draught horse beasts of burden — are treated with humor, compassion, and insight. The stories provide an examination of the human condition, as viewed through country life in Yorkshire. The novel also delves into the sociological changes in the veterinary profession that result from increased machinery and leisure time.
Perfect for: Animal lovers and anyone who enjoys observant, sensitive tales.
Find All Creatures Great and Small at your local library.
by: Jonathan Swift - (Dover Publications, 1996) 240 pages.
This witty, 18th-century satire on European behavior was written as a series of tongue-in-cheek traveler narratives. Lemuel Gulliver is shipwrecked first on an island of tiny people, the Lilliputians. Subsequent voyages take him to a land of giants (Brobdingnag), to a country populated by talking horses (the Houyhnhnms), and other fanciful locations. Thematically, Swift explores the idea of utopia via topics such as family planning, education, and communalism versus individualism.
Perfect for: Young politicos who enjoy cultural criticism and political philosophy.
Find Gulliver’s Travels at your local library.
by: Robert Louis Stevenson - (Bantam, 1982) 288 pages.
David Balfour, a 17-year-old Scottish orphan, discovers he’s the legitimate heir to the House of Shaws. His evil uncle Ebenezer wants the fortune for himself, so he hires a ship captain to kidnap the lad and sell him into slavery in the Carolinas. When the boat crashes in the Hebrides, David escapes with a French daredevil who helps him return home after multiple escapades in the wild Highlands. Packed with clan intrigue, Scotch dialect, bagpipes, danger, and romance.
Perfect for: Young adults who love coming-of-age stories set in different eras.
Find Kidnapped at your local library.
The Old Man and the Sea
by: Ernest Hemingway - (Scribner, 1995) 128 pages.
After fishing for 84 days in the Gulf Stream without a single catch, Santiago — an elderly Cuban — hooks a giant marlin. Painfully battling the monstrous prize for three days, he reels it close enough to harpoon it, kill it, and strap it to the side of his skiff. Still, Santiago cannot celebrate his conquest. Sharks discover his prize as he returns to port. He slays one, then five, but the attacks continue until the marlin is only a battered skeleton. This deceptively simple tale explores multiple themes, including pride, courage, friendship, death, isolation, and humanity’s relationship with nature.
Perfect for: Young adults who’ll soak up the meaning-of-life messages.
Find The Old Man and the Sea at your local library.
The Sea Wolf
by: Jack London - (Dover Publications, 1999) 256 pages.
Wolf Larsen is the powerful, sociopathic sea captain of the Ghost, a seal-hunting schooner in the northern Pacific. His companions are a mutinous crew and two accidental passengers: an intellectual gentleman and a refined lady. Brutal struggles for physical dominance rock the boat, with heated debates between the nihilistic Wolf with the two soft idealists. This tale is emotionally turbulent, violently exciting, and philosophically profound.
Perfect for: Those who enjoy terrifying tales and contrasting viewpoints of life.
Find The Sea Wolf at your local library.
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
by: Kate Douglas Wiggin - (Aegypan, 2006) 184 pages.
Rebecca Rowell Randall is a young, impoverished farm girl who is sent away to live with her two dour, proper aunts in Riverboro, a tiny town in Maine. The joyful, imaginative heroine makes dear friends, charms the villagers, excels in school, and surmounts all obstacles with bubbling cheer. This is a lovable characterization of a relentlessly optimistic girl with an upbeat ending: Rebecca gains financial independence, enabling her to support her destitute family.
Perfect for: Teens who could learn a little about the power of optimism.
Find Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm at your local library.
To Kill a Mockingbird
by: Harper Lee - (Grand Central Publishing, 1988) 384 pages.
Growing up in 1930s Alabama, Jem and Scout Finch live a comfortable life playing with their neighbor Dill, spying on the mysterious recluse Boo Radley, and getting into mischief. But when a black man is accused of raping a white woman, and their lawyer father, Atticus, chooses to defend him, the children soon come face to face with the realities of violence and prejudice in their small town. This powerful story deals with mature themes and presents teen readers with a realistic and moving depiction of racism in the segregated South.
Want to see the movie? The 1962 adaptation won three Academy Awards. Parents should note that it contains racially charged language and courtroom descriptions of sexual violence.
Perfect for: Teens with a strong sense of right vs. wrong.
Find To Kill a Mockingbird at your local library.
by: Richard Wright - (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2007) 448 pages.
Author Richard Wright shares the story of his troubled early childhood in the racist 1920s South and his eventual move to Chicago in this memoir. As an African-American boy in the 1920s and 1930s, he experiences extreme poverty, hunger, family violence, alcoholism (at the age of 6), and racial hatred. As he turns to both atheism and Communism, he examines their promises — both true and false. His hopeful conclusion asserts that writing will successfully connect him to the world.
Perfect for: Young adults interested honest stories of overcoming difficulties.
Find Black Boy at your local library.