Thursday, February 8, 2018

Snot Bubbles and Students Who Don't Always Work

ONE PROBLEM I NEVER SOLVED (and I doubt any educator ever has) was getting all my students to do all their work on time. 

Or ever! 

In my class, I gave everyone who needed help multiple opportunities to catch up, until even they were usually forced to admit—well—it was their fault for not getting work done. Once a boy or girl admitted it was a problem of their making, I felt we could make progress with anyone. That still doesn’t mean we would.

If I could convince a student to work, it was hard for them to fail my history class. I offered to stay and help after school, to miss my lunch and help, to come in early, to give extra credit so kids could fill in zeroes in the grade book. If you had a D or F and weren’t interested in taking me up on these chances, I phoned your parents and encouraged them to require you to stay.

NOT EVERYONE was thrilled with my system. On one occasion I called a young man back to my desk and whispered warning. He was failing the class. He returned to his seat without a word but by the time he sat down he was crying. I asked him to step to the hall and tell me what the trouble was. As soon as the door closed he began blubbering.

“I hate you,” he explained.

I asked why he was crying.

“Now I’m ineligible for basketball,” he sobbed.

I reminded him he had missed multiple chances to make up work. I wanted to know how it was my fault, since he had to be failing at least two classes to become ineligible.

“I hate you,” he repeated. 

It was hard not to notice a snot bubble collecting on his upper lip.

I patted him on the shoulder and said, “Come in for makeup work tomorrow at lunch and let’s see what we can do.” Then I told him to take a moment to gather his wits and I went back to work.

Students had to memorize the section of the Declaration of Independence provided.
They had to be able to answer the six questions on a test.
Number 5 initially baffled them.

I USED THE SAME approach, offering a hundred chances to any kid who needed them, over decades to come. Each year I asked students to memorize a crucial section of the Declaration of Independence, 84 words in length. To my thinking, the ideas in that document are critical to understanding what makes this nation great. Every year, like swallows returning to Capistrano, you could count on a significant minority of students failing the quiz. 

Failing, not “struggling.”

I remember Henry showing up for class, taking out a blank sheet of paper, and writing…nothing. He didn’t know the first words, not even, “We hold these truths.” I told him to come in at lunch and try again. The next day Henry missed half his lunch. I missed half of mine. Henry still didn’t know the Declaration but smiled when I told him he could leave—as if his ordeal was ended. 

“See you again tomorrow, Henry,” I told him, flashing the peace sign.

The next day Henry was absent. The day after, he didn’t show for lunch. I hustled down to the cafeteria, interrupted him between bites of cheeseburger and marched him to my room. 

Henry missed half his lunch. 

I missed all of mine.   

HENRY STILL DIDN’T know the Declaration. He did know something nearly as good.

“See you again tomorrow,” I called as he was leaving. He knew I wasn’t willing to watch him let his talent go to waste.

The next day Henry stopped by my room before school. “Can I recite the Declaration now and not miss lunch again?” he wondered.

“Certainly,” I replied. “I don’t like to miss my lunch either.”

Henry delivered the section with two words missing and earned an A. Most teachers in this situation average grades, one high and one low. Not my style. I wanted to catch kids at their best.

I inked an A in the grade book and told Henry he was free at last.


POSTSCRIPT: I once had a student who rarely did homework, a problem that lasted the entire year. By actual count, I called her house fourteen times between August and the falling June. I don’t think, as a result, that her parents managed to get her to do fourteen more assignments in all. So I did the best I could. I often requested she come in at lunch or stay after school.

I won’t try to say I wasn’t often totally frustrated; but it was interesting a few months back, when the same young lady friended me on Facebook. “Mr. Viall,” she said, “you were the only teacher who ever got me to work.”

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Reading List for American History

I provided this reading list to my American history classes. My requirement was that students pick any four books and read them by the end of the year, if they wanted an “A” or “B.” Two books were required to earn a “C” for the year. One book would be enough if you only wanted a “D.”

There are all kinds of permutations and minor flaws in my system; I will spare you all of those. I always tried to find time—and had kids come back to my desk and do oral reports.

My only real goal was to foster their interest in reading for pleasure and fun.

If nothing else, a few young teachers might find a few good ideas for reading on this list for themselves.

Reading List for U.S. History

Underlined titles represent mature content. Students should have parental consent to read these books. 

Teacher Favorites

 1. HIROSHIMA by John Hersey: The story of the first city hit by an atomic bomb. The Japanese names may confuse you, but the basic story is chilling.  

2. PUDD’N’HEAD WILSON by Mark Twain: One of his overlooked works. Funny and highly sympathetic to slaves. A mother switches two infants and a slave grows up as a “white” person.  

3-4. MAUS I and MAUS II by Art Spiegelman: Won a special Pulitzer Prize (award given to the best books written each year). In cartoon form Nazis (cats) destroy Jews (mice).  

5. CO. AYTCH by Sam Watkins: Tale of a Civil War soldier’s life. Watkins saw terrible fighting but writes with humor.  

6. MY LIFE AND HARD TIMES by James Thurber: A comical look at what it was like to grow up in Ohio around 1910.  

7. ORDEAL BY HUNGER by George Stewart: The chilling tale of the Donner Party, a wagon train that ran into disaster in 1846-47.

8. MARTIAN CHRONICLES by Ray Bradbury: Famous science fiction work. Men come to Mars, settle, destroy the natives—like what happened in American history to our native population.  

9. JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN by Dalton Trumbo: Sometimes confusing, since the main character is confused. Ultimate story of the horror of war.  

10. LITTLE BIG MAN by Thomas Berger: Novel about a 114-year-old man who lived with the Sioux Indians, fought with Custer, knew Wild Bill Hickok, and more. 

11. LINCOLN by Benjamin Thomas: excellent; a great one-volume history of one of our greatest leaders.

12. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell: The tale of “pigs” who take over a farm in a revolution and start their own government. A parody of communism. 

13. 1984 by Orwell: Written in 1949, this book predicts a world in which government controls the way we think and act.  

14. WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG by Galloway and Moore: Gripping tale of the first big battle in the Vietnam War. Starts slowly—then full of bullets and bravery.  

15. GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell: great novel about the Civil War and the period after. If you ignore the author’s subtle racism, this is a well-written love story. A book girls like. 

16. APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA by John O’Hara: A young man destroys himself with booze in the 1920’s. Very mature themes.  

17. THE KILLING ZONE by Frederick Downs: Brutal story of Vietnam combat. The author doesn’t write particularly well but spins a fine tale.  

18. TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE by B. Traven: A tale of four Americans mining for gold in Mexico; classic story of greed.

19. THE KILLER ANGELS by Shaara: Fantastic novel about the Battle of Gettysburg. Won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975; became movie Gettysburg.  

20. FAIL SAFE by Burdick/Wheeler: In this story the United States and Soviet Union stumble into nuclear war by mistake.

21. UNDAUNTED COURAGE by Ambrose: The story of the Lewis and Clark expedition told in highly entertaining fashion.

22. THE BIG SKY by A. B. Guthrie Jr.: A young man joins the Mountain Men in exploring the Rockies. Great plot twists.  

23. IWO JIMA: LEGACY OF HONOR by Bill D. Ross: Read this as a story of great courage and don’t worry about all the names. The bloodiest battle ever fought by U.S. Marines.

24-25-26-27. STILLNESS AT APPOMATTOX; GLORY ROAD; NEVER CALL RETREAT; MR. LINCOLN'S ARMY by Bruce Catton: These books helped Mr. Viall see that history should not be boring. Catton makes the men and women who fought the war come to life.

28. NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLAS by Douglas: Written in 1845, after he ran away from slavery in Maryland. A great look at the evils of the slave system.  

29. THE JUNGLE by Upton Sinclair: Tragic life for Polish immigrants who arrive in Chicago around 1890.  

30-31. NATIVE SON by Richard Wright: Story of a black youth who kills a white girl by mistake. Mr. Viall read it in college, and it helped him understand other races better than any other book. Many students also like his work, BLACK BOY.)  

32. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee: Starts slow; but a great work. A lawyer defends a black man on trial for rape. The story is seen through the eyes of a young girl.  

33. LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry: Follows the life of two Texas Rangers who fight Indians and turn to raising cattle. Won a Pulitzer Prize, later a TV mini-series. Very mature themes. 

34. GENTLE TAMERS by Dee Brown: A detailed, interesting look at the women who helped settle the West after the Civil War. 

35. ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton: A short novel about the life of a deeply unhappy man, who marries a sour woman. Then he falls in love with her young cousin.  

36. CONFEDERATE GENERAL FROM BIG SUR by Richard Brautigan: Written during the hippie days, by a hippie poet/writer. Gives a good feel for that era.  

37. CRUSADE by Rick Atkinson: Fine description of the first Gulf War between Iraq and the United States.
38. THE HOLOCAUST by Martin Gilbert: You cannot read this book for names and dates. There are too many. Yet, no other book comes so close to capturing the horror of the destruction of the Jews and others.  Over 900 pages.  
39. NIGHT by Elie Weisel: The author was a teen when he was sent to Hitler’s death camps. Great book.

40. CAVALIER IN BUCKSKIN by Robert Utley: A look at the life of General George Armstrong Custer, killed at the Little Big Horn with all his men. 

41. BELOVED by Toni Morrison: The author was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer; story of a slave lady and her ghosts. Very mature readers.
42. THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT by Sloan Wilson: A returning war hero must fit in to find a good job. A look at family life and the “American Dream” in the years following World War II.
43. AND LADIES OF THE CLUB by Helen Hooven Santmyer: Beautiful story of generations of women who grow and change with the times; full of wisdom and insight. 

44. THE LAST FULL MEASURE by Richard Moe: The experiences of one regiment of soldiers, the 1st Minnesota Infantry, during the Civil War. 

45. SELECTED POEMS OF LANGSTON HUGHES: Hughes captured the story of black Americans with wisdom and humor.  

46. D-DAY by Stephen Ambrose: Story of the invasion of France in 1944; helped form the background for Saving Private Ryan

47. SOD AND STUBBLE by John Ise: Life on the Nebraska frontier is captured in this loving story about Ise’s family.

48. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BLACK HAWK by himself: Fine look at the problems between settlers and Indians.

49-50. ATLAS SHRUGGED and THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand: Two works which shaped the thinking of countless readers. Rand hated communism.

51. THE LEOPARD’S SPOTS by Thomas Dixon, Jr.: This is one of my “favorite” books, showing how ignorant human beings can really be. The author was a rabid racist, yet his works were highly popular in early 1900s. 

52. THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien: Novel about foot soldiers during the Vietnam War. Very fine writing.

53. MATTERHORN by Karl Marlantes: Novel based on the author’s time as a Marine captain fighting in the jungles of Vietnam\. One of the most powerful stories Mr. Viall has ever read.

54. COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier: Novel about a Civil War soldier who deserts and heads for home. Won numerous awards for the first-time author.

55. MARCH TO GLORY by Robert Leckie: Story of the 1st Marine Division, 15,000 men, surrounded by 100,000 Chinese during the Korean War. Epic battle.

56. SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS by David Guterson: Novel about Japanese Americans in the years after World War II. A love story, a mystery, and a tale of prejudice.

57. THE FIXER by Bernard Malamud: Want to know about bad government? This novel about a Jewish prisoner arrested by Russian authorities is amazing.

58. A WALK IN THE WOODS by Bill Bryson: A reporter decides to take a trip along the Appalachian Trail. Very funny. An adventure which raises environmental questions. 

59. UNSINKABLE: THE FULL STORY by Daniel Allen Butler: Well-written, interesting account of the sinking of Titanic.

60. THE MARCH by E. L. Doctorow: fictional look at Sherman’s march through Georgia in 1865; finely written as are most of Doctorow’s works.

61. THE MEMOIRS OF CHIEF PLENTY COUPS by Frank Linderman: Written in 1930, the author asked the old chief to tell his story. Covers the period when Indian life began to change under pressure of white and black settlement. Plenty Coups, born in 1848, hunted buffalo and fought other tribes.

62. SOPHIE’S CHOICE by William Styron: The life of a beautiful Jewish woman who must adjust in the aftermath of her time in a death camp.

63. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS by James Bradley: Tale of the Marine combat unit that raised the flag on Iwo Jima. Written by the son of one of the men. 

64. BAND OF BROTHERS by Stephen Ambrose: Great story about young men who joined the paratroops in World War II. Made into the HBO miniseries.

65. EMPIRE FALLS by Richard Russo: Pulitzer winner. Story of a father and his teen daughter as they adjust to life after a divorce. Set in a dying New England town. Great writing.

66. BLACK HAWK DOWN by Mark Bowden: U.S. soldiers battle the forces of a warlord in Somalia.  Made into movie. 

67. STONES FOR IBARRA by Helen Doerr: As good as writing gets. An American couple moves to Mexico and learns to understand the simple joys of life.

68. CONSIDER THIS, SENORA by Harriet Doerr: again, clean, sharp writing.

69. THE INDISPENSABLE MAN by James Flexner: A fine one-volume treatment of the life of George Washington.

70. GETTYSBURG: A TESTING OF COURAGE by Noah Andre Trudeau: I loved this work; great account.

71. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF WILLIAM ALLEN WHITE: Absolute great writing by the Kansas-born commentator.

72. DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather: Wonderful novel about admirable Catholic bishop and his church.

73-74. THE YEAR OF DECISION: 1846 by Bernard DeVoto: History at its best; great work in detail and writing. Also excellent: ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI.

75. THE LAST TRUE STORY I’LL EVER TELL by John Crawford: Wonderful writing; National Guardsman goes to Iraq. 

76. SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson: This book helped establish the environmental movement.

77. MAYFLOWER by Nathaniel Philbrick: Winner of National Book Award; the focus is on Pilgrim relations with natives through King Philip’s War.

78. SAINTS AND STRANGERS by George F. Willison: Perhaps the best volume ever written about the Pilgrims.

79. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: Reporters crack the story of the Watergate Affair.

80. TRUMAN by David McCullough:  Won a well-deserved Pulitzer; great book on an unpopular leader who gained in stature after he left office.

81. JOHN ADAMS by David McCullough: Fine work by a Pulitzer Prize winner; paints Adams in an admirable light.

83. FIGHTING THE FLYING CIRCUS by Eddie Rickenbacker: Great account of early air combat.

84. TURNED INSIDE OUT by Frank Wilkeson. A 15-year-old farm boy from New York lies about his age and joins the Union Army in 1864. A true story of bloody combat.

85. THE YELLOW BIRDS by Kevin Powers: A novel about a young soldier’s struggles when he returns from fighting in Iraq; powerfully written.

86. THE GOOD SOLDIERS by David Finkel: What it was like to fight in Iraq and pay the costs of protecting this country? Often harrowing and sad.

87. DIARY OF ANNE FRANK: THE DEFINITIVE EDITION: The Holocaust seen through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl; now expanded to include entries previously left out. 

88. COMPANY COMMANDER by Charles B. MacDonald: Classic tale of World War II infantrymen; first published 1947 and recently reissued; well worth reading; one of the best stories of war I’ve come across.

89. 102 MINUTES by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn: Tragic tale of the 9/11 attack in New York; moving.

90. INTO THE WILD by Jon Krakauer: Adventurous young man meets disaster in the Far North; true story; now a major motion picture.

91. PARTING THE WATERS: AMERICA IN THE KING YEARS 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch: An inspiring look at the fight for civil rights. Branch won a Pulitzer.

92. A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Hemingway: If you want to learn to write there are few better ways than to consider this author’s style. Love story set during World War I. 

93-94. GRAPES OF WRATH and IN DUBIOUS BATTLE by John Steinbeck: These works (the first famous, but twice as long as the second) cover the struggles and suffering which marked American life during the Great Depression.  

95. ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH by Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The author was a prisoner in Siberia for many years because he criticized the Soviet government; covers one day in a prisoner’s existence. 

96-98. THE CIVIL WAR (THREE VOLUMES) by Shelby Foote: History writing doesn’t get any better. Any highly-motivated student who wants to learn about this period should turn to Foote. Only 3,000 pages!

99. IF I NEVER GET BACK by Darryl Brock: A baseball story, where a newspaper writer leaves a train at a stop in modern Ohio, and travels back to 1869. The “time-traveler” becomes involved with the original professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  

99. COMPANY K by William March: Short stories (often only a page or two) about men who fought in the trench battles of World War I.  Shocking look at the horrors of war.  

100. A NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF DAVID CROCKETT OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE by Crockett: Simply written, interesting first-hand account of life on the frontier. Written in 1834.

101. AMERICAN SLAVERY AS IT IS by Theodore Weld: written in 1838; Weld wrote a damning indictment of slavery, using firsthand and contemporary newspaper accounts.

102. THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie: Hilarious look at life on the “rez,” by a young Native American. 

103. WITH THE OLD BREED AT PELELIU AND OKINAWA by E. B. Sledge: One of the sources used by Ken Burns to create the mini-series, The Pacific. Intense and bloody fighting between the United States Marines and the Japanese.

104-105. THE WRIGHT BROTHERS by David McCullough or KILL DEVIL HILLS by Harry Combs: both good treatments of the famous brothers’ story, including their difficult years (after they flew) when most people thought they were “liars, not fliers.” I love most of McCullough’s work—but if I had to choose one, I’d choose the work of Combs.

106. UNCLE TOM’S CABIN by Stowe: The volume which stunned Americans who read it in the 1850’s, touching on the evils of slavery.

107. THE SELLOUT by Paul Beatty: an African-American tries to bring back slavery. Hilariously different and thought-provoking. (Beatty just won the Man Booker Prize for this work.)

108. SCOTTSBORO by Dan T. Carter: the true story of a rape case against nine young African-American men in 1930s Alabama. Twice they were found guilty and twice the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the lower court decisions.

109. THIS BOY’S LIFE by Tobias Wolff: Growing up in a dysfunctional setting, Wolff describes life in the 1950s.

110. SHOELESS JOE by W. P. Kinsella: The novel which served as basis for the movie Field of Dreams.

111. BABE: THE LEGEND COMES TO LIFE by Robert Creamer: If you have an interest in baseball, this is a great read.

112. 1776 by David McCullough: An in-depth look at the year that almost put an end to the American dream of independence—and how the cause of liberty was saved in the end. Won the Pulitzer Prize.

113. RAGTIME by E. L. Doctorow: An amazing novel about life in America around 1900; very mature themes. (On the Modern Library list of 100 “Best Novels.”)

114. LINDBERGH by A. Scott Berg: The story of the first man to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, a pioneer in the early days of flight, hero, but also a flawed human being. Berg won the Pulitzer Prize.

115. MIRACLE AT PHILADELPHIA by Catherine Drinker Bowen: The story of how the U.S. Constitution was written.

116. JOHN BROWN’S BODY by Stephen Vincent Benet: a long poem about the Civil War, including many passages of great power and beauty. (I just found this book in my piles of flea market purchases.)

117-119. THE ARMY AT DAWN by Rick Atkinson: U.S. forces meet Germans in battle in North Africa for first time; won Pulitzer Prize. Atkinson followed up with two additional volumes. In THE DAY OF BATTLE the Americans battle their way across Sicily and up the Italian boot in warfare as grinding as almost anything in World War I. Heartbreaking losses, blunders, and great courage—often illustrated most poignantly in letters to and from soldiers. He finishes up with THE GUNS AT LAST LIGHT, covering the fighting from D-Day till the end of the war in Europe. Atkinson is a great writer and brings the human element of war to the fore.

120. THE LANCE AND THE SHIELD by Robert Utley: An excellent account of Sitting Bull’s life and Lakota culture.

121. THE BATTLE OF HUE by Mark Bowden: This is story of the bloodiest battle in the Vietnam War—the battle that broke American belief that victory could be achieved. Bowden presents a gripping tale. Like all real war stories it’s bloody and profane and, in this case, a story of courage on both sides, and maybe courage wasted. Bowden also wrote BLACK HAWK DOWN (#66).

122. UNDERGROUND AIRLINES by Ben H. Winters: In this creative take on U.S. history, slavery is still legal now. I had to ignore a few holes in the plot; but it’s a fun read, and might make students think. I read it only recently; my guess is that some teens would enjoy it.

123. FULL BODY BURDEN by Kristen Iversen: If you’re interested in environmental issues, Iversen’s story will only add to any concerns you might have. Growing up near Rocky Flats, a government nuclear production site in Colorado, Iversen sees the damage to the surrounding water, land and people that resulted from unsafe practices.

124. INFAMY by Robert Reeves: The sad story of Japanese-Americans who find themselves vilified and abused after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Reeves covers the story of the relocation camps—the difficult adjustments—and the decision by some internees to turn their backs on this country, while others served with great bravery in the under the flag of a country that failed them deeply.

125. INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL by Harriet Jacobs: This is the tale of a young woman and mother who hid out for years to avoid the unwanted advances of a lustful master.
126. UP FRONT by Bill Mauldin: Mauldin’s World War II cartoons, featuring regular G.I.’s Willie and Joe, portray war from a foot soldier’s muddy, dirty, dangerous point of view.

Note to teachers: I found that it was easy to turn many of these great stories into readings for my classes. I put together an eight-page sampling from Co Aytch, for example, which my students really enjoyed. The stories of Frederick Douglass, Nannie Alderson, a pioneer woman, and the human tragedy of 9/11 all resonated with students.

The story of the Holocaust I put together made many students weep.

Here’s the 9/11 story on my blog.

You can find my writing for sale at “Middle School History and Tips for Teachers.”

Slavery and African Americans

1. A SLAVER’S LOGBOOK by Theophilis Conneau: The author was a captain on a slave-trading ship. He is an expert at making excuses for an evil business. Many chilling experiences.

2. BLACK LIKE ME: True story of a white man who “dyed” himself black to see what it was like to face prejudice; set in the 1950s.  

3. ROOTS by Alex Haley: This famous work covers several generations of a black family, starting with a man kidnapped in Africa. Great story, later made into one of the most popular TV mini-series of all time.

4. PATCH OF BLUE by Kata:  What happens when a blind, white girl falls in love with a man she doesn’t know is black?

5. A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Hansberry: An African American family moves to a white area in the 1950’s. In play form.  

6. HARRIET TUBMAN by Ann Petry: The famous woman who helped hundreds of slaves escape.

9. THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM by Christopher Paul Curtis: a black family heads deep into Alabama at a time of racial trouble. Funny and touching, set in 1963.   

10. WOLF BY THE EARS by Anne Rinaldi: A novel about the slave (and daughter) of Thomas Jefferson. 

11. UP FROM SLAVERY by Booker T. Washington: Inspiring story of an ex-slave who becomes a college president. (Don’t read the last section on fund-raising; it’s tedious beyond reason.) 

American Women

1-2. SILENT STORM by Brown and Crane: The story of Helen Keller, the blind lady who became famous. (Also: THE MIRACLE WORKER about her teacher’s efforts to reach the blind, deaf and mute child.)  

3. AMELIA EARHART by Burke Davis: The famous female pilot, whose disappearance is still a mystery seventy years later. 

4. CALICO CAPTIVE by Speare: Story of a girl made prisoner by the Indians.  

5. ROSANNA OF THE AMISH by Joseph W. Yoder: True story of a girl adopted by a family from this old-fashioned religious group.

6. THIS I REMEMBER by Eleanor. Roosevelt: The great lady tells her own story about life during the Depression and World War II.

7. THE FIRST WOMAN DOCTOR by Rachel Baker: The struggle of Elizabeth Blackwell, who wished to enter the medical profession in the 1800s, when women were not allowed.

8. THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath: True story of a young girl’s breakdown and recovery from mental illness. On the list of great American novels.  

9. THE TOTAL WOMAN by Marabel Morgan: Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!! This book may make modern young ladies dizzy! The author talks about the “old-fashioned” way to keep a marriage strong and insists the man must be the boss. Mr. Viall agrees!!! Ha, ha, ha. Just kidding. 

10. FOLLOW THE RIVER by Thom: Based on a true story of two women captured by Native Americans and held prisoner, and their daring escape. 

11-12. THE JOY LUCK CLUB by Amy Tan: Four young women, born in America, deal with their old-fashioned mothers, all born in China. You might also like THE KITCHEN GOD’S WIFE by Ms. Tan.

13. BRIDIE OF THE WILD ROSE INN by Armstrong: First of four books, featuring young girls as heroines. This one is about a Catholic girl from Scotland who comes to Puritan New England in 1695.  Others are set in 1774, 1858 and 1898.   ##

14. THEY FOUGHT LIKE DEMONS by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook: Study of nearly 400 women who fought during the Civil War, most disguised as men. So much for wimpy women!!
15. THE LAST SILK DRESS by Rinaldi: A teen helps the Rebel cause during the Civil War. 

16. THE CIVIL WAR DIARY OF A SOUTHERN WOMAN by Sarah Morgan: A young woman grows up in Louisiana during the war.

17. A NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF MARY JEMISON, as told to Dr. James E. Seaver: Account from 1823 of the capture and life of Mary Jemison, who spent half a century living among the Iroquois people.

18. A DIARY FROM DIXIE by Mary Boykin Chesnut: Intimate insights from a southern plantation owner’s wife.

19. FAILURE IS IMPOSSIBLE by Lynn Sherr: Biography of Susan B. Anthony, an admirable woman.

20. A BRIDE GOES WEST by Nannie Alderson and Helena H. Smith: Classic story of a woman who settles in Montana in the 1880s.

21. STREAMS TO THE RIVER, RIVER TO THE SEA by O’Dell: A novel about the trip of Lewis and Clark, focusing on the story of Sacagawea.

22. PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf: Pregnant high school girl finds “family” in this 1999 novel; Mrs. Viall recommends it; National Book Award finalist.

23. A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith: a young immigrant girl grows up in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. Mrs. Viall recommends this, too.

24. LOVE MY RIFLE MORE THAN YOU by Kayla Williams: A young woman joins the U. S. Army and serves as a soldier during the War in Iraq; fresh point of view. ##

 American Indians

1. BLUE JACKET by Eckert: Biography of a white boy who grew up with Indians and became their leader in war. 

2-3. THUNDER ROLLING and CHIEF JOSEPH: Both works cover the life of the native leader who had no wish to fight, but had no choice, either.

4. THE APACHE INDIANS by Gordon Cortis Baldwin: Of all Indians, the Apache are famous as the most warlike.

5. ISHI: THE LAST OF HIS TRIBE by Kroeber: True story of the last member of a lost culture, who walked in from the wilderness one day in 1900. 

6. SITTING BULL by Richard O’Conner: This is the history of the Sioux leader who led his people to victory over General Custer in 1876.

7. TECUMSEH: DESTINY’S WARRIOR by David Cooke:  The man who tried to unite all the natives in the Great Lakes region to hold off the spread of white and black population.

8. ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHIN by Scott O’Dell: O’Dell has made a great success of historical novels, like this one about the last few natives left on an island off the California coast. 

9. SING DOWN THE MOON by O’Dell: Life among the Navaho people. 

10. CRAZY HORSE by Shannon Garst: A Sioux war chief, who led his men into the fight at Custer's Last Stand.

11. BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE by Dee Brown: Ahead of its time in 1970; one of the finest works on the fate of the Indians.

Civil War Period

1. JOHN BROWN: THE CRY FOR FREEDOM by Graham: Was this man—who killed to end slavery—a hero or a murderer?  

2. THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE by Epstein: Story of a group of Union soldiers who stole a train and tried to wreck a Rebel railroad. Good adventure.

3. MY ENEMY, MY BROTHER by Persico: The story of Gettysburg, in the words of eyewitnesses.

4. GRAY FOX by Burke Davis: Any book about Robert E. Lee, the key man in the war for the South, should be good.

5. TO APPOMATTOX by Davis: A description of the final days leading up to the destruction of the South’s greatest army.

6. ACROSS FIVE APRILS by Hunt:  A boy grows up during the Civil War years. 

7. RIFLES FOR WATIE by Keith: In Missouri, a young man must decide whether to help the North or the South in the bloody war.

8. BILLY YANK or JOHNNY REB by Wiley:  A look at the daily lives of the soldiers of both sides.

9. THE REMINISCENCES OF SILAS GRISAMORE by Grisamore: A funny work, written by a man who served in the Rebel army in Louisiana.

10. MY BROTHER’S FACE: PHOTOGRAPHS, DIARIES AND LETTERS, edited by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod: Evocative and compelling.

11. ALL FOR THE UNION by Elisha Hunt Rhodes: Diary and letters of Rhode Island soldier who rose from ranks to command regiment.

12. A VOLUNTEER’S ADVENTURES by John William DeForest: Officer in the Union Army tells his story.

13. JOHN RANSOM’S ANDERSONVILLE DIARY: Chilling look inside Rebel prison camp; reminds of Nazi camps eighty years later.

14. CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC by Tony Horowitz: Hilarious look at those who still “fight” the Civil War; won a Pulitzer Prize.

15. FAR, FAR FROM HOME by the Simpson brothers: Letters home by two men in the 3rd South Carolina Volunteers. 

16. LINCOLN by David Herbert Donald: Fine work; won the Pulitzer in 1995.

17. GEORGE B. McCLELLAN: THE YOUNG NAPOLEON by Sears: Tale of a leader who couldn’t make decisions.

18. GETTYSBURGH: THE CONFEDERATE HIGH TIDE by Champ Clark: A fine work from Time-Life Books.

19. ROBERT E. LEE: A BIOGRAPHY by Thomas:  A good recent work.

20. SHERMAN’S MARCH by Davis: In-depth look at devastating march of Northern soldiers through Georgia and Carolinas.

21. THE GENERAL WHO MARCHED TO HELL by Earl Schenck Miers: Detailed look at the “March to the Sea” by William Tecumseh Sherman.

22. SHERMAN’S MARCH by David Nevin: Work in series from Time-Life.

23. LEAVES OF GRASS by Walt Whitman: Ground-breaking poetry filled with powerful images and fine touches. 

24. GODS AND GENERALS by Jeff Shaara:  The son “picks up” the story from KILLER ANGELS (#19; page 2) by filling in the years before the Battle of Gettysburg. The book is pretty good—the movie of the same name is pretty bad.

25. THE BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM by McPherson:  A good history of the Civil War in one volume.

Settling the West

1. KIT CARSON by Stanley Vestal: Famous fur-trapper, Indian-fighter and army scout.

2-3. SKY LINERS by Louis L’Amour: The Sackett brothers fight off bad guys!  L’Amour’s Westerns sold over two hundred million copies. HONDO is considered a classic story of a gun-fighter. 

4. THE WAY WEST by A. B. Guthrie Jr.: Award-winning novel of the struggles of a wagon train headed west.

5. THE ESCAPADES OF FRANK AND JESSE JAMES: Adventures of two famous bank robbers. How could it be boring?

6. WILD BILL HICKOK: The legendary gunman and sheriff’s story.

7. THE CONQUERORS; WILDERNESS EMPIRE; THE FRONTIERSMEN by Allan Eckart: Books about the early period of settlement, often set in the Ohio Valley. For good readers—many call these the best works of their kind.

8. ANYTHING FOR BILLY by McMurtry: A humorous look at the career of the ever-dangerous Billy the Kid.   ##

9. SHIP OF GOLD IN THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Kinder: The true story of the effort to find the wreck of the S. S. Central America, which sank in 1857 carrying $400 million in gold.

10. A TIME TO STAND by Walter Lord: Entertaining look inside the Alamo.

11. THE OREGON TRAIL by Francis Parkman: First-hand account by a traveler on the trail in 1846; able to see the natives in a fair light.

12. BRIGHAM YOUNG: AMERICAN MOSES by Arrington: Story of the leader of the Mormons in the years of Utah settlement.

13. UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by Jon Krakauer: A look at Mormon history and breakaway forms of the original church.

14. THE FORTY-NINERS by William Weber Johnson: Entertaining look at the Gold Rush of 1849, from Time-Life Books.

15. SON OF THE MORNING STAR by Connell: Unique view of Custer and his world; nicely written, very unusual style.

16. THE BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIG HORN by Sandoz: Excellent work.

17. THE COWBOYS by William H. Forbis: Another interesting work from Time-Life Books.

18. LOG OF A COWBOY by Andy Adams: Entertaining story of life punching cows; by a real cowboy; funny and well-written.

19. THE OX-BOW INCIDENT by Van Tilburg Clark: Book which can help you learn how to think and avoid snap judgments. A posse goes after the men who murdered a rancher. 

20. MY ANTONIA by Willa Cather: Novel about a young man and woman growing up on the Great Plains.

21. THE TREES/THE FIELDS/THE TOWN by Richter: Pioneer family settles in the wilderness of Ohio, in years after American Revolution. As the settlements grow each generation faces fresh challenges. The third volume won the Pulitzer Prize.

Bleak Nevada landscape; author's bicycle ride across the USA.

Turn of the Century to Depression

1. DANDELION WINE by Bradbury: The author talks about growing up in the 1920’s.  A fine writer at work.  

2. CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN by Gilbreath: Family of twelve children in the 1920’s.  A very funny book.  

3-4. CHARLES LINDBERGH; THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS: These books tell the story of the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh was one of the great heroes of his time.

5. THE BATTLE OF BELLEAU WOOD by Suskind: The brutal battle of the U. S. Marines in 1917.

6. THE PRICE OF GLORY by Horne: Mr. Viall read this in his junior year of high school and still remembers years later! Description of the most savage battle of World War I.

7. SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY by Masters: Poems about life in small-town Indiana around 1900; a good look into the human soul.

8. THE UNTOUCHABLES by Ness: Eyewitness story of a police officer who helped clean up Chicago crime in the 1920’s and ‘30’s.  

9. A NIGHT TO REMEMBER by Lord: A moment-by-moment account of the sinking of Titanic.  

10. THE ROUGH RIDERS by Teddy Roosevelt: His story about leading soldiers in battle during the Spanish-American War.

11. HARD TIMES by Terkel: Brilliant work; collection of interviews with people who survived the Depression; fine writing and selection.

12. HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES by Riis: Social reporting at its absolute best; written 1890.

13. ONLY YESTERDAY by Frederick Lewis Allen: Entertaining history of the U. S. from the end of World War I through 1929.

14. THE POETRY OF ROBERT FROST:  A fine collection of all eleven books he wrote.

15. EDISON: INVENTING THE CENTURY by Baldwin: Nicely done piece on the great inventor.

16. HENRY FORD: THE WAYWARD CAPITALIST by Gelderman: Informative and interesting.

17. FORD: THE MEN AND THE MACHINE by Robert Lacy: History of the great car company.

18. THE THREAD THAT RUNS SO TRUE by Stuart: Autobiography of a man who taught in small country schools in the early 1900’s. 

19. TORTILLA FLAT by Steinbeck: A story of life among the down-and-out in 1930’s.


World War II

1. THE RISE AND FALL OF ADOLF HITLER by Shirer: If you want to know about Hitler, this is the book to choose. Occasionally, top students will read Shirer’s 1100-page work, THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH.  

2. THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO by Lawson: A pilot tells of the first air raid which Americans launched against Japan. 

3. THE FOXES OF THE DESERT; ROMMEL: THE DESERT FOX by Carrell: Either of these works provides a great look at one of Germany’s top generals in World War II.  Tank battles galore.

4. ESCAPE FROM AUSCHWITZ by Vrba/Bestic: Story of an escape from the worst concentration camp of all.

5-6. JOURNEY TO TOPAZ by Uchida: A young girl tells how her family was arrested in the U. S. because they had Japanese blood. Also: FAREWELL TO MANZANAR by Wakatsui.  Both works offer history from the teenage girl’s viewpoint.

7-8. THE UPSTAIRS ROOM by Reiss: Jews are hidden from the Nazis in a Dutch home during the war.  ##   Also see THE HIDING PLACE.  

9. THE GUNS OF NAVARONE by MacLean: Novel about a raid to knock out hidden German guns which threaten Allied ships. 

10. ESCAPE FROM WARSAW by Serraillier: Children separated from their parents by war must try to survive and find there way home.  

11. THE MOON IS DOWN by Steinbeck:  A short book by a great writer. A small town in Norway resists control by German invaders.

12. SUMMER OF MY GERMAN SOLDIER by Greene: A young, Jewish American girl makes friends with a German prisoner of war who has been brought to America.  

13. THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF HELL by Kogon: The author is a survivor of one of Hitler’s death camps. He details how such camps worked.

14. WINDS OF WAR  by Herman Wouk: Wouk’s novels are challenging, but full of life as it was in the days when the world's future seemed in danger. Abby Viall gives them a “thumbs up”"

15. ENOLA GAY by Thomas/Witt: Story of the plane and crew which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 

16. DAY OF INFAMY by Lord: One of the books that got me interested in history; story of Pearl Harbor.

17-18. THE CRACK OF DOOM; THE CROSS OF IRON by Heinrich: Fine tales of German soldiers, fighting a hopeless battle against over-powering Russian forces. 

19. SCHINDLER’S LIST by Keneally: Biography of a man who saved hundreds of Jews from destruction. 

20. THREE CAME HOME by Agnes Newton Keith: A family survives three years in a Japanese prison camp. Finely written. Will make you appreciate everyday pleasures.

21. WE WERE IN AUSCHWITZ by Borowski, Olszewski and Siedlecki: A tale of horror and efforts to lead a “normal” life in one of Hitler’s worst camps.

22. THE NAZIS by Time-Life Books:  Horrible look at an evil empire; tremendous effect from photos included.

23. THE GOOD WAR by Terkel:  Excellent collection of interviews with people from the era.

24. THE BUCHENWALD REPORT, translated by David A. Hackett: Interviews with survivors, done after the war.

25. NEVER TO FORGET by Milton Meltzer: Excellent short account of the destruction of the Jews.

26. SOPHIE’S CHOICE by Styron: Harrowing story of a beautiful Jewish woman who must adjust to the aftermath of her time in the death camps. Only for very mature readers.

27. TO HELL AND BACK by Audie Murphy: Autobiography of the U. S. soldier who won more medals in the war than any other man.

28. SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: Novel about the fire-bombing of Dresden.

29. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer: Famed novel about a small patrol fighting the Japanese; Mailer served in the war, himself. Sarah Viall raves about this book.

30. THE LONGEST DAY by Cornelius Ryan: Fine story of D-Day.

31. ISLAND FIGHTING by Time-Life books: Story of the Navy and Marines in the Pacific.
32. MEIN KAMPF by Adolf Hitler: Hitler laid out his ideas long before he took power in Germany; a look at the thinking of an evil man.

33. FROM PEARL HARBOR TO OKINAWA by Bliven: A general view of the battles between Japan and U. S. forces in the Pacific.

34. THE SUMMER OF ‘42 by Raucher: A love story about a teenage boy who falls for an older woman during the war.

Old movies made war look much too tidy and clean. The good guys rarely got hurt.
John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima.


1. EIGHT MEN OUT: The events surrounding the “fixed” 1919 World Series are laid out in detail.  

2. TY COBB by Rubbin: Biography of baseball’s greatest hitter—and least popular player.

3. JIM THORPE by Schoor: Tragic story of the Indian who starred in the Olympics in 1912, and later in pro football. 

4. THE PAUL BROWN STORY: Brown was a coaching legend who helped invent pro football, both in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

5-6. BAD HENRY; IF I HAD A HAMMER: Books on the career of the all-time home run king, a man who often faced prejudice early in life. 

7. KNUTE ROCKNE: The coach of Notre Dame who made that school a famous football power. Born in Norway, he was an immigrant who made “good” in America.

8-9. I NEVER HAD IT MADE; BREAKTHROUGH TO THE BIG LEAGUES: Two fine books about Jackie Robinson, the first black man to break into major league baseball. 

10. THE CINCINNATI REDS by Allen: History of the team from its earliest days in 1869, to the 1950s. 

11. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS by Bissinger: Follows one season in the life of the Permian High School football team, a Texas powerhouse.

12. THE NATURAL by Bernard Malamud: An older baseball player, Roy Hobbs, makes the major leagues and becomes a star.

13. THE GLORY OF THEIR TIMES: THE STORY OF EARLY BASEBALL BY THE MEN WHO PLAYED IT by Ritter: Fascinating; recommended by a friend and well worth it.

14. CARLISLE vs. ARMY by Lars Anderson: Story of the Indian school football team that shook up college sports in early 1900s.

15. LOU GEHRIG: A QUIET HERO by Graham: A great star in the 1930s; he set a record, playing 2,000 games in a row.

The Vietnam War

1. BLOODS by Terry: Black soldiers tell about their experiences in the war.  ##

2-3. THE COURT-MARTIAL OF LT. CALLEY or LT. CALLEY: HIS OWN STORY by John Sack: No other man in the U. S. Army was so famous in this war. Unfortunately, the question is:  Was Calley a murderer?

4. HOME BEFORE MORNING by Van Devanter: Story of a U. S. Army nurse in Vietnam. A sad tale.

5. FRIENDLY FIRE by Bryan: True story of a family which must deal with the death of a son—killed by his own men, by mistake.

6. THE BATTLE FOR HUE by Nolan: Marines fight to retake the city from enemy forces.

7. A BRIGHT AND SHINING LIE by Sheehan: Career of John Paul Vann, who spent many years in Vietnam

8. FOUR HOURS AT MY LAI by Bilton and Sim: Chilling tale of soldiers who lose control.

9. EVERYTHING WE HAD by Santoli: Great collection of interviews with those who served in Vietnam.

10. IN PHARAOH’S ARMY by Wolff: Well-written story of experiences of a young volunteer in the U. S. Army.

11. DEAR AMERICA: LETTERS FROM VIETNAM edited by Bernard Edelman: A touching collection of firsthand material.

12. BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY by Kovic: The author was a soldier in Vietnam and suffered a paralyzing wound. Made into a movie.  

Other Books

1-3. ROUGHING IT, TOM SAWYER and THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Twain: Hey, it’s Mark Twain we’re talking about! One of America’s greatest writers!  

4. YEAGER by Yeager/Janos:  The story of a test pilot in jets, and veteran of three wars. Interesting in many ways.  

5. THE BRIDGE AT TOKO-RI by Michener: A pilot goes to fight in Korea, in 1950, even though he thinks the war is a mistake.  

6. PORK CHOP HILL by Marshall: A military man’s description of one of the famous fights in the Korean War.

7. PEYTON PLACE by Metalious: Considered “shocking” when written in 1950s.  Details life of teenagers in small New England town.

8. GO ASK ALICE by Anonymous: Story of a young girl who destroys herself with drugs.  

9. THE GRADUATE by Webb: Tale of a confused young man, about to graduate from college in the 1960s.  

10. IACCOCA by Lee Iaccoca: Autobiography of one of the leaders of the American car industry, in both its best and worst years.  

11. JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL by Bach: This book was a huge seller in the 1970s and captures an interesting philosophy of life.

12. IT DOESN’T TAKE A HERO by Schwarzkopf: This work covers the life of a Vietnam officer and the general who led us to victory in the First Gulf War.  

13. LAST OF THE BREED by L’Amour: An American jet pilot is knocked down over the U.S.S.R. and must escape. 

12. WALK ACROSS AMERICA by Jenkins: A look at a trip across our nation on foot, over the course of many months. 

13. OUT OF IRELAND by Kerby Miller and Paul Wagner: Look at Irish experience in America.

14. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac: A drifter in the 1950s; famous work; I think overrated; my really smart brother loves it.  

15. JOHN PAUL JONES by Morison: Fascinating look at the life of a brave sailor—and difficult man to live with.

16. THE LIFE OF WASHINGTON by Weems: The book responsible for many myths about our first president; written in 1800; fun to read.

17. DESERT STORM by Friedrich: Strong work; brief telling of First Gulf War.

18. A NEARLY NORMAL LIFE by Charles L. Mee: Young man struck down by polio fights way back to a good life.

19. TRIUMPH WITHOUT VICTORY, U. S. News and World Report staff: Excellent treatment of First Gulf War.

20. THE PERFECT STORM by Junger: Harrowing account of disaster at sea. True story; set in the 1990s.

21. CHASING GHOSTS by Paul Rieckhoff: Young officer’s experiences fighting in Iraq.

22. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Huxley: Chilling tale of a future government that mass-produces human beings.

23. THE PIRATES by Botting:  Entertaining work. There are many similar books on this subject available.

24. FAHRENHEIT 451 by Bradbury: In a future world the government controls minds by burning books. This is the story of one of the government’s “firemen.”  

Students should consider:

  • Reading a book you don’t like is a huge mistake.

  • Not reading at all is also a mistake.

  • If a selection you choose is too easy you’re wasting your time. 

  • Reading should be a source of entertainment.

  • Even if you aren’t planning on going to college, reading often makes life easier. A reader can gather information faster from the printed page than by listening to the spoken word. (TV will numb your brain!)