Saturday, April 27, 2013

St. George's Day: Historical Books

We continue our celebration of all things English with a list of historical books. Historical fiction is fiction written when the events in question are history (how much history is the discussion of many a library listserv.) Historical books are books that are just really old. England has a ton of old books that are still enjoyed by teens today.


Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. 1984 may as well be the stone age for many of today's teens, but they'll still enjoy this chilling dystopia that first gave name to Big Brother. (Plus, it's shorter than many of the current ones on the market and isn't a series!)

Thank You, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. This is the first Jeeves and Wooster novel, and Jeeves has left because Wooster won't stop playing the banjolele. So Wooster moves to Chuffy's, where his friend is is in a bind relating to money and girls. Hijinks and complications ensure. This hilarious series has high teen appeal, but it is a product of its time, mostly in this book which does contain blackface.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. Jane is beautiful and nice, Lizzy is independent and feisty, Mary is bookish and sanctimonious, Kitty goes along with her youngest sister and Lydia is trouble. And then there are the boys. Do I really have to sell this one? The cover shown is an edition that won't be available until this fall, but I couldn't resist.


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Lonely and poor Jane is a governess to the daughter of secretive and aloof Rochester. Rochester's house has dark secrets that Jane must discover, or flee from. (What is Grace Poole doing in the forbidden attic?)

Henry VI Part I by William Shakespeare. Obviously I had to put Shakespeare on my list of ye olde English writers. Henry VI is not the obvious choice, but I'm adding it because the Middle School students I work with for TAB just did a steampunk version for their school play. There's a Part 2 and Part 3, too.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Kim is a young boy born and raised in India, but of Irish descent. He's torn between the Indian life he knows and the British imperialism he aspires to.


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Ah Pip, always a pawn in a game he doesn't understand, but when some mysterious benefactor pays for him to go to London for education and society, life is forever changed. But who is the benefactor and will his new life finally let him have a chance with the beautiful Stella? Plus, you know, creepy ladies with old wedding cake.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, translated from the Middle English by Burton Raffel. These tales told by pilgrims are hilarious and bawdy, but require a dedicated reader. The Raffel translation retains the poetry and is good mix of modern English while keeping much of the feel and tone of the original. The Nevill Coghill is in prose and a bit easier to understand, but some of the flavor is lost. The truly adventurous/nerdy will want to try the original Middle English.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Catherine and Heathcliff's love is passionate and savage and will not only destroy them, but the lives of everyone around them.

What are you favorite English classics for teens?

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