Library Column: Back-to-school Reading Lists

Published 4:00 am Sunday, August 8, 2021

This column was submitted by Evangeline Cessna, Local History Librarian at the Warren County – Vicksburg Public Library.

With the start of the school year just around the corner, this week we are featuring classic novels usually featured in school reading lists. These books can be found in our Audio/Visual Department in the New Media Players, so patrons can enjoy having these classic tales read to them.

First, we’ll begin with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s classic gothic horror novel, “Frankenstein.” Eccentric scientist Victor Frankenstein has been using some truly unorthodox methods in his quest to create life — including grave robbing. He finally succeeds in his quest and his creation is a grotesque amalgamation of human flesh and bone. Victor is horrified by what he has done and runs from his apartment. When he returns, the “monster” is gone. Soon he receives word that his younger brother has been murdered and, as Victor is returning home, he catches a glimpse of his monster in the woods. While on vacation in the mountains, Victor is approached by his creation who admits to murdering Victor’s brother as retaliation for his cruel treatment. He begs Victor to create a mate for him to quell his loneliness. Victor reluctantly agrees, but he becomes so frightened of the consequences of creating another creature, that he destroys his second experiment and the monster vows to take his revenge. Victor’s relationship with the monster becomes a cat-and-mouse game of revenge across the frozen north of Europe.

Next, we have William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.” A plane carrying schoolboys from England during a war is shot down over a tropical island. The survivors find a great deal of freedom and revelry in being away from the watchful eye of adults. But Ralph — who has been elected the leader — knows that they must make plans for their rescue and orders a signal fire to be lit and maintained. He also tasks Jack and a few others with finding food. Their first try ends in failure, but they persist. The smaller boys are scared and become convinced that a monster lurks on the island and is out to get them. Tensions mount between Ralph’s and Jack’s followers and, when the parachute of a downed paratrooper is mistaken for the monster, the situation on the island quickly spirals into chaos and Ralph must run for his life. He takes refuge in the forest because he knows what is waiting for him on the beach.

In S.E. Hinton’s classic, “The Outsiders,” Ponyboy Curtis is a member of the greasers along with his older brothers Sodapop and Darry. The greasers get their name because of their long greasy hair and low socio-economic status. They are constantly at odds with the Socs, short for Socials, from the other side of the tracks. One day, after leaving the movie theatre, Ponyboy is jumped by a group of Socs, but Darry, Sodapop and other members of the greasers — Johnny, Dally, Two-Bit and Steve — come to his aid. Ponyboy, Johnny and Dally all go to a movie where Dally obnoxiously flirts with a Socs girl named Cherry. Ponyboy tells Dally to leave her alone. When he gets home late from the movies, Darry gets into a fight with Ponyboy and slaps him across the face. Ponyboy runs away and meets up with Johnny. The two boys are then jumped by a couple of Socs and Ponyboy has his head held underwater in a fountain until he passes out. When he comes to, he sees one of the Socs lying dead next to him and Johnny admits to killing the boy. He and Ponyboy see no way out, so they go on the run.

“Where The Red Fern Grows” is a classic tale of a boy and his dogs by Wilson Rawls. Billie has grown up poor on the farm with his family. All he has ever wanted is a pair of good coonhounds, but he knows that he’ll have to work extra hard to earn the money for them. When he’s finally saved enough, he gives the money to his grandpa so that he can order the dogs for him. Finally, the dogs come, and Billie sneaks off in the night to meet the train in town so that he can bring them home. On the way back home, Billie and his two pups seek shelter in a cave. When they hear a mountain lion crying in the distance, they bay back at the animal and Billie can see that the male is very brave, and the female is very smart. He names them Old Dan and Little Ann. As soon as he gets them home, he starts to train them to tree coons. By the time coon hunting season comes around, Old Dan and Little Ann are ready to help Billie on his hunts. They are so successful that Billie’s grandfather enters him in a coon hunting contest. Little Ann wins the beauty contest right away and the two dogs help Billie win the hunt and $300. Billie and the dogs continue to hunt, but one night they tree a mountain lion and things go horribly wrong. When Billie takes his axe and tries to help his dogs, it’s the dogs that wind up saving him, but it comes at a terrible price.

Ray Bradbury depicts a dystopian future where books are burned, and no one thinks for themselves in “Fahrenheit 451.” Guy Montag is a fireman whose job it is to burn the books and relics of the past. His society does not read books, enjoy nature, spend time by themselves, think for themselves or have meaningful conversations. They are all about driving too fast, watching hours of television and listening to the latest music on their seashell radio headsets. When Guy meets young Clarisse, she is full of questions and seems to have a genuine love for people and nature. Her questions make him examine his life and see the emptiness. A series of calamities then befall Guy. First, his wife attempts suicide by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills, then while working, an old woman chooses to be burned alive along with her books, and finally, he learns that Clarisse has been killed in a hit-and-run. He begins to seek answers in various books he has squirreled away over the years, but he doesn’t really know how to read, so he seeks the help of a retired English professor named Faber. Guy’s activities are found out by his former colleagues and he and Faber must go on the run.