5 Bearable Classics to Impress Your English Teacher With

So, by the time you guys read this, I will be back at school for the first time in six weeks. You've probably already started. For some people, this is kind a bummer, but personally ... well, you know me. Do you think I'm Hermione Granger or Ron Weasley in this situation?
Yeah. September is basically my favourite month (well, second favourite - it doesn't have Christmas).

Last year, I wrote a post on books to read when you get back to school, and today I wanted to do something a little similar without self-plagiarising. Therefore, I've come up with a list of classics you can use to impress your new English teacher without finding the language too difficult. I'm sure Bronte and Austen are just as brilliant as everyone says, but I find slogging through their prose difficult enough when I'm not busy re-adjusting to school life.

#1 - Animal Farm by George Orwell

Oh, Animal Farm, thou art ridiculously brilliant. I've listed it first because ... well ... I'm allowed to have favourites, right? And I'm pretty sure this is my favourite classic. Sure, it sounds like a pretty juvinile story when you think about it - talking animals taking over their farm to form a state where everyone gets what they need. But trust me, it gets darker and better and generally more interesting when you realise it's a comparison to Communist Russia (seriously, every single part of it is a symbol for something in real life. Look it up on Wikipedia, but only when you finished reading because otherwise the spoilers would be atrocious.) The characters might be farm animals, but they have the vivid emotions of humans. There's this one particular carthorse, Boxer, who I just want to cuddle to pieces because he's such a hardworking, beautiful creature.

I guess it was him, and a few other lovely characters in Animal Farm, who proved to me that you could get emotionally attached to classics, not just be forced to study them and bring them to English lessons to look clever.

#2 - Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Ballet Shoes is one of the sweetest, easiest-to-read classics I've ever laid my sticky little paws on. It really is a born and bred kiddies book, but that doesn't mean there's no plot or the characters are made of cardboard. It just means that reading it makes me feel all innocent again, as if Pauline, Petrova and Posy are my friends and I too live on a time when this blog would have been a diary. 

(Sorry, that metaphor made a lot more sense in my head. I mean I quite like the idea of living in the Ballet Shoes era other than the fact that I wouldn't be a blogger or know all of you guys.)

There's also an amazing film version with a young Emma Watson as Pauline, which I highly recommend you track down. You might have to save it for after school though.

#3 - To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

If Animal Farm is my favourite classic, then To Kill A Mockingbird runs a second so close I can barely call it. Maybe I have a soft spot for novels with deeper themes. Maybe it isn't a coincidence that my two favourite classics were introduced to me by two of the best English teachers I've ever had. But there's something about one of the most terrible, violent cess-pits of the human condition - and by that I mean Alabama in the racist 1930s - seen through the eyes of a child who barely even understood what being a good person really means, let alone why what she sees is evil.

By the way, if anyone who's recently read (and is therefore recovering from) To Kill A Mockingbird wants to discuss whether Scout's innocence makes her a reliable or unreliable narrator, just say the word. I still have the essay somewhere.

#4 - The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I've never seen character development quite as amazing as Mary Lennox's in The Secret Garden. I don't want to give too much away, but she changes pretty much completely from beginning to end, and somehow that's not jarring. Like, at all. The setting is beautiful and bleak and expansive all at once (I do love the Yorkshire moors) and I can't really say much about any of the other characters - their very existence is kind of a spoiler. You'll just have to trust me that they're interesting enough anyway. Apparently, The Secret Garden's main theme is rejuvenation ... so I guess you'll finish and feel rejuvenated?

There is one slight issue I have with this book. It's a disability portrayal thing. But since it was written in the very early 1900s, I have to be honest and say that I'm really glad disability was portrayed at all.

#5 - The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Wait, no! I cheated by accident. It turns out The Help was released in 2009 ... so I guess I'd be kind of stretching the rules to call it a classic. (Literature buffs, would you be so kind as to help me on this in the comments? A quick Google search is presumably nothing compared to your extensive knowledge on the subject.)

Anyway, it's not technically a classic, but The Help did impress my English teacher when I brought it into school - and the historical fiction was so immersive that I assumed it really had been written in 1960s Mississippi, where it was set. (I know, it's full of progressive feminism and all about the voices of the black community. I'm not exactly sure how I ended up being so naive that I thought super-modern ideas like that could come from the height of segregation, but never mind.) You should read it because, while you'd think it was terribly, terribly serious ... most of the characters and situation are downright hilarious.

In the comments: Do you have a favourite classic you'd like to force onto the end of this list? Have you read any of these five? And is The Help a classic or not?
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  1. I finished reading TKAM a year or two ago with my mom and loved it! It's probably my favorite classic, along with Les Miserablés. Both are beautiful books with wonderful themes.

    There should be a word for books that aren't classics yet, but you know they're going to be (like Harry Potter and The Help). I'd say a book has to be close to a hundred or so years old to be a true classic, but you can tell which books are headed that way.

    1. Ooh, I haven't read Les Mis yet - I really want to get round to it, but as a musical theatre addict it's probably my responsibility to watch the stage show first. I'VE NEVER EVEN SEEN THE MOVIE. That's how bad I am.

      Yes, there should totally be a word (and if there was one, it could definitely be used to describe Harry Potter) classish? I think at the moment I tend to just go with awesome.

      Thanks as always for taking the time to comment, Kate. It really means a lot to me.

  2. Great post! I read To Kill a Mockingbird at school and it was one of the few books that I enjoyed. I'm sure I read The Secret Garden as a child, but I don't remember it very well so maybe a re-read is in order. ;)

    Emily Bronte wrote this brilliant poem called Spellbound which is short and isn't overly difficult to read. I'm not sure if poems can be considered classics, but this is definitely my pick. :)

    1. Aww, thanks Rain! (Loving the name, by the way.) I honestly wouldn't have read TKAM if it hadn't been on the syllabus at school, so sometimes I think enforced reading has to be a good thing. And yes, I would recommend a re-read of The Secret Garden. It's been on my to do list for a while now.

      Oooh, I'm not sure I've heard of Spellbound. I'll have to check it out.


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