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Ties to Literature

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Ties to Literature

Extend student knowledge, "visit" far-off cultures, explore key ideas, and capture student interests and imaginations with these recommended literature selections.

• Cold War and Beyond
• Conflict, Tyranny and Renewal
• Environment
• U.S. Influence Abroad
• Poverty
• Role of Media
• Role of Women

Cold War and Beyond

By George Orwell
Grade Level: 9-12
In a dystopia created by Orwell to protest all totalitarian governments, human freedom has ended -- all human beings are monitored by a telescreen.

Animal Farm: A Fairy Tale
By George Orwell
Grade Level: 9-12
Orwell's "fairy tale" tells the story of Russian communism through animal figures, like the pigs Napoleon (who represents Stalin) and Snowball (who represents Trotsky).

Brave New World
By Aldous Huxley
Grade Level: 9-12
Huxley created the nightmare of life in a society where all children are classified at birth and raised to become cogs in the great machine of the state.

The Crucible
By Arthur Miller
Grade Level: 9-12
Although this play appears to be about the 1692 Salem witch trials, Miller was using this historical event to criticize the actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Political hearings to ferret out Communists during the Cold War unjustly ruined many reputations (and made Richard Nixon's).

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Grade Level: 9-12
This Cold War satire, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is about a General Jack D. Ripper, who decides to attack the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons. The Russians respond with a doomsday device of their own, and the American president (Peter Sellers) has to engage in hotline negotiations to avert catastrophe. An online copy of the film's script is available from Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Scripts.

Fahrenheit 451
By Ray Bradbury
Grade Level: 9-12
Bradbury describes a dystopia in which "firemen" set fire to books, all of which are forbidden and outlawed. This is a powerful condemnation of totalitarianism in general and of censorship in particular.

The Last Battle: The Mayaguez Incident and the End of the Vietnam War (nonfiction)
By Ralph Wetterhahn
Grade Level: 7-12
This is a detailed account of the crisis that emerged when the merchant ship S.S. Mayaguez was hijacked by Cambodian gunboats less than two weeks after the American evacuation of Saigon. The book includes information on subsequent U.S. military operations that resulted in 41 soldiers killed and three Marines left behind.

Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire (nonfiction)
By David Remnick
Grade Level: 9-12
The author, a journalist, recounts the death-struggle of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union, in a highly readable prose style. He conveys the historical events through the personal stories of individuals struggling to deal with shortages, frustrations and corruption.

On the Beach
By Nevil Shute
Grade Level: 9-12
Shute depicts life in Australia after nuclear warfare has destroyed the rest of the world. The survivors live with the knowledge that radiation drifting around the globe will eventually destroy them as well.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
By Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Grade Level: 9-12
Solzhenitsyn describes the daily existence of a man in a Soviet gulag as he triesto cope with monotony, forced labor, poor food and cold temperatures. The book is based on the author's own time in a Russian prison camp.

Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship (nonfiction)
By George Dyson
Grade Level: 7-12
This book details the work in the late 1950s on an atomic-powered rocket ship that promised to revolutionize space travel. Cold War political paranoia mixed with infighting eventually led to the demise of the project.

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution (nonfiction)
By Ji-li Jiang
Grade Level: 7-12
This is a powerful recounting of one teenager's experiences during the cultural revolution in China in the late 1960s. Foreword by David Henry Hwang.

The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy (nonfiction)
By Strobe Talbott
Grade Level: 9-12
The current head of the Brookings Institution and former Deputy Secretary of State, Talbott presents the Clinton administration's efforts to deal with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, including the Bosnia and Kosovo crises and the problem of Soviet nuclear missiles as the union broke apart.

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Conflict, Tyranny and Renewal

Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux (nonfiction)
By Black Elk, through John G. Neihardt
Grade Level: 9-12
The poet John Neihardt records the stories and visions of Black Elk, an aging Sioux healer who survived the U.S. Army's attacks on the Sioux and witnessed the Ghost Dance of 1890.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (nonfiction)
By Dee Brown
Grade Level: 9-12
This groundbreaking history of the West is told from the Native American point of view.

By Naomi Shihab Nye
Grade Level: 7-8
A young Palestinian-American girl moves with her family from St. Louis, Missouri, to Jerusalem just as she is about to start high school. As she learns to know her extended Palestinian family, she also learns about the discrimination and hardship they face. With her new Israeli friend, however, she hopes for a better future for this war-torn country.

The Heart Calls Home
By Joyce Hansen
Grade Level: 9-12
A man struggles with racist attitudes when he returns to South Carolina during Reconstruction to find his family.

The Hiding Place (nonfiction)
By Corrie Ten Boom
Grade Level: 7-12
After hiding Jews in a secret chamber in their home above the family watch shop, Corrie and her family are ultimately betrayed and sent to concentration camps. Throughout her ordeal, Corrie finds strength in her Christian faith and ultimately survives.

In the Time of the Butterflies
By Julia Alvarez
Grade Level: 9-12
Based on a true story of four sisters living in the Dominican Republic under the rule of Trujillo, this novel explores life under a dictatorship and various ways of fighting back. Each sister speaks with a distinctive voice, sharing her experiences at different stages of life.

These three books explore the origins of the Indian-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir and describe the military actions each nation has taken since the partition in 1947. The struggle for Kashmir has dominated history in this region and continues today between these two countries -- both of which are now nuclear powers.

Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War (nonfiction)
by Victoria Schofield
Grade Level: 9-12
Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace (nonfiction)
by Sumantra Bose
Grade Level: 9-12
Unending Conflict (nonfiction)
By Sumit Ganguly
Grade Level: 9-12

The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler (nonfiction)
By James Cross Giblin
Grade Level: 7-12
This biography describes the economic, international, political and social factors that contributed to Hitler's rise.

Monkey Bridge
By Lan Cao
Grade Level: 9-12
This semi-autobiographical novel follows the story of Mai Nguyen, a teenage immigrant from Vietnam who adjusts quickly to life in the United States, and her mother, who has a far more difficult time. The book gives a picture of life in Vietnam, both before and during the war, and of the community built in Virginia by Vietnamese immigrants.

By Elie Wiesel
Grade Level: 9-12
A conscientious Jewish teenager is interned in a concentration camp with his father.

Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment (nonfiction)
By Willie Lee Rose
Grade Level: 9-12
The first attempt by the Union to "reconstruct" the Sea Islands of Georgia pointed the way to full-scale reconstruction policies and also awoke the North to altruistic possibilities for helping the freedmen.

The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival (nonfiction)
By Sara Tuvel Bernstein with Louise Loots Thornton and Marlene Bernstein Samuels
Grade Level: 9-12
Bernstein recalls her childhood in Romania during the Holocaust. Her memoir of survival and power takes her from her rural home to her school in Bucharest, and ultimately, to a concentration camp after she protests the unfair treatment of Jews.

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High and Mighty: SUVs -- The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way (nonfiction)
By Keith Bradsher
Grade Level: 7-12
This analysis of the SUV phenomenon in the United States takes an interesting look at the auto industry, government regulations, SUV safety, environmental factors, how SUVs are marketed, U.S. cultural trends and more.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (nonfiction)
By Annie Dillard
Grade Level: 9-12
This collection of essays about a special place is infused with Dillard's meditations and startlingly close observations of nature.

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (nonfiction)
By Daniel Yergin
Grade Level: 9-12
A comprehensive history of the oil industry, from some of its early barons through the Gulf War, this book also describes the complex global impact of oil economics through the stories of individual people. Winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

Silent Spring (nonfiction)
By Rachel Carson
Grade Level: 10-12
Students with significant interest in the environment will enjoy this well-documented look at the use of chemicals in the modern world.

The Snow Leopard (nonfiction)
By Peter Matthiessen
Grade Level: 9-12
In a quest to see the elusive snow leopard, Matthiessen hikes the Himalayas, meditating on the meaning of his life and the wonders that he sees.

Walden (nonfiction)
By Henry David Thoreau
Grade Level: 9-12
This is the classic story of the philosopher who lived for several years at Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., and reflected on the nature around him. Not an isolationist (he stayed close enough to town to have Sunday dinner with the Emersons), he simply was content with solitude.

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U.S. Influence Abroad

Empire: A Novel
By Gore Vidal
Grade Level: 9-12
This volume of Vidal's fictionalized history of the United States deals with U.S. overseas adventures in the Philippines and Cuba.

The Poisonwood Bible
By Barbara Kingsolver
Grade Level: 9-12
An American missionary brings his wife and four daughters to the Congo to convert the natives and instill American values, with disastrous consequences.

"Shooting the Elephant" (nonfiction)
By George Orwell
Grade Level: 9-12
This classic essay is about how the British imperialist class is actually forced to behave in certain ways by the very people they claim to have conquered. The essay contains interesting parallels to the topic of U.S. action in Iraq.

"The War Prayer"
By Mark Twain
Grade Level: 9-12
This short essay and satiric sermon about imperialism was published long after Twain's death. It can be found here.

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Black Boy (nonfiction)
By Richard Wright
Grade Level: 9-12
Wright depicts the rough childhood of a young man growing up in Mississippi, subject to racism and poverty.

The Dollmaker
By Harriette Arnow
Grade Level: 9-12
A rural woman migrates with her husband to Detroit during World War II and tries to survive and take care of her children in spite of urban poverty.

The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck
Grade Level: 9-12
As the Depression deepens, the Joad family is reduced from owning their own property in Oklahoma to traveling as migrant workers seeking a day's wages. Yet they manage to survive and hold on to their dignity.

Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak (nonfiction)
Edited by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea and Basima Qattan Bezirgan
Grade Level: 9-12
This collection of biographical sketches, memoirs, poems, fiction and religious texts covers 1,300 years.

The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology
Edited by Nathalie Handal
Grade Level: 9-12
This is an anthology by Arab and Arab-American women, written, in the editor's words, "to eradicate invisibility."

Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (nonfiction)
By Jonathan Kozol
Grade Level: 9-12
Kozol uses both statistics and anecdotal evidence to make his powerful case about the devastating effects of poverty on children and families in the United States.

What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (nonfiction)
By Bernard Lewis
Grade Level: 9-12
This history compares and contrasts Western and Middle Eastern cultures from the 18th through the 20th centuries.

Women in the Middle East: Tradition and Change (nonfiction)
By Ramsay M. Harik and Elsa Marston
Grade Level: 7-12
This book about women's roles in the Middle East includes case studies of women in Iran and Afghanistanand moves beyond the stereotypes seen on television.

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Role of Media

All the President's Men (nonfiction)
By Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
Grade Level: 9-12
These Washington Post reporters followed the story of the break-in at the national headquarters of the Democratic Party with stunning reports of other misbehavior, all of which culminated in the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. In this book, the reporters cover the events of those months and use them to demonstrate the necessity for a free press.

Backstory: Inside the Business of News (nonfiction)
By Ken Auletta
Grade Level: 9-12
Auletta discusses how the relationship between commercial interests and newspapers -- from The New York Times to the tabloids -- can affect the delivery of information to the consumer.

Fahrenheit 451
By Ray Bradbury
Grade Level: 9-12
As a "fireman," the protagonist is charged with burning all books found in this futuristic society. However, he guiltily saves a few books out of curiosity and begins to understand why some people are willing to die to protect them.

A Hand Full of Stars
By Rafik Schami
Grade Level: 6-8
When a teenage boy in Syria decides to become a writer, he keeps a journal of the abuses propagated by a harsh government and eventually, despite the risk, decides to start an underground newspaper. This exploration of censorship and freedom with high consequences won the Batchelder Award and is an ALA Notable Book.

The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril (nonfiction)
By Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert Kaiser
Grade Level: 9-12
This book presents a strong argument for a free and responsible press. It discusses modern issues in journalism, including problems within the news organizations of various media, the consideration of financial bottom lines and the rise of huge media corporations.

Things Worth Fighting For: Collected Writings (nonfiction)
By Michael Kelly
Grade Level: 9-12
This posthumous collection of news reporting and essays was written by a prize-winning journalist who was killed in 2003 while reporting from Iraq. An archetype of powerful journalism, the collection includes reports from the battlefields of several wars, character sketches of famous subjects and reflections on American life.

War Stories: Reporting in the Time of Conflict From the Crimea to Iraq (nonfiction)
By Harold Evans
Grade Level: 9-12
The author of this book is a historian and a guest curator at the Newseum, the museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to the history of news reporting. In this book, he tells the story of journalists who have shaped our view of conflicts by taking great risks in war zones to report the facts.

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Role of Women

The Awakening
By Kate Chopin
Grade Level: 9-12
When it was published at the end of the 19th century, this short novel created a scandal. The protagonist is a young wife and mother who is stultified by the roles society has assigned to her and longs for a way to express herself more creatively. She learns to see herself as an individual and tries to define a life of her own.

The Breadwinner
By Deborah Ellis
Grade Level: 6-8
This story of life under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has received an award from the Middle East Outreach Council. A young woman named Parvana knows her family could starve after her father is imprisoned by Taliban soldiers, so she cuts her hair, dresses as a boy and goes out to earn a living.

A Doll's House
By Henrik Ibsen
Grade Level: 9-12
Nora Helmer is treated by her husband, Torvald, as a delicate plaything who must be sheltered from the realities of day-to-day existence. She acts independently to save his health by secretly borrowing money for a trip, but thus becomes the object of blackmail. When he finds out what she has done, he is outraged. This Ibsen classic is an early exploration of the roles of middle-class women.

God Dies by the Nile
By Nawal El Sadawi
Grade Level: 9-12
The protagonist of this feminist novel is a widowed peasant woman, Zakeya, whose nightmarish life consists of grueling days filled with hard physical labor and soulless nights filled only with darkness. A family crisis results when the mayor invites Zakeya's nieces to work at his house. The Egyptian author -- who is also a doctor -- spent time in prison for her writings.

Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (nonfiction)
By Mary Beth Norton
Grade Level: 9-12
Norton argues that the American Revolution and the role women played in it transformed how women perceived politics, education and themselves.

Little Women
By Louisa May Alcott
Grade Level: 6-8
One of four daughters living with their mother while their father is away during the Civil War, Jo March is frustrated by the limitations placed on women and the stereotypes she is expected to fulfill. She longs to be a writer and have her stories published. A classic girls' story, this is also a vivid illustration of 19th-century social issues.

Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak (nonfiction)
Edited by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea and Basima Qattan Bezirgan
Grade Level: 9-12
This collection of biographical sketches, memoirs, poems, fiction and religious texts spans 1,300 years.

Palace Walk
By Naguib Mahfouz
Grade Level: 9-12
A father, a successful merchant, tries to raise his three sons in a strictly traditional way and keeps his wife and daughters closely confined while life is changing around them. A look at the lives of an Egyptian middle-class family in Cairo after World War I, this novel by a Nobel Prize-winning author gives readers a deep understanding of the characters and the society in which they live.

Reading Lolita in Tehran (nonfiction)
By Azar Nafisi
Grade Level: 9-12
A woman professor in Iran invites her best students to attend secret classes at which they discuss books that have been banned by the government of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The book discussions give the women a degree of freedom and inspire them to consider the role of women in their own society. Readers will find good discussions -- showing their relevance to contemporary events -- of such classic Western authors as Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry James.

A Room of One's Own (nonfiction)
By Virginia Woolf
Grade Level: 9-12
In the form of an extended essay, Woolf discusses the hardships that women writers have faced over the centuries. She recognizes the achievements of 19th-century women writers and argues that women would be far more able to produce great works of literature if only they had privacy and financial security.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons
By Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy
Grade Level: 6-8
Based on a thousand-year-old legend from Iraq, this book is a fascinating exploration of traditional gender roles. It tells the story of Buran, a young girl from Baghdad who determines to save her family from poverty by disguising herself as a boy and joining a camel caravan. She becomes a rich and successful merchant, but lands in a predicament when she falls in love with the prince of a distant city.

A Time for Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen
By Kathryn Lasky
Grade Level: 4-6
One of the books from the Dear America series, this "diary" tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who becomes increasingly involved in the suffragette movement in Washington, D.C., during the first world war. Her mother is a suffragette, and Cat learns from her about life on the picket line and the importance of standing up for the values one cherishes. For a teacher's guide, visit

Vindication of the Rights of Women (nonfiction)
By Mary Wollstonecraft
Grade Level: 9-12
This is one of the first great feminist documents. Mary Wollstonecraft lived in Paris during the French Revolution and was inspired by events around her to write this treatise. She explores the status of women in her era and explains the social and intellectual factors that have created the situation. Wollstonecraft was one of the first to call for the full education of women. The document in its entirety is available at the Modern History Sourcebook at

Women in the Middle East: Tradition and Change (nonfiction)
By Ramsay M. Harik and Elsa Marston
Grade Level: 7-12
This book about women's roles in the Middle East includes case studies of women in Iran and Afghanistan and moves beyond the stereotypes seen on television.

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Eileen M. Mattingly taught English and social studies in secondary school for many years. She recently retired from her position as chair of the English department at McDonough High School in Pomfret, Md. She holds a B.S.F.S. degree in international studies from Georgetown University and has master's degrees from St. John's University and The Johns Hopkins University.