Pairing YA literature with literary classics

As I read more and more YA literature this semester, I find myself connecting stories with literary classics that I have read.  So far, the strongest instance of this happened while reading Crutcher’s Deadline.  Here was a story about a protagonist who knew he was going to die and decided to live his life to the fullest anyway.  Not only does Ben live the life he wants to lead, he also manages to think beyond himself and attempt to help others.

Only a few pages into the text, I found myself thinking about Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the story of a man who learns that he is going to die and spends a long time bemoaning his fate.  Ivan rails against the idea that he could have lived such a good life and then die over something as ridiculous as…well, if you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil the rest for you, but, suffice it to say, I think there are plenty of points of comparison with the Crutcher text.

This all made me think about ways of potentially pairing YA literature with some more challenging literary classics.  Tolstoy’s novella isn’t exactly light reading, but I think that getting students to engage with challenging classics should be one of our goals as English teachers.  What better way in to a difficult text than to compare it with a more contemporary, less dense work?  This would then lend itself to helping students learn compare and contrast strategies and thinking deeper about why authors make certain choices in their writing.

I’m wondering if anyone else has thought of any literary pairings for some of the YA literature we’ve read so far.  For example, what about The Story of a Girl and The Scarlett Letter?  Just a thought…






4 thoughts on “Pairing YA literature with literary classics

  1. Now you are talking…this is an excellent idea, that would give, even to students who don’t have the patience for denser, more remote texts, a sense of literary continuum, first; and second, understand the universality of themes, for adults and developing adults equally. Please keep sharing your connections, I will too, to share. Thanks.

  2. Love, love, LOVE this idea, CK. I’ve been actually basing my thesis on a similar idea related to student’s engagement with class reading. It’s nice to see other educators on the same page! Another good pairing might be Red Scarf Girl (a memoir written about the author’s experience with the Cultural Revolution in China) by Ji-li Jiang with Orwell’s 1984 (based on the idea that both the novel and the Cultural Revolution promoted children spying on their parents for “contraband behavior”). It would also be interesting to see how students react to the similarities found in the memoir and the work of fiction.


  3. I adore the idea of pairing YA with “classic” texts. I have always thought paired texts make things more interesting. In the past my co-teacher and I have paired A Raisin in the Sun with the film Remember the Titans. It’s a great strategy for helping students understand that themes should have a universal message, and should be more than a simple thought or idea. It’s also a great way to teach “controlling idea” which shows up on the Regents exam (at least the most recent version).- JV

  4. I think this is right on–and more should be happening with it! In my (very limited) experience, students were far more willing to sit down and read the actual classic if they had a modern, young adult counterpart to introduce them to the story lines. I actually taught the book Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, to that end, and the students loved it. Not to say that Warm Bodies is everyone’s cup of tea, but older students especially were quick to point out parallels as well as divergences from the traditional story. What’s more is that the students were far more engaged in the discussion of Shakespeare when it had a modern foil. The same applies with the classic fairy tale and the ever-popular realm of re-tellings that are meeting with such popularity. Off the top of my head, Alex Flinn’s Beastly and the classic Beauty and the Beast, thought I know that Robin McKinley also an older work retelling that’s been popular, Beauty. I know there are a number of others in this same vein, but I am blanking on them.

    Great post–and great ideas, all!

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