Posted by: zhiv | March 3, 2008

Literary Parenting: Julius Caesar and the 8th Grade booklist

I’m going to write about “Partisans,” but thought I would do a quick follow-up on my son’s 8th grade fall book list.  They had an option to read one of these five “books”:

-Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin

-Monster, Walter Dean Myers

-Red Scarf Girl, Ji Li Jiang

-Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

-Kindred, Octavia E. Butler

He read Julius Caesar, as I mentioned while I was writing about the one I read, Baldwin’s first novel.  I remember being assigned JC when I was in 10th grade.  I was more or less pre-conscious at the time, and had little or no idea what was going on as the whole class read the play.  I think there is an advantage in being able to choose the play from a list and then read it on your own.  For me, by 10th grade, when I was just smart enough to figure out how to get by without studying and only doing what I was forced or shamed to do–and still getting almost all A’s, I was able to hide my ignorance and confusion in the class.  Of course, I didn’t have a father who developed a passion for literature either.  No one was paying attention to me.  I was ready to hold my son’s hand through every line and page, if need be.  As it turned out, most of it was getting him started.  From there things went fairly smoothly.

I haven’t gotten around to writing about the Romans and “literary parenting” yet, but it’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time on.  And because of that and for other obscure reasons, I keep my eye out for Plutarch, and have dipped into it on occasion.  I think I have 3 different editions of Plutarch, a cheap Modern Library copy that is the most readable one, and also an old tyme compendium that cost $20 that looks pretty good on the shelf.  But the most interesting one was a blue volume, late 19th century I think, that is called “Plutarch for Boys and Girls,” and it has some nice illustrated pages. 

When I bought the book (which didn’t cost much, $20 at the most probably) I tried to get my kids to read it, but there was no way.  It just seems very old-fashioned, and kids have a sense that they can dismiss these types of things.  So I figured it was always just going to be a curiousity.

As I looked through my old Riverside Shakespeare and read about Julius Caesar, I remembered the whole Plutarch as major source thing.  So I gave “the boy” (I need a moniker for him, like the GD for my genius daughter) this book, to help him understand what was going on in the play.  Shockingly, it all kind of worked out.  After reading this edited version of Plutarch’s Caesar he was going to move on to Brutus, but the project petered out a little bit towards the end, once he had written his paper and finished his assignment.  Still, this was a big time success, and for a while he was excited about Caesar and the Romans and Shakespeare and the whole thing. 

 At some point I’ll spend more time on the Romans and write separately about how Latin is a requirement at his school, and how fantastic that is.  This was a good assignment because he also gets some credit for his Latin class by reading Julius Caesar.  Way to go!

I didn’t comment on it in my post on Baldwin, but Go Tell It would be a pretty challenging book for any 8th grader, I would think.  It was challenging enough for me, and I’m not in 8th grade.  It might be possible to read it in a class I suppose.  A very sophisticated 8th grade reader might be able to get it, I suppose, a kid with real momentum as a reader, plowing through things.  I’d be curious to see if any of the kids actually read it.

Monster is the obvious choice.  It’s one of “the boy’s” favorite books, and I think he read it a couple of years ago.  A lot of kids read Red Scarf Girl, and I think I’m going to try to get him to read it since he will be studying China, starting tomorrow.  I started looking at Kindred, where a contemporary black woman wakes up and finds herself back in slavery days, but I only read the set-up.  I would read Red Scarf Girl first, I think.  I’m sure Kindred is great, but it didn’t really grab me.  I was a little surprised that I had never heard of Kindred–apparently it’s a very popular, firmly established, solid book, but I’ve never seen it come up before.

I would ask people if anybody knows anything about these books.  That is, if anybody was reading this blog.  I’m stumbling at getting a blogroll going and am still unclear on how you get other people to read your stuff.  I know it has something to do with the blogroll, and going around and commenting of course.  But there’s no hurry; all in good time.


  1. Hi Zhiv. I am impressed with the reading list for your son, a wonderful selection of fascinating reading.

    I read selections from Plutarch last year for year one of my 10yr reading plan. Thoroughly enjoyed it and need to get myself a complete version so I can sift through all the essays slowly. I really liked Numa. Plutarch’s project was fascinating, I think.

    Octavia Butler is a writer I have a little experience with, although not with Kindred, which I think is one of only two standalone novels she wrote. The rest belonged to series. I read another of her books, Wild Seed, which I thoroughly enjoyed although I don’t go in for a lot of science fiction. Her writing is dark. But thoughtful.

    I have Baldwin on my shelf and am planning to read him later this year. I love his short stories. I look forward to reading your previous post on Go Tell It On the Mountain

  2. I can’t help you with any of those books … I have a copy of some Plutarch essays (On Love, the Family, and the Good Life) that I will get to eventually, probably this summer.

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