Category Archives: Pairings

Here are blogs pairing classical literature commonly taught within the English Canon and Young Adult Literature, which can be paired together while teaching, giving a more dynamic learning experience for students.

Robinson Crusoe and The Hatchet

I re-read Gary Paulsen’s The Hatchet for the first time since junior high and I was surprised to learn that the essence of the story is similar to Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The Hatchet was published in 1987 and follows the story of 13 year old Brian Robeson who is stranded in the Canadian wilderness following a small plane crash that killed the pilot. Armed with only a hatchet given to him by his mother, Brian must survive in the wild alone. Dafoe’s Crusoe is an adventurer and travels the world by boat. It was when he is left shipwrecked and stranded on an unknown island that he is left to survive.

Both are considered to be adventure novels that detail the means of survival but the interesting twist is that both character must not only survive physically but mentally as well. Brian must come to grips with who he has become following his parents divorce. Crusoe must come to grips with the sins he has committed in his past in order to survive. Both struggles are not only physical but spiritual. There spiritual struggles are displayed in vivid flashbacks that haunt both characters. Brian thinks back to how his parents split and the time spent with each of them. Although these flashbacks cause him emotional pain, they also provide key elements that help him physically survive. Crusoe is visited by an angel that tells him to repent for his sins and because of this he finds the emotional drive to continue onward to live.

The Hatchet displays a teenage boys rite of passage and his struggles as he grows to become more mature and self aware. The hatchet given to him by his mother is the catalyst. It represents the sharp emotional pain Brian felt during the divorce and he keeps it close for survival. In Crusoe’s tale repentance is required in order for Crusoe to master his situation. Both stories seem to have one thing in common, both characters must come to grips with their past and reach a sort of nirvana in order to continue to grow. They must be okay with who they were, who they are now and strive to become a realized person in the future. Both tales are about finding inner light in the vastness of the wilderness.

As a teacher I would draw these comparisons for my students to help them understand Crusoe’s character. I would introduce Brian’s character as someone they can identify with and how his struggles are similar to Crusoe even though he is only thirteen. To inspire my students to become active readers and readers for the future I think providing similar stories with characters they can relate to is key. I want my students to be able to read Robinson Crusoe with the understanding that Crusoe situation is very plausible and that Brian Robeson went through a similar situation. This is how he overcomes his obstacles. Learning these themes can provide a foundation for my students to learn valuable life lessons.

Robinson Crusoe can be found in its entirety here.

For information about author Gary Paulsen visit here. A 2010 interview with Paulsen can be found here.

For more information about the film adaption of The Hatchet visit here.

– Brian


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What Makes Jake Great?

My literature class my sophomore year of high school left a lasting impression on me. The class was so dry I vowed that when I became a teacher I would never teach books in this format. One of the books I read for class was the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was a struggle to read this book because I always thought it had a slow moving plot that was drenched in drama. I felt like I couldn’t identify with any of the characters in the story and I did not fully understand the metaphors and similes being used throughout the novel. It didn’t help the situation when my teacher gave our class daily quizzes testing us over the details of the readings. Now that I am older and can appreciate Fitzgerald’s work I catch myself thinking back to that class. There had to be a way I could identify with this novel as a student to better understand it. Enter Gordon Korman’s Jake, Reinvented.

Jake, Reinvented is an edgy take on The Great Gatsby that takes place in a high school setting. Characters from Fitzgerald’s work like Daisy and Jay are replaced by young teenage characters Jake and Didi. Instead of taking place in a socialite area code in New York during the roaring 20’s, Jake, Reinvented takes place in a contemporary high school setting. Although there are some differences in the eras these two stories take place in the core of the story and the over arching themes remain constant. Both have to deal with misguided morals and outer beauty vs. inner ugliness.

What better way to teach these themes to students than to pair it with something tangible; something they can relate to. Most of us can relate to labels in high school and the social hierarchy established by the status quo. We heard the labels before you know, jocks, the band geeks, the nerds, the drama queens and the preps and most of know where these labels fit in the social hierarchy. There are versions of these labels in The Great Gatsby that people in the 20’s may have all to familiar with.

That being said there are some differences. The Great Gatsby is a tougher read because it is chalked full of metaphor, simile and lyric. Some of the comparisons may not make sense to the average high student at first glance. Jake, Reinvented tosses out the complex metaphor and substitutes it with a series of experiences to form something more practical students can relate to. Another huge difference besides the lyrical language is the voice of each. The Great Gatsby uses active voice placing the reader within the novel. He uses words that fit the situation such as lurches and spilled to describe events at a party where alcohol is involved. This type of language implies carelessness and sluggishness characteristics of someone who may have drank a little to much. Fitzgerald uses these words in active voice to place the reader side by side with the main character in this world. Korman places the reader in his story by using past tense. As a reader, this past tense language triggers memories and I am then able to relate to the characters.

Keeping these in mind I would, like the author, try to place my students in the 20’s maybe by starting class with important excerpts from Jake, Reinvented then ask my students to travel back to the 20’s and read the Fitzgerald’s take on Korman’s described events. I would maybe start the class with popular music from the 20’s to set the mood or display brief history timelines to help my students better understand how life was like in the 20’s.

The Great Gatsby in its entirety can be accessed for free by clicking here.

PBS has a brief overview of the life F. Scott Fitzgerald and that can be accessed here.

The Great Gatsby will be reiterated in the 2012 motion picture. More information on the director and actors attached can be found here.

Francis Ford Coppola, responsible for The Godfather, wrote the screen play for the 1974 film adaption of The Great Gatsby featuring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. More information on this movie can be found by clicking here.

Gordon Korman’s official website can be accessed by clicking here.

– Brian

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Anne Frank in Pajamas

Okay, though the title may seem silly we are aware that many English classes teach Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl as part of the canon. We feel that another great pairing can be done between the young adult book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and the diary of Anne Frank. For those who don’t know, Anne Frank was a young girl who was a Jew during

Anne Frank

the time of Nazi occupation in Europe. She was born and lived in Germany but moved to Amstradam where she lived out the rest of her life. Her family went into hiding to avoid being captured by the Nazi’s and taken to a concentration camp. However, Anne’s family was eventually betrayed and along with her sister, Anne died in a concentration camp in 1945 at the age of 15. Her diary was later found and eventually published into a book, film, and play.

Anne was a good writer, her diary has fascinating insight into what life was like for her during her months and years in hiding. Since she was very young, her diary, and now book, would make an intriguing comparison in the classroom with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Both books are told by young narrators who do not quite understand all that is going on around them. War is a complex idea to an innocent child and it is evident in both these books. Also, there are interesting elements that can be discussed between the books, such as the genre. Anne Frank’s Diary was obviously written as a non-fiction piece since it was the story of her life during WWII, while The Boy in the

Picture of Anne's real diary

Striped Pajamas is a fictional story made up by author John Boyne.

Questions that would could be asked while teaching both books could be related to how the stories are told. One narration is told in first person and the other in third. How does this change the way we read the book? Which one seems more believable? Do you get to know both characters the same, or are there differences? How do their experiences effect you? Which story do you think you enjoyed more? Why do you think that?

Students could enjoy The Boy in the Striped Pajamas more because it may flow better or seem to have a more interesting plot. However, this could help as a teacher to get students to have an understanding of point-of-view and different styles of writing. Also, it would help with genre and what makes them different. Not only are these elements applicable while comparing both books, but these stories may very well draw emotions from students when they find that both young narrators do not live to see the war end. Students will hopefully be able to start feeling emotions for the characters and begin to make the moves that are required to put themselves in the texts they read.

Again, it may be easy to have the students read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl throughout the week and on Friday read to them from The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, or split the books into separate weeks for the unit, whatever seems the best way to teach them.

The comparisons within these books would be very powerful within a classroom setting. Students may easily be drawn into these young peoples lives and the war that brought them to a tragic end; a war that was very real and almost unimaginable.


To see a review we’ve done on The Boy in Striped Pajamas click here. And if students find themselves fascinated with the story of Anne Frank, they can visit her official website and learn more about this intriguing young woman, Anne Frank’s Official Site.

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Dracula and Twilight

The question we like to raise for this site is, “Why not teach young adult literature along with the good ol’ classics?” Many reasons are given in our Rational section; however, it is important to have ideas of how and what to pair together if deciding to teach YA Literature with the Canon. Exibit A, use the popular Twilight series while teaching the story of Dracula by Irish author Bram Stoker. What better way to get the students into the mood of vampires than teaching Dracula and comparing it with what many students may already know, or think, about vampires through the teen fiction stories of Twilight? Off the top of my head I would highly recommend teaching this during an October Unit while the students are eagerly awaiting Halloween and in the mood for the tales of monsters in the night.


Looking through the story of Dracula, there are many great literary techniques and ideas which Stephenie Meyer uses in her version of a vampire tale, Twilight. While Meyer uses the Cullen Clan as a group of “good” vampires, there are still elements of the vampires that prey on innocent humans, much like Count Dracula. Meyer also takes the typical elements and addresses the changes she has made in her version of the vampire saga. While in Dracula’s weakness is garlic, that is not the case for Meyer’s vampires. Also, while Count Dracula sleeps in a caufin during the day, the Cullen’s simply shimmer in the sunlight and must stay away from it in order to live among humans without being detected.

These are only a very few contrasting elements; however, getting students to understand the literature of Dracula and intriguing their interest using the modern tale of Twilight could help making the unit meaningful and get students to love reading and knowing they are not limited to only the canon but also other books as well.

Digging into the Dracula alongside Twilight can give students an idea of how much it takes to actually write a popular book and story. Not only does Meyer create a story but she also had to research past vampire stories and gain a sense of her own story and what it would entail.

We would recommend teaching Dracula throughout the week and maybe on a Friday take the students through Twilight excerpts, or simply give them the option to read it along with Dracula. Also, to include a mode of discourse at the end of the unit, students could easily write a literary anaylsis on the contrasting and similar aspects within the legendary text of Dracula and the modern books of Twilight (or any other modern vampire tale for that matter).


Stephenie Meyer also has her own website where students who fall in love with reading her series and want to read more and see what the author is doing, they can visit her site and read blogs directly from the author.

Stephenie Meyer Official Website


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The Outsiders and Eragon

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is the quintessential young adult novel.  Written by a young adult Hinton writes the story of Ponyboy Curtis who is a Greaser.  The Greasers are a group of boys from the wrong side of the tracks.  They act tough, dress alike, and act as a family.  The Greasers stand together against the Socs that have plenty of money and respect from the community.

The book has a great dialogue and an interesting story of a kid who is attempting to beat the odds.  Ponyboy has a lot to overcome in order to succeed in life, and though he has a tough life he is still caring and loyal to his friends.

The story includes a lot about prejudices and judging people based on how they look or dress.  Hinton has a great message for students on how to treat others. Click here for the S.E. Hinton website. It has her bio, books, and ways to contact her.

An interesting book to pair with The Outsiders would be Eragon by Christopher Paolini.  The reason I would choose to teach these two books together is because of the fact that the authors were young adults when they wrote the books.  Christopher Paolini was fifteen when he started the book Eragon.  S. E. Hinton was sixteen when she wrote The Outsiders.  I just think this would be a great message for the students to read works of fiction that are published by authors their age.  Who knows, they may even be inspired to write a book of their own.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini is a fantasy. It follows a young boy with no future plans excluding taking over the family farm. He is thrown into an epic quest to take down the Empire when, by chance, he acquires a dragon that he calls Sephira. Eragon realizes his destiny to become one of the legendary Dragon Riders and he is taught valuable lessons from the old man in the village named Brom who has a mysteriously vast knowledge of the ancient race.

This is a book that can be enjoyed by basically any student.  There is adventure, courage, and friendship.

Abby Greulich

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The Hunger Games and Brave New World

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a story about Katniss who is growing up in a time where America has been destroyed by war.  It is now called Pandem and is ruled by a dictator in the distant Capitol.  Katniss lives in District 12 where they struggle with poverty, famine, and oppression.

Every year there is the Hunger Games where a boy and a girl from each district is chosen to participate.  In the games they are forced to fight to the death in an arena while the rest of the country watches on their televisions.

Katniss is a strong and extremely practical girl that will sacrifice everything for those who she loves.

It is a great book and series that is accruing a lot of fame today.  The books are currently being made into a movie franchise. I personally loved the books and would highly recommend them to any and every one.  Just make sure you have enough time to read all three in a row, you will not want to stop after the first one.

For an interview with Suzanne Collins click here, this interview includes Collins reading from the third book in the series where she uses the accent in which her characters talk in.

A great book for The Hunger Games to be paired with is Brave New World.  These post-apocalyptic books share the idea of the masses being strongly controlled by a dictator, in every facet of their lives.  The characters of Bernard Marx and Katniss Everdeen both feel a discontent with being so closely controlled by the government and they rebel in their own ways.  It would also be interesting to discuss how keeping society apart from other groups would help them to be controlled.  In The Hunger Games District 12, where Katniss lives, is not allowed to know about lives in the other districts, and in Brave New World the separate castes do not intermingle.

Another interesting topic would be to analyze how education is used in the books to only pigeonhole the people into a job they are predestined for.  For example, District 12 children are educated solely in how to mine coal, and the castes in Brave New World are educated to do the job they are biologically programed for.  One more commonality in these books is the use of technology.  In The Hunger Games the districts are deprived form technology and only the capitol has access to any technology, be it medical or otherwise.  In Brave New World technology is the people’s lives, but they are only given access to what the controller wants them to have.

Both books have a lot to say about society, and include a warning about the potential society has to strip people of their humanity and individuality.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a satire of a Utopian world where people are made and controlled by the Controller.  The main goal in society is to be stable and therefore the people do not have access to anything that can make them hope or even dream.  The embryos are made to produce an amount of people for each caste.

The people are without family or passion.  The only relationships they do have is with their friends, and these relationships are extremely shallow in nature. The relationships in their lives are affected by the emotions feel and the sole emotion they feel is being content.

The book is interesting and extremely thought-provoking.  Definitely an interesting topic to discuss in a classroom setting. Click here to find the text online.

Abby Greulich

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A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

In  A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith the reader gets a close look at the life of Francie Nolan.  Covering her life from eleven to sixteen, there is a love for reading that Francie possesses.  In her coming of age story she strives to gain her mother’s approval and enjoys the love from her Father, borrowing traits from both of her parents.  Francie has to overcome the difficulties of her life in Brooklyn, showing what life was like for an immigrant family in America, and also the importance of education.

The book is at times eye-opening and heartbreaking. Francie goes through a lot and has a tough life, but there are moments that are relatable to girls in any culture.  Francie observes all that is around her and is extremely resilient.  It is a truly memorable tale and a great book for young girls to read.

An interesting pairing for A Tree Grows In Brooklyn could be I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.  It would give the students two different versions of a coming-of-age story.  Both girls in the story deal with poverty, and hardship. They value education as a way to make their way in the world and improve their lives.  The cultures that they live in differ in ways, but are similar in others.  Both fathers are dreamers of a sort and do not live fully in the reality of their circumstances.

These girls make it through their adolescence of their own will.  I think the books would complement each other nicely as they represent this poignant phase of girl’s lives.

In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou writes her literary autobiography.  It reads like a novel of a young Maya growing up dealing with prejudice, sexual abuse, and family.  She does not have a stable home and is constantly moving around the country to live with her father, mother, and grandmother.

The book gives a colorful picture of how what life was like for Maya living in segregation.  There is a fear of the white people and a intrigue with the way language differs between the two races.  The adults in Maya’s life show her differing ways to deal with the segregation and racism.  As Maya grows up she finds her own personal identity and shows a great love for writing and reading.  Click here for Maya Angelou’s website.

Abby Greulich

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