9th Grade American Government
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Frederick Douglass) – This is one I’ve used in various contexts for many years, and I cannot recommend it ENOUGH. Douglass does a masterful job telling his story as a slave who came to understand the significance of education and reading as central to everything else, and skillfully paints slavery as a system doing as much harm to the whites involved as to the slaves themselves. Brilliant book, manageable reading level even with the 150-year old language. Use this any time you can.
Lord of the Flies (William Golding) – This was a tough one for my freshmen. My goal is to help them survive it, and “get it” enough that when they're exposed to other challenging classics throughout high school and college, they'll have some track record of success. This tale of boys stranded on an island during wartime explores human nature, the foundations of politics and society, and what some people will do for bacon. It's not hard to read, but students will need help processing and contextualizing it. The thing is, it's SO worth it.
The Client (John Grisham) – Yeah, I know this one is kind of a stretch, but like most Grisham novels it does involve government agencies and the law and it’s a real page-turner for near-people. This one also has a middle-school-aged protagonist and less sex than some, so yay that. We read it right after LOTF – it’s a huge relief for my kids, and many devour this much longer book with much more enjoyment. There's a sense of triumph that comes with the experience which I like. BONUS: There are usually about a thousand copies of this at any local used book store, cheap.
Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (John Grisham) – This series has been a godsend for young adult fiction. Theodore is the 8th grade son of two lawyers, both the simple down-to-earth type who make up most of the profession but don't make it into many thrillers. In this story and the other titles in the series, we see the law at many different levels (federal, state, local) applied in both mundane and movie-worthy circumstances, all through the eyes of our youthful protagonist and his friends. I LOVE THESE.
Animal Farm (George Orwell) – You all know this one. I am a little confused each year by how difficult my students make this book. I understand that not all of them will process the allegory with equal aplomb, but talking pigs and horses they should be able to handle without that sad, strained look on their little faces. Yes, it's about the Russian Revolution, but it's also about politics and power across time and place. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. The nice thing about this being such a classic is the variety of formats you can consider as support - streaming video, graphic novels, "illustrated" editions, etc. The alternate book formats can get a bit pricey for the typical school budget, however.