“Make it Work”

That’s our school-wide theme for the year (we just decided it 10 minutes ago.  We even came up with a catchy tee-shirt logo!).  Here comes my plea for help.

I’m teaching freshmen, juniors, and seniors this year, and I NEED novel and short story ideas that work along the theme of the things we do to make our living and, tangentially, what it means to “make a living.”  I need at least five books for each class.  Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Freshmen – To Kill a Mockingbird (we’ll focus in on the ideas of professional and personal ethics with this), The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (the ways in which the working world of adults is interpreted/misunderstood by children), The Giver (more professional/personal ethics)

Juniors – My Name is Asher Lev (choosing between the things you love and the things you’re expected to do), 1984 (playing – or not – within the system) and The Country of the Pointed Firs (very local flavor (the stories are set in a town literally 6 miles up the street) with a strong emphasis on community and interconnectedness).

Seniors – The Help (there are a million ways to go with this), essays from Studs Terkel’s Working, (oral history, finding value in everyone’s work), Native Son (the ways in which the systems we knowingly and unknowingly perpetuate affect ourselves and others) and A Handmaid’s Tale (again, with the systems).

I am also looking for ways to incorporate The Things They Carried and A Christmas Carol into some or all of the classes, and one of my colleagues is jazzed about The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind as an all-school read.  I’m expecting a copy of Norma Rae from Amazon any day now, and I’m also looking at teaching The Last Samurai for the ways in which it investigates the end of a system of living.

Please, please, PLEASE – if you know any books, films, or short stories that have a strong undercurrent of work and the ethics and values associated with it, send them along!



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14 responses to ““Make it Work”

  1. MauraLessa

    What about David Copperfield or Oliver Twist? I’m not a huge Dickens fan, but the themes of morality/ethics and work (or stealing to survive) are prevalent in these two novels.

  2. Darci

    Grapes of Wrath

  3. UGH! I HATE the Grapes of Wrath!

  4. M

    Well, clearly you need to be showing episodes of “Project Runway”, with a special emphasis on Tim Gunn and his “make it work” philosophy.

    If you can’t do that, I do “The Catcher in the Rye” with my juniors and you could focus, like with “1984”, on whether or not you have to play the system to survive. If you want to go YA lit (I don’t know if you can), The Hunger Games books work perfect for that idea. A short story I read with my seniors is Jhumpa Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter”, in which you could discuss relationships and what makes them work or not.

  5. Just thinking that Hunger Games actually has a strong undercurrent of work and work ethic and life as work. Nice crossover with celebrity being work, too.

  6. Oooh! We HAVE The Hunger Games, too! Do I use it with the freshmen or the juniors?

  7. I am laughing at your reaction to the Grapes of Wrath, because I hate it, too, and its the first book that popped into my head.

    What about Animal Farm? I remember it being more work-centric. The Good Earth?

    Hunger Games also, immediately popped into my head as well. It is suitable for freshmen.

    Here’s a different one: Bel Canto, about a hostage situation in a S. American political official’s mansion. The various groups of people all naturally adopted various jobs and responsibilities that kept them sane, and it upends the roles of privilege and subservience.

    As for movies: Cinderella Man & The Pursuit of Happyness.

    • Ooooh! SEESTER! I LOVED Bel Canto when I taught it to the seniors I worked with during my internship – maybe I’ll look into getting some copies of that. Also, I forgot all about The Pursuit of Happyness. If I’m remembering right, Cinderella Man is a boxing movie, yes? I’m not familiar with that…

  8. “Deer in the Works” is a great short story by Kurt Vonnegut, and it would go well alongside 1984 with the juniors. 🙂

  9. Glory Road by Robert Heinlein (for juniors or seniors) — science fiction with some socio-political exploration)

    Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold (juniors or seniors) — if there was ever a protagonist who embodied “Make It Work”, it is Miles Naismith Vorkosigan (born with severely brittle bones, but determined to succeed on a planet that has had a history of killing “mutants” at birth. Hugo Award winner

  10. needsatimeout

    Well I teach kindergarten so I can’t really help but one of my favorite books is
    A chair for my mother.
    Probably wont fly with your freshman but it’s what I like to read.

  11. Cinderella Man is about a boxer but it takes place I’n the Great Depression so work is a theme in and out of the ring. I agree that Hunger Games can be for either age group. Oh and the movie of CM was based on a book (memoir?) so you’ve got that resource, too.

  12. Yes, the central plot in CM is boxing but what stayed with me were the moments centered around the hardships of the depression – what not having work does to people.

    What about Matewan (coal workers in the ’20s, James earl jones.,…)?

    There’s just so much out there, that now I want to rent some movies!

  13. Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind…this would be non-fiction, though.

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