I Forced My Seventh Graders to Read TOM SAWYER and I Have No Regrets

Back when I taught middle school, I required that my students read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I knew that in high school, they'd be required to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so I thought of this as a way to introduce them to the characters and Twain's style ahead of time. 

Also, Tom Sawyer is just a really, really good book.

Everyone seems to know the story of Tom Sawyer, but I feel like few people have actually ever read the book. We've seen the movies or the homages or heard about whitewashing the fence, but the book itself (and not just an abridged version) is really worth the read.

One of my favorite passages is Chapter 5, wherein Twain describes a church scene with a fly, a beetle, and a "vagrant poodle." It's hilarious, and I urge you to give the whole chapter a read. But it's also a fantastic example of description done amazingly well. Just look how Twain describes the fly: 

"In the midst of the prayer a fly had lit on the back of the pew in front of him and tortured his spirit by calmly rubbing its hands together, embracing its head with its arms, and polishing it so vigorously that it seemed to almost part company with the body, and the slender thread of a neck was exposed to view; scraping its wings with its hind legs and smoothing them to its body as if they had been coat-tails; going through its whole toilet as tranquilly as if it knew it was perfectly safe."

The smug fly tortures Tom as if he knows Tom dare not swat at him during a prayer. And we, thanks to Twain's mastery of language, are tortured right along with poor Tom.

Along the same lines, my high school English teacher made us read the entire Don Quixote, and though we groaned at the time, I found the book to be quite wonderful. There's so much more to it than just the windmills scene. Cervantes was a funny guy, even when translated into another language!

What do you think? Should we still read the old texts when everyone already knows the plot? Or should we focus on more current literature instead given that time is limited?   

Ginger Rue's current book, Wonder Women of Science, is co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, who is currently working with NASA on the Mars mission. The book profiles a dozen amazing women (besides Tiera!) who are blazing new trails in their respective STEM fields.


  1. "You, Tom!" I remember that opening scene. And reading it for the first time one very hot summer when I was about twelve-ish years old. Loved it.

  2. Oh, that all kids would read it on their own over the summer!

  3. Oh, that all kids would read it on their own over the summer!

  4. I've enjoyed reading some of the classics all over again and try to fit in one or two each year.


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