Of Mice and Men is a 1937 novella by John Steinbeck. Two migrant ranch workers move from place to place in California looking for work during America’s Great Depression.
This social protest novel is widely studied with high school English literature students. But, where funding allows, English teachers are starting to replace class sets Of Mice And Men with better options.
So, if a school is able to replace John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men with a more contemporary, and better, novel, what are those options? Below are seven alternatives, the bulk of them published in the last five years.
PURPLE HIBISCUS BY CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE (2012)
Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating.
As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins’ laughter rings throughout the house. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.
Purple Hibiscus is an exquisite novel about the emotional turmoil of adolescence, the powerful bonds of family, and the bright promise of freedom.
HOW DID I GET HERE BY PHILIP BUNTING (PICTURE BOOK)
From the Big Bang to your birthday, and (almost) everything in between, this funny and informative book tells your story. You are one of the newest members of a family tree that goes way, way, way back to the very first life on Earth. A lot of incredible things had to happen between the beginning of the universe and today in order to make you. The fact that you (and everyone you know) are here is nothing short of mind-boggling! Read this book to discover how it happened, and prepare to be amazed by the awesomeness of you.
HOW THE BORKS BECAME BY JONATHAN EMMETT (PICTURE BOOK)
Borks live on a planet quite like our own Earth. They have shaggy yellow fur and long thin necks. But once they had short blue fur and almost no necks at all. How could this happen? Well, it didn’t come about all at once … Jonathan Emmett tells a delightful story in verse about the Borks and all the things that happened to make them gradually look quite different, while still remaining Borks. And by the end of the story, the reader will have a very good notion of how Evolution by natural selection works.
GRANDMOTHER FISH A CHILD’S FIRST BOOK OF EVOLUTION BY JONATHAN TWEET AND KAREN LEWIS (PICTURE BOOK)
Where did we come from?
It’s a simple question, but not so simple an answer to explain—especially to young children. Charles Darwin’s theory of common descent no longer needs to be a scientific mystery to inquisitive young readers. Meet Grandmother Fish.
Told in an engaging call and response text where a child can wiggle like a fish or hoot like an ape and brought to life by vibrant artwork, Grandmother Fish takes children and adults through the history of life on our planet and explains how we are all connected.
The book also includes comprehensive backmatter, including:
– An elaborate illustration of the evolutionary tree of life – Helpful science notes for parents – How to explain natural selection to a child
WHEN THE WHALES WALKED BY DOUGAL DIXON AND HANNAH BAILEY (PICTURE BOOK)
A 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students: K–12 (National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council).
From the moment life crawled out of the oceans and onto land, to when our primate ancestors climbed down from the trees, the history of Planet Earth is filled with incredible stories. This beautifully illustrated guide explores some of the most exciting and incredible events in evolution, through 13 case studies.
Step back in time and discover a world where whales once walked, crocodiles were warm-blooded, and snakes had legs! Meet terrifying giant birds, and tiny elephants living on islands in this fascinating creature guide like no other. Learn how whales once walked on four legs before taking to the oceans; how dinosaurs evolved into birds; and how the first cats were small and lived in trees.
Featuring a stunning mix of annotated illustrations, illustrated scenes, and family trees, evolution is explained here in a captivating and novel style that will make children look at animals in a whole new way.
ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES BY SABINA RADEVA AND CHARLES DARWIN (PICTURE BOOK)
The revolutionary scientific book that explained evolution to millions of people for the first time, retold in stylish and accessible picture-book form.
The first ever picture-book retelling of Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species; this accessible work brings evolution to the younger generation through stylish illustrations and a simple, easy-to-understand text.
On The Origin of Species has been the definitive explanation of the theory of evolution since it was first published in 1859. Now molecular biologist and illustrator Sabina Radeva unites her two passions to create a 48-page retelling of this seminal text.
Pulling together Darwin’s observations from his travels around the world and his groundbreaking – and controversial – explanation of how species form, develop and change over hundreds of thousands of years, On The Origin of Species is as relevant and important now as it ever was.
An activity book inspired by Darwin’s revolutionary theory of evolution, by the creator of the bestselling picture-book retelling of On The Origin of Species
Learn about variation, competition and the struggle for existence with the help of this beautifully illustrated and accessible activity book for children.
Packed full with detailed colouring pages and mind-grabbing activities, this is a book to inspire creativity as well as an understanding of one of the most fundamental scientific theories of all time.
THE BORN WITH A BANG THEORY SERIES (PICTURE BOOKS)
Learning Magazine Teacher’s Choice Award National Gold Ink Awards Silver Award Children’s Books Endorsed by astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Nobel prize winner Leon Lederman, cosmologist Brian Swimme, and others.
“Once upon a time” meets science in a children’s picture book that tells the thrilling story of how life began on Earth.
The second in a trilogy of Universe stories — the first being “Born with a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story”– this book picks up the story with the first appearance of life on Earth. It’s a thrilling story about how Earth triumphs over crisis to become bacteria, jellyfish, flowers…even dinosaurs! The author, Jennifer Morgan, studied evolutionary science and saw its storytelling possibilities when she explained it to her elementary-age son. Coupled with brilliant artwork by Dana Anderson, who also studied Cosmology, these books will intrigue children and adults alike with their storytelling style and colorful pages.
The third book of the series is a scientifically accurate telling of the story of mammals and humans. Gorgeous and ethereal illustrations and a story that brings children into a state of connectedness with the universe makes this an amazing book for parents and teachers who want to instill in kids a deep appreciation for themselves, their community, and the need to protect this planet that we all reside.
This book picks up after From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story with the extinction of dinosaurs, and tells how tiny mammals survived and morphed into lots of new Earthlings–horses, whales and a kind of mammal with a powerful imagination–you! It’s a story of chaos, creativity and heroes? the greatest adventure on Earth! And it’s a personal story . . . about our bodies, our minds, our spirits. It’s our story. As the president of the American Montessori Society said, “These books are alive with wonder, radiance, and deep relevance.”
Why Do Tigers Have Whiskers? from the creators of Curious Kids at The Conversation (Australia)
In this book on animals venture into the jungle to discover why tigers need whiskers dig deep with echidnas to find out how they breathe underground and shimmy up a tree with your pet cat to learn how it uses its claws. Aimed at kids aged 4-7 the series asks the big questions about the world as only a child could with factual explanations that break down the fundamentals and check our assumptions. A glossary helps young readers learn more complex terms and immersive collages illustrate each answer with layers of stuff to marvel at and identify. Learn thewhy thehowand thewow!as you explore your world through the eyes of a curious kid.
WHAT MR DARWIN SAW BY MICK MANNING AND BRITA GRANSTROM
In 1831, at only 22 years old, Darwin was offered the position of Naturalist on HMS Beagle‘s world voyage. He was set to become a clergyman but returns after five years at sea an inspired genius. This book follows the journey of HMS Beagle, showing life on-board the ship for Darwin, the captain, crew and the expedition’s artist. The reader sees Darwin discovering and observing insect life in Brazil, fossils in Argentina, earthquakes in Chile and turtles in the Galapagos Islands. The reader is therefore able to follow the steps which led to Darwin’s inspired theory of evolution, while also showing the adventures and escapades he had during the voyage. A fascinating and colourful story of Darwin’s life, this book also introduces young readers to one of the world’s most important scientists and his discoveries. It concludes with a simple explanation of the theory of evolution. Written by an outstanding team in the field of children’s non-fiction, this is a book to enlighten and inspire young readers.
Who was the first person? Paleoanthropologist Adam Van Arsdale answers one of the most frequent questions we get here at But Why. Also: how does evolution work? Was there a first of every living thing? How did the first animal come alive? How did monkeys turn into people? And what did cavemen eat that we still eat today?
People took porches and porch time for granted back then. Everybody had porches; they were nothing special. An outdoor room halfway between the world of the street and the world of the home. If the porch wrapped around the house as the Abbotts’ did, there were different worlds on the front, side, and back porch. If you were laid up on the side porch the way the Ya-Yas were in the picture, you were private, comfortably cloistered. The side porch — that’s where the Ya-Yas went if their hair was in pin curls, when they didn’t want to wave and chat to passersby. This is where they sighed, this is where they dreamed. This is where they lay for hours, contemplating their navels, sweating, dozing, swatting flies, trading secrets there on the porch in a hot, humid girl soup. And in the evening when the sun went down, the fireflies would light up over by the camellias, and that little nimbus of light would lull the Ya-Yas even deeper into porch reveries. Reveries that would linger in their bodies even as they aged.
from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
There isn’t much to be said about a porch itself — there’s little furniture, no wall-hangings, and little to distinguish one porch from any other — architecturally. So the author writes about all the people who inhabit the porch, and evokes an atmosphere via character memories.
A HOUSE IN MONTANA ON DUSK
The novel opens via the viewpoint character of a wolf, who starts in the forest then happens upon a house, taking the reader into civilisation. Wolves would not be able to describe a house in the following way, but a few details suggest a wolfish, and therefore forbidding, lens.
Notice too how Sparks takes the ‘camera’ from the porch to the inside, led by the cry of the baby, through the veil of curtains.
[The small ranch house] had been built on elevated ground above the bend of a creek whose bends bristled with willow and chokecherry. There were barns to one side and white-fenced corals. The house itself was a clapboard, freshly painted a deep oxblood. Along its southern side ran a porch that now, as the sun elbowed into the mountains, was bathed in a last glow of golden light. The windows along the porch had been opened wide and net curtains stirred in what passed for a breeze.
From somewhere inside floated the babble of a radio and maybe it was this that made it hard for whoever was at home to hear the crying of the baby. The dark blue buggy on the porch rocked a little and a pair of pink arms stretched craving for attention from its rim. But no one came. And at last, distracted by the play of sunlight on his hands and forearms, the baby gave up and began to coo instead.
MAIN STREET FROM “COMING SOON” BY STEVEN MILLHAUSER
On weekends and evenings, whenever he was free, Levinson liked nothing better than to explore the streets of his town. Main Street was always alive, but that wasn’t the only part of town with an energy you could feel. On residential streets, houses displayed new roofs, renovated porches, bigger windows, fancier doors; in outlying neighborhoods, empty tracts of land blossomed with medical buildings, supermarkets, family restaurants. During early visits to the town, he’d seen a field of bramble bushes with a sluggish stream change into a flourishing shopping plaza, where stores shaded by awnings faced a parking lot studded with tree islands and flower beds, and shortly after his move he’d watched, day after day, as a stretch of woods at the west end of town was cut down and transformed into a community of stone-and-shingle houses on smooth streets lined with purple-leaved Norway maples. You could always find something new in this town—something you weren’t expecting. His city friends, skeptics and mockers all, could say what they liked about the small-town doldrums, the backwater blues, but that didn’t prevent them from coming up for the weekend, and even they seemed surprised at the vitality of the place, with its summer crowds, its merry-go-round in the park, its thronged farmers’ market, and, wherever you looked, on curbsides and street corners, in vacant lots and fenced-off fields, men and machines at work: front-end loaders lifting dirt into dump trucks, excavators digging their toothed buckets into the earth, truck-mounted cranes unfolding, rising, stretching higher and higher into the sky.
“Coming Soon”, Steven Millhauser
In the description below, author Nicholas Evans describes a small town first from a long shot point of view then, as the driver (Dan) drives into the town we see it as he would from a car window. The description of a ‘blink and you miss it’ town is not original, but the verb ‘fishboned’ is. By listing the shops, Evans gives us a good idea of the population of this town — their needs, their desires, and then injects a touch of irreverent humour by putting churches and bars into the same category.
HOPE, MONTANA FROM THE LOOP
In the far distance now, Dan saw the town looming. It was the kind of town you could drive through and barely know you’d been there. One straight street, a couple of hundred yards long, fishboned with a few side alleys. At one end stood a rundown motel and at the other a school, and in between you could find a gas station, a grocery, a hardware store, a diner, a laundromat and a taxidermist.
Many of the town’s five hundred or so population lived scattered along the valley and to service their various spiritual needs there were two churches and two bars. There were also two gift shops, which said more about optimism than sound business sense; for although summer tourists often passed through Hope, few chose to longer.
In an attempt to remedy this and to meet demand from the modest but growing band of subdivision newcomers, one of these shops (and by far the better) had last year installed a cappuccino bar.
The Loop, Nicholas Evans
THE TOWN OF RIGBY FROM “GALLATIN CANYON” BY THOMAS MCGUANE
But there was Rigby, and, in the parlance of all who have extracted funds from locals, Rigby had been good to me. Main Street was lined with ambitious and beautiful stone buildings, old for this part of the world. Their second and third floors were now affordable housing, and their street levels were occupied by businesses hanging on by their fingernails. You could still detect the hopes of the dead, their dreams, even, though it seemed to be only a matter of time before the wind carried them away, once and for all.
WRITE YOUR OWN
Using imagery from two or more of the images below and write a description of a Main Street.
Every Saturday morning all summer long, the parking lot across the street from me is transformed. Friday night, it’s full of sports cars and sparsely moustached, beer-guzzling boys with cell phones and car stereos that shake the glass of my front windows, but come Saturday morning at eight, it’s a farmer’s market. There is the fey fella selling homemade dog biscuits, the family-run fireweed honey corporation, the lesbian cheese makers from Salspring Island, a gumpy poter, and a sunburnt man selling bundles of organic mustard greens and butter lettuce. You can buy cherries and maple syrup, visit the latte wagon, and get gardening advice. You can sign petitions and join a jam-making group that donates to the food bank. There are face painters and banjo players. People wear sandals and the dogs rarely get into fights, because everyone is too busy saying hello and showing off their new bedding plants. Yard sales spring up spontaneously on street corners.
Ivan Coyote, One In Every Crowd, opening to “Saturdays and Cowboy Hats”
This list is collected from online chats about children’s books studied in Australian high schools. Comments are from teachers who have used these books in class in 2020.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
American. Teachers are having huge success with Years 9 and 10.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
They drove a couple of miles down a rough country road—having turned off the highway and then off a decent unpaved country road—and found a place for cars to park, with no cars in it at present. A sign was painted on a board and needed retouching: “caution. deep-holes.”
Suburban cinemas were often pretty comfortless places. While the entrance could be quite imposing with the box office generally at the top of a flight of white marble steps, presumably to accommodate the rake, the auditorium itself was often not much more than a hangar, the aisle carpeted but he seats on lino or even bare concrete. Wartime meant there was no ice cream but enroute to the cinema we would generally call at a sweet shop and get what Dad called ‘some spice’, provided, of course, we had the points, sweet rationing the most irksome of wartime restrictions and still in force as late as 1952 when I went in the army.