While I know we are all crossing our fingers for an early spring, the truth is winter seems to be hanging around the Midwest for a while longer yet. I'm all about reading seasonally and that's something I also like to apply to my classroom as well. I like to pick out novels that correspond with the time of year. There is nothing like reading about winter and then looking out the window to see fat snowflakes falling down. Here are my favorite novels to teach in the winter:
1. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Set during an oppressive winter in rural New England, this novella feels as bleak as its landscape. It also might make you swear off sledding trips for the rest of your life! The book has great use of symbolism, setting, theme, tone, and characterization which makes it perfect for high school analysis. I use it with my Honors American Lit class to introduce different types of analysis and help them write their first thematic thesis statements. It's also around 150 pages, so it makes for a perfect mini-unit as well.
2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
This is a classic wintery read! There is nothing like the White Witch, Father Christmas, and a lamppost in a snowy forest to put you in a winter-y mood. This is a great novel to discuss The Hero's Journey, fantasy genre, and setting. Depending on your students' age and school culture, you could also dive into some of the more Biblical symbolism and allegory. While this is a beloved novel in late elementary and middle school classrooms, many of my high schoolers enjoyed reading this last year during their independent reading projects.
3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
There might not be a setting in literature as desolate and windswept as Wuthering Heights. This novel lets you truly feel feel the cold of the wind as the characters walk across the blustery West Yorkshire moors. The grim gothic mood only adds to the dark fun of reading a Bronte novel. As this novel is so dynamic, I use it in my Honor British Literature course to teach critical lenses of analysis. Students love picking the book apart using a variety of approaches and lenses, leading up to their first BIG research paper.
4. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Taking place during the frivolities of the "Twelve Days of Christmas," this Shakespeare play is full of the fun and hijinks of the Christmas season. One of my favorite plays, students will love both the silliness of trading identities and the endearing, strong characters. Plus, you have the excuse of having your own class Twelfth Night party AND a She's the Man move day. This is also a great way to shake up your curriculum if you only teach Shakespeare's tragedies and you want to add a comedy with depth.
5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I remember hiding in my basement as a high schooler to I could sob through the end of this impactful novel. There are some truly beautiful and harrowing winter scenes in this novel set in Nazi Germany. Narrated by Death himself, this novel is a great opportunity to talk about point-of-view in a novel. It's also a good selection to start conversations about the power of literature, genocide, and standing up for what you believe in.
Seasonal reading isn't just for students, but also for teachers too. I love putting together my own readings lists at the beginning each season and reading my way through. Some of my recent favorite winter pleasure reads are: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (all the glitz and glam of the Gilded Age set on January NYC streets), Winter by Ali Smith (a Literary novel that explores resistance and art in today's society), and Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (a Victorian mystery set along the Thames River at New Years). What are your favorite novels to teach and read during the winter? Share in the comments below!
I'm Megan and I teach high school ELA. I'm all about literature, creativity, and aesthetics!