Top Ten Tuesday: Our Favorite Pairings of YA Books and Classics


top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because The Broke and Bookish are particularly fond of lists (as are we!). Each week a new Top Ten list topic is given and bloggers can participate.

 Today’s Topic: YA Books That Would Be Great Paired with Classics

Because this post has been so popular, we created an updated post with even more ideas here!


I tried to pick classic texts that many, many teachers have in their curricula. If you are looking for a pairing for a different classic text, feel free to leave a message in our comments section, and Kellee and I will give you a great pairing!

1. Classic Novel: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Great YA Pairing: Monster by Walter Dean Myers or Black and White by Paul Volponi

I love teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. How neat would it be to pair it with Monster or Black and White? Students would be able to look at racial relations as they exist today. Both of these YA books incorporate justice and law, so there would be many parallels! I am envisioning a culminating social justice project. Ah, I wish I had thought of this one sooner.

2. Classic Novel: 1984 by George Orwell

Great YA Pairing: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

These two books MUST be paired together. When I teach 1984, I ask my students to relate the concepts of government, technology, and surveillance to the world today. Little Brother is clearly written in response to 1984, and I use an excerpt with my students because I wasn’t able to garner enough funds for a class set. After we discuss the book, students always want to read it. A fun project—ask students to find a newspaper article relating to the themes in 1984 or Little Brother. We had so much fun jigsawing newspaper articles. You would be surprised at how many recent articles you can find by searching newspaper websites with the keywords of “Orwellian” or “Big Brother.” 

3. Classic Text: Night by Elie Wiesel

Great YA Pairing: Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick or Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

My students love reading Night, but it seems that Holocaust texts are over-represented in our curricula. I wanted to branch out, while still covering the curricular requirement. This year, I was able to order a class set of Between Shades of Gray, one of my favorite books. Through our Scholastic book fair, each text was $6, so I didn’t have to deal with our school budget! The students LOVED the book. They couldn’t believe that they had never heard about Stalin’s acts of genocide. We spent a lot of time pairing it with Night, and as a bonus, I turned some self-proclaimed non-readers into readers! I also love booktalking Never Fall Down, which is about the Cambodian genocide. The labor camps are similar to those in Night, and I think they would bridge well. Teachers would have a lot of fun examining the language of this text, and it would make for some great writing experiences for students!

4. Classic Text: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Great YA Pairing: If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson or The Fault in our Stars by John Green

It seems that almost every school teaches this classic to freshmen, so I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss two great pairings. I love If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson. I learned about it in my education course with Wendy Glenn. It is much more relatable to students than Romeo and Juliet, so teachers would be better able to connect the classic text with students. It won’t take long for students to read it because it is not a lengthy book, so I promise you have time for it, and the students won’t forget it! It would also be great to draw parallels between Romeo and Juliet and The Fault in our Stars. The books seem to be a bit different, but I can think of many connections that would be worthwhile and meaningful to students.
[Kellee: The first thing my dad said to me when he finished The Fault in our Stars was that it should be paired with Romeo and Juliet.]

5. Classic Text: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Great YA Pairing: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Now THIS is a classic that most teachers loathe teaching. No matter how much you dance, it seems there will always be students who are disengaged from the text. I bet many students would enjoy reading The Scarlet Letter if it were paired with Speak. There are so many connections between the two, that it just seems like an obvious choice. Students could connect the plot details, characterization, and themes. The language and structure of Speak make it an amazing book to teach. The students in our school love reading it.



I focused more on choosing classics that students may encounter and the YA (or middle grade/picture) books that could be paired with them to make the classic “easier” to read.  Classics, in my opinion, are often very hard to connect to and by pairing it with a text that has similar themes or story line can really make the classic more reachable in the student’s mind.

1. Classic Text: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Great Middle Grade Pairing: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I read A Wrinkle in Time in 6th grade and loathed every minute of it. I would have LOVED to have When You Reach Me to read first as a scaffold up to such an intense science fiction novel.  These two books are made to be paired, specifically because A Wrinkle in Time plays a part in When You Reach MeWhen I finished Stead’s novel, it actually made me want to read L’Engle’s classic which is something you won’t hear me say often.


2. Classic Text: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Great YA Pairing: The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick

I love how well these two fit together and it actually makes me want to teach Fahrenheit so I can! As you all know, in Fahrenheit 451 books are being burned because the firemen are being told to burn them. In The Last Book in the Universe we enter into a world where almost everything is destroyed, including books. In both books the protagonist finds out about the power of books in different, but special ways; however, both include learning about the past.


3. Classic Text: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Great YA Pairing: Looking for Alaska by John Green

I love both of these novels and I love how well they would work together as a pairing. In both novels, a teenage boy is going to boarding school and both are encountering things they need to adapt to. The themes in the book can even be compared: Coming of age, Questioning authority, Solitude, Death. I also love a teacher character in both of these books because the teacher really makes them question. And coincidentally enough, John Green has even said he was influence by Holden Caulfield when writing Looking for Alaska.


4. Classic Text: Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel

Great Picture Book Pairing: Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems

Two sets of best friends who I love! Elephant and Piggie are some of my favorite picture books right now. They are about friendship and kindness. We all read Frog and Toad when we are younger and they are about friendship and kindness. What a great pairing! I think Elephant and Piggie is a nice scaffold up to Frog and Toad. They both have similar themes and are truly loved by children.


5. Classic Text: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Great YA Pairing: This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel 

This one almost seems like cheating because, well, This Dark Endeavor was made to be paired with Frankenstein. This Dark Endeavor is Kenneth Oppel’s story of Victor Frankenstein as a young man thus fitting perfectly with Frankenstein. I tried to stay away from these types of books as pairings, but these are both such wonderful horror books and they would be great to pair together. This Dark Endeavor, in my opinion, would have made Mary Shelley proud.


We’d love to hear your thoughts about which YA books you’d pair with classics!


35 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Our Favorite Pairings of YA Books and Classics”

    • I haven’t read it either – we can be shamed together 🙂
      Between Shades of Gray is brilliant – you will truly enjoy it.
      [As for the energy, sometimes it is really lucky to have a partner :D]

    • It is quite good. I remember it took me a bit to get into it, and then I was hooked.

      Yes, Kel, the partner thing really does help. Five is much more manageable than ten.

  1. These are really great pairings! (Although I’m shocked you hated A Wrinkle in Time haha). I do agree though that classic novels can be hard to connect to (I HATED The Scarlet Letter. And I rarely hate books!), and I wish we’d had more paired for discussions (which were usually painfully awful and stilted) or to help engage students with the classic novels.

      • Yeah I’m not sure when or how I stumbled across the book, but it’s amazing the effect teachers and classes can have on our enjoyment of a book. (For example, my entire class boycotted reading Animal Farm…we were on our third long term sub that year…we were a bit…feisty) Luckily most of my teachers were really fantastic and influenced my views in a good way!

        • It took me four years of teaching GATSBY to fall in love with it. My first three years of students didn’t love it either (even though I thought I did a good job of faking that I liked it). My fourth year of students? Loved it.

  2. Excellent list! I’m bookmarking this for future reference. I especially love the Night/Between Shades of Gray pairing (I still need to read Never Fall Down). I personally loved both of them and think students would definitely engage with them. I’m a student teacher and, though I won’t do so during my student teaching, I can’t get the idea of teaching The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde out of my head. I was wondering if either of you have suggestions for a pairing? Also, at what grade level would you teach Jekyll & Hyde? Thank you for sharing your picks! 🙂

    • Randi, you will love NEVER FALL DOWN. It is amazing, and just as good as the other two.

      I am so sad to say that I haven’t read Dr. Jekyll & Hyde. I really want to help! I am texting Kellee right now to see if she has suggestions.

      • Thank you so much! I will definitely add Inexcusable & I Will Save You to my to-read list. I’d love to teach Jekyll & Hyde someday.

        I loved McCormick’s style in SOLD, so I really need to read NEVER FALL DOWN ASAP. It’s been sitting on my shelf for months and just haven’t picked it up yet! Thanks for the reminder. 😉

    • Okay, I have answers! Everyone I talked to recommended juniors or seniors, but preferably seniors.
      There were mixed reviews on the Jekyll & Hyde YA retellings that are out there. Mark Letcher recommended Inexcusable by Chris Lynch or I Will Save You by Matt de la Pena. Both show the dark side of people, and I have read both—they are excellent. I hope this helps!

  3. This is a great list! So full of books I still need to read though… I definitely agree about the Scarlet Letter/Speak pairing and it’s on my list too. I feel like it would make the book so much more relatable if there was a little more modern connection and a little less symbolism. I do think Kellee that you should give Wrinkle in Time another shot – even if only so that you can read the wonderful graphic novel rendering by Hope Larson. I think since it’s been such a long time you might just fall in love with it! 🙂

    My TTT:

    • I can’t remember anything about A Wrinkle in Time, and now I am starting to think it deserves a read. Thanks for posting your TTT—I am heading over there now!

  4. Uh-oh – sorry, Kellee, I don’t think we can be friends anymore. You loathed A Wrinkle in Time?? I loved it so much I read the entire series, re-read it many times, and even played Meg in our school play! My favorite kid book of all time! Don’t worry – I also loved When You Reach Me, and you have so many other amazing books on our list…I guess we can still be friends 😉

    Ricki, I haven’t read too many of the YA pairings you suggest but now I want to! I did read – and was blown away by – Between Shades of Gray. Then I gave it to my 14-year old, historical fiction-loving cousin, and she loved it, too! That book sort of kicked off a special connection between us – now we always talk about YA books together and trade books.

    These are just awesome lists! Makes me want to read them all and even wish I were a teacher!


    2015 Big Book Summer Challenge

  5. I know this is an older post, but I did want to let you know that Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is available for free online from the author’s website. If your classroom or some of your students have technology access then that could be a good choice. He also takes requests for schools and libraries that would like physical copies.

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