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Required Classics

If you went to Catholic High School and you weren't required to read Augustine's Confessions, Aquinas's Treatise on Law, or Dante's Inferno, then you should ask for a refund. You were robbed! Every school will have a different reading list, and that's to be expected. There is no shortage of amazing reading lists that mention hundreds or even thousands of books worth reading. But there are some texts that are so excellent, so insightful about the human experience, or so important to the history of ideas, that they rise to the level of a classic that must be read and discussed if you want to consider yourself well educated. Some of these classic texts are written by faithful Catholics. Others are completely contrary to Catholic thought but should still be read to understand their influence. The following short list is our attempt at capturing the classic texts that absolutely should be included as required reading of every student attending Catholic school.

High School


Expository Literature

Bible - (selections)

Thucydides - History of the Peloponnesian War

Plato - Apology, Crito, Gorgias, Meno, Phaedo, Republic

Aristotle - Nicomachean Ethics

Cicero - De Officiis

Athanasius - On the Incarnation

Augustine - Confessions

Aquinas - Summa Theologica (Five Proofs for Existence of God, Treatise on Law)

Dante - Divine Comedy

Montaigne - In Defense of Raymond Sebond

Descartes - Meditations

Hobbes - Leviathan (selections)

Locke - Second Treatise on Civil Government

Rousseau - Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, On the Social Contract

Burke - Reflections on the Revolution in France

Tocqueville - Democracy in America (selections)

Hegel - Reason in History

Marx - The Communist Manifesto

Mill - On Liberty

Imaginative Literature

Homer - Iliad, Odyssey

Aeschylus - Oresteia

Sophocles - Antigone

Virgil - Aeneid

Shakespeare - Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth

Austen - Pride and Prejudice

Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities

Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment

Orwell - Animal Farm

Bolt - A Man for All Seasons

American Literature

Declaration of Independence

U.S. Constitution

The Federalist Papers (1, 2, 9, 10, 14, 15, 23, 31, 33, 39, 41, 51, 78)

Douglass - Life of Frederick Douglass

Thoreau - Civil Disobedience, Walden

Twain - Huckleberry Finn

Cather - My Antonia

Hemingway - The Old Man and the Sea

Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird

King - Letter from a Birmingham Jail

O'Connor - Short Stories (selections)

That's over 50 classics, some of which can be read in a short evening, while others require intensive reading over several weeks, to be read over the four years of high school. Ideally, we should all encounter these texts for the first time in high school, revisit many of them in college, and then return to them over the course of our lifetime. It's also important to note that many of them require the guidance of a good teacher to penetrate their deeper meaning, or even to simply enjoy them.

Kindergarten - 8th Grade

Ideally before students get to the Great Books they should encounter the Good Books, largely children's classics that are some of the greatest stories ever told. We limited each grade to just 3-4 classics which gives plenty of opportunity for school leadership to select even more stories - often by the same authors - that capture the imaginations of their students.

Eighth Grade

Alcott - Little Women, Little Men

St. Therese of Lisieux - Story of a Soul

Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings

Seventh Grade

Dickens - A Christmas Carol

Schaefer - Shane

Twain - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Verne - The Mysterious Island

Sixth Grade

Adams - Watership Down

Montgomery - Anne of Green Gables

Nesbit - The Railway Children

Tolkien - The Hobbit

Fifth Grade

Burnett - A Little Princess

Forbes - Johnny Tremain

London - The Call of the Wild

Rawles - Where the Red Fern Grows

Fourth Grade

Lewis - The Chronicles of Narnia

McCloskey - Homer Price

Spyri - Heidi

Stevenson - Treasure Island

Third Grade

Kipling - The Jungle Book

White - Charlotte's Web

Wilder - Little House on the Prairie

Second Grade

Aesop's Fables

Lobel - Frog and Toad Are Friends

MacDonald - The Princess and the Goblin

Maryknoll Sisters - Catholic Children's Treasure Box

Kindergarten and First Grade (mostly read-aloud)


The Golden Children's Bible

Andersen - Classic Fairy Tales

d'Aulaire - D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths

Galdone - The Little Red Hen

Milne - The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh

Minarik - Little Bear

Potter - The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Seuss - Green Eggs and Ham

Note to Parents: When choosing a school for your child, be sure to ask what their required reading list is for each grade. The books that make their list will tell you much about the leadership, vision, and principles of the school. If your school does not require one of the books listed at the K-8 level, then they also make great summer reading! 

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