TEACHERS: Get free access to all Lessons and Current Events
"A Wrinkle in Time," a famous novel by Madeleine L’Engle, is the story of teenager Meg Murry. Meg is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother and friend as they try to rescue her father. When it was originally published in 1963, no publisher knew how to promote it. What is it about “A Wrinkle in Time,” and why is it so controversial 50 years after its publication?
George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” was published in 1945. Its message was explicitly political as a statement and a satire against Stalinism and the dictatorial socialism of the Soviet Union. Understanding this allegory gives deeper meaning to the talking animals who take control of their farm. Seventy years later, does this message of failed revolution resonate in a communist nation with a similar revolution and trajectory? Listen to learn how a later theatrical adaptation of the book is being understood in modern day China.
"Beowulf" is the oldest surviving long poem in Old English. It tells the story of a 5th century Nordic warrior who defeats monsters and becomes a king. In 2000, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney released a celebrated new translation of the epic poem. In this interview, Heaney discusses “Beowulf” and his approach to translating this famous text. Listen to learn more about “Beowulf’s” lasting appeal, and what the old poem tells us about Nordic pagan and early Christian values.
Though Joseph Heller’s novel “Catch 22” was published more than a half century ago, its ideas and attitudes remain relevant today. The book’s title has even become a part of our language. The novel, which takes place on the battlefield during World War II, was inspired by Heller’s own experiences in war. He decided not to write a typical war novel, though, and early critics were surprised and even offended by the book’s tone and content. Listen to hear why “Catch 22” felt new and different at the time it was published, and learn how its ideas have continued to endure today.
“Don Quixote,” by Miguel de Cervantes, marked the first time a character’s inner life evolved from the beginning to the end of the story. Cervantes’ masterpiece is considered by many to be the first—and best—modern novel. In an era where 140 characters are the limit, it might be difficult to imagine how a 1,000-page book about a man having a midlife crisis has endured for more than 400 years. The title character’s message of optimism and authenticity resonates with readers, who root for Quixote, the imperfect, everyman hero.
In Suzanne Collins’ "The Hunger Games" Trilogy, an all powerful Capital controls and exploits the districts of Panem for resources. The inequality and concentration of power in Panem has struck a nerve for readers, reflecting on their lives and their governments. Heroine Katniss Everdeen has become a symbol of resistance adopted by political parties and protest movements across the globe. Why and how does this dystopian novel reflect the real world? Listen to learn more about the link between “The Hunger Games” and our world today.
Throughout his life in South Africa, playwright Athol Fugard witnessed firsthand the cruelty and injustice of apartheid. Not only did racism fracture the country he loved so dearly, but it also created profound strain in his relationship with his father, whom he calls “a huge bigot.” Many elements of that difficult and complex relationship resonate throughout Athol’s play “‘Master Harold‘. . . and the Boys,” which became a Broadway hit at the peak of the anti-apartheid movement. Lisa Fugard, Athol’s daughter, also grew up in South Africa but left the country to pursue an acting career and later became a writer. Listen to hear about how both father and daughter explored their personal and the political struggles brought about by apartheid.
"The Giver" is a story about a world without memories. A new movie version of the novel depicts this world as a sterile, emotionless place. In this story, public radio talks with author Lois Lowry and how she came up with the idea to write the book. The book asks: “would it be easier if we didn’t have memories?”
“The Little Prince” is one of the most beloved books of all time. It was published in 1943 and has been translated into over 250 languages. Even today, it sells more than two million copies a year, making it one of the best selling books ever published. Although, on its surface, it appears to be a simple, illustrated children’s book, “The Little Prince” is actually a deeply philosophical work, full of allegory and commentary on human nature. Listen to learn more about its French author, Antoine Saint-Exupery, and the creative process that produced “The Little Prince.”
Two famous authors, C.S. Lewis and J.R..R Tolkien, had a deep friendship. C.S. Lewis helped J.R.R. Tolkien get published, but Tolkien admitted he didn’t even like Lewis’ work, especially "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," which he thought was terrible. Both were Christians and heavily influenced by Christian ideology. Tolkien says "Lord of the Rings" was a deeply Catholic book, while Lewis was more influenced by writers of the Renaissance who were fascinated by Pagan mythology. Listen as this radio story explores the two authors' friendship and motivations.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel "The Great Gatsby" James “Jimmy” Gatz becomes Jay Gatsby. Gatsby creates a false identity for himself to enter the world of wealth and power that his beloved, Daisy Buchanan, lives in. The novel explores this world of excess and what it takes for Gatsby to truly enter it. This premise of false identity has moved from fiction to reality. Listen to learn about a real life Gatsby who called himself “Clark Rockefeller.”
On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced acts of terrorism. But the response on that day included countless acts of heroism, big and small. Friends, co-workers, emergency workers and strangers did what they could to protect the people around them. Michael Benfante is one of these heroes, though he is uncomfortable with being called a hero. Benfante worked in the second tower of the World Trade Center and as he fled down the staircase he encountered a woman in a wheelchair who needed his help. Listen to learn more about his decision to help carry her out of the doomed building and the lasting impact it’s had on his life.
The famous ring featured in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” may have actually existed. This story reveals how Tolkien encountered a supposedly cursed ring from the Roman period shortly before he wrote “The Hobbit.” Many believe that this ring and the details surrounding it might have inspired Tolkien’s novels. Today, the ring is on public display at an English estate. Listen to learn more about the fascinating connections between history, archaeology and J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved fantasy series.
In Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella "Heart of Darkness," an English sailor tells the tale of his voyage on the Congo River in Africa. The novel, which is set during the height of British imperialism in Africa, contrasts “civilized” Europeans with “uncivilized” African natives and describes the brutal treatment of Africans by European traders. Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel "Things Fall Apart" provides a contrast to Conrad’s story, describing the British colonization of Africa from the perspective of Africans. In this audio story, Achebe talks about how his understanding of "Heart of Darkness" changed over time.
From "Shiloh" to "Lassie" and "Old Yeller," young adult literature is full of stories about friendship between people and dogs. People love animals but what do animals feel? There is a debate in the scientific community and in popular culture about what emotions animals are capable of and how they display these emotions. Does recognizing that animals can feel take away from human emotion? Or does it help us recognize where these traits came from? This story discusses recent research on the emotions of animals. Listen to learn more about what researchers discovered, and the controversy surrounding the emotional lives of animals.
Anne Frank’s diary of her family’s life in hiding from the Nazis is one of the most famous accounts of World War II. Less known is how her father, Otto Frank made many attempts to get his wife and two daughters, Margot and Anne, out of Nazi Germany to safety. In 2005, several letters and documents written by Otto Frank were discovered. Despite the support of several wealthy and powerful friends in the United States, he was unable to acquire the necessary visas. The U.S. was making it more and more difficult for immigrants to enter the country and, after Germany declared war on the U.S., Cuba rescinded the visas it had originally offered. Listen to learn more about the powers that kept the Frank family in Europe, where they were eventually discovered, arrested and almost all murdered by the Nazis.
Jacqueline Woodson’s free verse memoir, "Brown Girl Dreaming," won the National Book Award in 2014. Woodson has published 30 books and won three Newbery Honor Medals. This book explores different perspectives in a desegregating America. In this interview, Woodson talks about her experience of segregation of race and religion, and how her experiences are often similar to students who she talks with today. She talks about the need for more diverse literature in schools, along with her book being appropriate for a wider audience-- not only brown students. Listen to hear her discuss how she integrates her personal experiences into her writing.
During Miguel de Cervantes’ life, Spain was at a critical place: It was both at its peak of power and also on the verge of toppling over. At the same time, people began to look inward, to think about who they were as people, and they began to realize that their choices shaped the world around them. “Don Quixote” is a story of two kinds of journeys: the physical journey of Don Quixote and Sancho, but also a psychological journey in which both friends begin to question and learn about themselves as human beings. Listen to hear why “Don Quixote” was such a groundbreaking novel, and why it will continue to influence readers for generations to come.
Charles Dickens was the first literary celebrity of his era. He wrote about the working poor and the dangerous working conditions in England. A visit to the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts served as an inspiration for Dickens to continue writing about these London realities. Listen to this story to learn how Dickens reflected and questioned English society in his work.
In this story Ishmael Beah, author of "Radiance of Tomorrow" and "A Long Way Gone," is interviewed about his experience as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. He talks about his understanding of the effects of war on his country. Beah describes the lessons of war, the impact fighting has on nature, as well as the resilience of his people. Listen to learn more about Beah’s harrowing but inspirational story.
The Vietnam War has a controversial legacy in United States history and culture. The U. S. was immersed in the conflict in Vietnam for 20 years. The draft of young men to fight far from home in the seemingly endless war led to widespread resistance and protest against the war itself. This discontent led to a disrespect of veterans when they returned. Since then the sacrifice of soldiers has been honored in memorials, movies and books. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built in 1982 in Washington DC. But it was controversial at the start because it honored soldiers by etching the names of the more than 58,000 soldiers killed in polished black granite. Listen to this radio story to learn the history behind this war memorial.
What is heroism? Explore this question through a discussion with author Conn Iggulden who wrote a book about heroes throughout time. From Florence Nightingale to Harry Houdini, and the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93, the author analyzes the moments and patterns of courage and bravery that make ordinary people heroes.
J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel “The Catcher in the Rye” has long been a staple of high school reading lists, though it has also frequently been banned from them. The story is told by Holden Caulfield, a rebellious 17-year old who has just been expelled from prep school. The novel is considered a classic of American literature, and Holden is thought to be a character every teenager can relate to—but is this still true today? Listen to hear about how this novel earned its status as a classic and the arguments in the debate about whether it should still be required reading for high school students.
Walter Mosley, an African-American writer, is one of the country’s best known mystery writers. The Los Angeles-based private detective, Easy Rawlins, is his most popular character. Rawlins has been the main character in over a dozen mystery novels that examine the black experience in postwar Los Angeles. In this interview, Mosley discusses Easy Rawlins’ journey, and the importance of Los Angeles in his novels. Listen to learn more about how Mosley uses Easy Rawlins to tell the stories of a hidden Los Angeles.
Edgar Allan Poe, poet and American master of the macabre, was recently celebrated in Baltimore, Maryland where he sometimes lived. It was the 200th anniversary of his birth, and it was celebrated with readings of his works. Hear from actor John Astin, who played Gomez Addams in a television series, about his lifetime appreciation for Poe. Listen to find out why Baltimore played such an integral part in Poe’s life, and what types of items are left at his grave each year.
Author Edgar Allan Poe was a master of the creepy and macabre, with a focus on death and grim topics. His famous poem, “The Raven,” concerns a heartbroken man who is visited by a talking raven who begins to drive him mad. Despite the poem’s fame, including its catch phrase “Nevermore,” fans and historians are not sure what inspired Poe or how he wrote the poem.
Jane Austen wrote a new type of female character. Emma Woodhouse of "Emma" and Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice" are two memorable characters. They were charming but normal, flawed but winning. The legend of Austen is that she wrote her novels exactly as they were published, but the release of her original manuscripts suggests she had an active editor. Does it matter that an editor helped clean up Austen’s prose or is it her genius that shines through?
The United States declared war on Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But Afghanistan had already been a troubled and war torn country for many, many years. In 1996, the Taliban seized control of the country, imposing strict rule over all of its citizens. This story focuses on how the strict rules of society in Afghanistan continue to affect its people--especially children and girls. Listen to this interview with the author of “The Kids of Kabul” and learn more about the challenges faced by Afghan children and women, especially in the area of education.
American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway exemplified his literary style with novels like, “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” Hemingway’s adventurous life inspired these stories. From running with the bulls in Spain to fighting in World War II, Hemingway was a larger than life celebrity known for his machismo and literary skill. Hemingway’s talent was recognized with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. His writing style, which consists of short sentences that describe the external world, changed American literature forever.
In recent decades, Afghanistan has been a country plagued by war. Author Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, “The Kite Runner,” is set in Afghanistan in the 1960s and 1970s through the 2000s. The book tells the story of two young friends, Amir and Hassan, who are from very different classes and ethnic groups. The story follows them as they navigate life before and after the coup that toppled the Afghan king in 1973, the Russian occupation in the 1980s, and the rule of the Taliban in the 1990s. Listen as the author Afghan-native Hosseini describes how his life experiences are significant to his novel and how he has set out to change the public perception of this Middle Eastern country.
The novel "The Book Thief" is narrated by Death. He tells the story of a young German girl saving books from Nazi bonfires to read to the Jewish man hiding in her home. But the novel was actually written by author Markus Zusak. In this public radio story, he explains his choice of Death as the narrator, and the message he hopes teenage readers get from the novel.
Our food supply is considered safe today thanks in large part to a movement to improve safety following the publication of the novel in 1906, "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. It was a vivid portrayal of the lives of immigrant families who worked in a meat-packing plant in Chicago. Americans were shocked and disgusted. This public radio story tells of how "The Jungle" galvanized public support to improve the safety of our food system.
Poets use a blend of sounds and imagery to create an emotional response. For author and poet Gary Soto, sprinklers have a familiar sound and rhythm of the releasing water that remains timeless. Soto wrote a poem about a sprinkler from his childhood, exploring ways that the sound and rhythm of the device brought back memories and warm feelings from a summer when he was young. In the poem, “Ode to the Sprinkler,” he writes about the ways that sprinklers shaped his view of summer. Listen to the audio story as he recites his poem about a typical sprinkler during his childhood.
The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has published collections of poetry, short stories and essays, books for children, numerous novellas, and—the works for which she is best known—fifteen novels. Atwood’s early novels were mainly works of realistic literary fiction, the sort of novels that literary critics and academics distinguish from “genre fiction” such as mysteries and thrillers, romance novels, and science fiction and fantasy novels. Atwood has written several novels that some critics and readers would call science fiction, but which she prefers to call “speculative fiction.” In this audio story, Atwood discusses her most recent novel, "The Heart Goes Last" and explains why she feels this is not a time for realistic fiction.
In a real-life case that has shades of George Orwell’s "1984," the United States Supreme Court must weigh the public good against privacy. Does putting a GPS monitoring device on the car of suspected criminals violate their privacy? Or does it protect society? Listen to this audio story which addresses the issues in the novel "1984," as you discuss this recent case.
Author Marjane Satrapi created the graphic novel “Persepolis”—later adapted as a movie—about her experience growing up during the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Satrapi was a rebellious teenager, fighting to maintain her beliefs and individuality while living under a government that dictated how its people should live—for example, mandating that women must wear veils. Listen to hear about the Iranian government’s reaction to the movie and how others reacted to it.
In 1928, Ernest Hemingway began writing "A Farewell to Arms," a novel with big themes: the horrors of war, the power and pain of love, the inescapable cycle of life and death. The novel is set in World War I era Italy and tells the story of an American ambulance driver who falls in love with an English nurse. Although unmarried, the two conceive a baby and escape together to Switzerland, where tragedy strikes: the woman dies in childbirth. The heartbreaking ending—famous for bringing the most stoic readers to tears—is a major discussion point of this audio story, as it was discovered in recent years that Hemingway wrote over forty endings for the novel. Listen to hear why Hemingway wrote so many endings and why, ultimately, he chose to stick with his original, heart-wrenching conclusion.
Herman Melville’s classic American novel “Moby-Dick” tells the story of whaling captain Ahab’s quest to kill the white whale Moby-Dick. This somewhat simplistic plot retelling misses the thematic and historical undertones of this massive novel. The novel was a critical and commercial failure when it was released in 1851 but experienced a resurgence after World War I. Listen to learn about the writing of “Moby-Dick” and how Melville was influenced by the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shakespeare, as well as the tensions of pre-Civil War America.
Serving in the military during a war can lead men and women to experience events that affect them for the rest of their lives. Louis Zamperini was one example. Laura Hillenbrand wrote a best-selling novel, “Unbroken”, which tells his story. It is set in World War II where Zamperini fought for survival on a life raft in the Pacific Ocean, was held as a POW by Japan, and later struggled in civilian life to deal with his war memories. This story, told at the time of his death in 2014, is a previous interview with Hillenbrand, where she recounts Zamperini’s story of survival during the war and his struggle to find closure in the decades following his return home. Listen to hear this extraordinary story of courage, despair and redemption.
Storms and cold weather play an important role in Mary Shelley’s famous horror novel “Frankenstein.” Apparently, the bad weather in her story may reflect the weather at that time. When Shelley was writing the novel, the world was enduring a particularly cold and gray few years. Scholars hypothesize that the weather influenced Shelley to write about the weather for the novel. Listen to hear more about how true-life conditions affected this writer, and consider how climate change may influence future works of literature and art.