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Scotland - Advanced Higher English - book choices advice please.

(34 Posts)
StayingDavidTennantsGirl Wed 08-Jun-11 10:24:25

Ds1 has just started his final year of secondary school in Scotland, and is taking advanced Higher English. He's told me that he has to choose two books for a piece of extended written work (he said dissertation), and I would like to pick the brains of Scottish mumsnetters and teachers about the choice of books for this.

Are there any books or topics that get done to death, and will make the examiner yawn when they see them again? And does the book have to have literary merit (dh and I assume it does - ds1 is considering The Satanic Verses, but dh, who has read part of it, thinks it is poorly written). Can you choose a modern book or books?

Discussing this with dh last night, he came up with one suggestion - The Historian by Victoria Kostova, and Bram Stoker's Dracula - we wondered if it would be interesting to compare and contrast the treatments of the Dracula story, and vampire stories in general.

However, dh and I know very little about the Scottish system, and what is actually required in this piece of work, and are worried about steering ds1 the wrong way - so I'd like to ask if any of you have any suggestions that a teenage boy would find interesting. And should we steer clear of the standard texts that often get used in exams - I was thinking Dickens, Austin and Bronte (and To Kill A Mockingbird, because I did that for O level and it ruined it for me).

Thanks in advance.

StayingDavidTennantsGirl Wed 08-Jun-11 13:34:39

Anyone?

Annunziata Wed 08-Jun-11 14:16:02

DS did Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. His teacher said this was quite a common choice. She said to avoid American Pyscho at all costs, and also that Austen was verging on the overdone.

DD did A Tale of Two Cities and something else, which was apparently fairly unusual (can't for the life of me remember the second one, sorry.)

DS has a ten page long handout of suggestions if you really need more! He also says to pick a book that you really enjoy.

GrendelsMum Wed 08-Jun-11 14:21:22

In my experience, Ian McEwan can be rather done to death, so might be worth avoiding.

Many many many years ago I did my dissertation on The French Lieutenant's Woman and If On A Winter's Night A Traveller.

StayingDavidTennantsGirl Wed 08-Jun-11 14:24:29

Thanks Annunziata and GrendelsMum.

crazycarol Wed 08-Jun-11 16:57:45

I would definitely avoid Satanic verses. I read it a few years ago and found it a poorly written piece of and wondered what all the fuss was about. I don't think I am the only one to think like that. I am told that one of Rushdie's other books Midnights Children (??) is a much better written book.
I enjoyed Thomas hardy (several books) when I was at school (several years ago!). Can't the school give some guidance on suitable texts?

StayingDavidTennantsGirl Wed 08-Jun-11 17:02:16

They will tell him if he's picked a book that's not suitable, but they won't provide a list of possible books. I do need to pin him down and shine a light in his eyes and ask him what guidance or guidelines they have been given - the impression he gave me was that they've just been told to pick two books, and that's it - but he's a teenager, so I might not be getting the full story!

celticlassie Wed 08-Jun-11 17:03:48

It definitely needs to have literary merit - Some schools do 'modern' novels, TV book club stuff etc, and they invariably do badly. (I work with some markers.) Has he not had much guidance from the school? I can end you a list of possibles tomorrow if that would help?

scarlettsmummy2 Wed 08-Jun-11 17:09:10

I did Paddy Clarke ha ha ha by Roddy Doyle and Peter Waring by Forrest Reid. Both are about boys growing up in Ireland and would appeal to a teenager, and there are plenty of different issues that could be compared. They are a bit more obscure but I got an a so the examiner must have liked them! This was 11 years ago so unfortunately i can't remember what aspect I looked at!

AngusOg Wed 08-Jun-11 17:11:19

he has to choose two books for a piece of extended written work (he said dissertation), and I would like to pick the brains of Scottish mumsnetters and teachers about the choice of books for this.

He is correct; he will be doing a disseration on substantial novels (not generally o level texts) and his teachers will give him the AH guidance and point him to the nearest uni library for the lit crit sources to read. He then has to formulate his dissertation title, do his reading and produce a 5000 word essay, which is sent to the exam board along with his NAB results, before he takes his final exam.

Are there any books or topics that get done to death, and will make the examiner yawn when they see them again?

This is a matter for discussion by your son and his teacher. You may not be aware that an Advanced Higher is equal to the first year of undergraduate study in a Scottish uni and, should he continue to read English at university, an AH will allow him to begin in the second year, if he wishes.

Discussing this with dh last night, he came up with one suggestion - The Historian by Victoria Kostova, and Bram Stoker's Dracula - we wondered if it would be interesting to compare and contrast the treatments of the Dracula story, and vampire stories in general.

This is not a family piece of work! Your son is studying at undergraduate level - he needs to do this himself, with the guidance of his teacher, to produce a scholarly dissertation that would be acceptable from a 1st Year undergrad. Your suggested task is more appropriate to GCSE, I'm afraid.

^ what is actually required in this piece of work^

That it is all the candidates own work. He will be supervised during this time and any hint of cheating (ie mum and dad) will disqualify him.

^ I was thinking Dickens, Austin and Bronte (and To Kill A Mockingbird, because I did that for O level and it ruined it for me).^

The best advice I could give you would be to leave your son and his school to it - from what you say here, you might be in danger of disadvantaging him, albeit with the best intentions. After all, you won't be following him around at uni next year.

StayingDavidTennantsGirl Wed 08-Jun-11 17:11:52

A list of possibles would be very helpful, thankyou celticlassie. BTW - what would you think of dh's suggestion (comparing and contrasting Victoria Kostova's The Historian, and Bram Stoker's Dracula) - we haven't suggested this to ds1 yet - he got in from school, holed up in his bedroom, and has now gone out for a driving lesson, but I might get to catch him if I lure him with food! grin

scarlettsmummy2 Wed 08-Jun-11 17:16:26

You could always do Paddy Clarke (which won the booker prize so has literary merit) and is very funny, with something more current, perhaps looking at the effect of poverty on childhood/ neglect etc. There will be plenty of novels on those themes.

StayingDavidTennantsGirl Wed 08-Jun-11 17:17:50

Thanks for that Angus - tough but useful. This is the first time we've come up against this, and as we grew up with O and A levels and hadn't met the Scottish curriculum until we moved up here, this is utterly unknown territory.

Our intention is to offer support to our son - we have never done his work for him, and don't intend to start now - hence asking for advice here rather than wading in with our suggestions. We aren't going to stop discussing our sons and their school work (or, indeed university work) either between dh and myself, or with them if they want to have a discussion, but it's a bit offensive to suggest, on little evidence, that we intend to do the work for him. We've stood back so far and let him make his own choices, set his own timetables for revision, and simply done what a good parent should do to support him - provide a quiet work environment, good diet, get him books if he needs them, listen if he has a problem (and usually advise him to ask his teachers) etc.

AngusOg Wed 08-Jun-11 17:30:31

Thanks for that Angus - tough but useful. This is the first time we've come up against this, and as we grew up with O and A levels and hadn't met the Scottish curriculum until we moved up here, this is utterly unknown territory.

Sorry, that wasn't meant to be as brusque as it seemed when I read it back - been a long day!

Your son should have been given a copy of this:

www.sqa.org.uk/files_ccc/NQEnglishCircular090403.pdf

it's a bit offensive to suggest, on little evidence, that we intend to do the work for him.

As said, no offence intended but you did say you were not aware of this exam or what it consists of, hence me saying it has to be his work and why.

Anyway, this guidance should give you an idea of what his teacher will be expecting from him.

StayingDavidTennantsGirl Wed 08-Jun-11 17:54:34

Thanks Angus - I think I was being a bit over sensitive too - something else has got me a bit upset, and I let the feelings bleed over.

Many thanks for the link! smile

AngusOg Wed 08-Jun-11 19:39:21

Many thanks for the link!

You're more than welcome. Let us know what texts he chooses - I'm sure we can muster up appropriate background reading between us. And I'll wait till I've fed both the cat and myself before answering next time blush

StayingDavidTennantsGirl Wed 08-Jun-11 20:36:36

Thanks Angus - and don't worry, please - as I said, I was being over sensitive, and you were so helpful and informative.

Dh has just bought ds1 a book - the Haynes manual for the new car we are picking up at the weekend - I'm assuming that won't do for his dissertation? winkgrin

Ds1 says he has until August to choose, so he can spend the summer with a very weighty reading list, and has time to make his choice.

One more question - would it be a good idea for him to have a back-up option, in case his first option isn't approved by his teachers?

vouvrey Wed 08-Jun-11 20:47:28

Not To Kill a Mockingbird- ou are right that is done to death!

What about Brave New World or Animal Farm or a Scottish Classic like one of Robert Louis Stevenson/ Walter Scott or Lewis Grassic Gibbon's books?

StayingDavidTennantsGirl Wed 08-Jun-11 20:56:13

Those are interesting suggestions, vouvrey - I don't think I've read any Lewis Grassic Gibbon.

AngusOg Wed 08-Jun-11 21:06:03

Thinking about the choices boys have made before: Camus' 'The Outsider' and Primo Levi's 'If this is a Man'; Stevenson's 'Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde' and Hogg's 'Confessions of a Justified Sinner'; Orwell: 'Journey to Catalonia', 'The Road to Wigan Pier' and 'Burmese Days'; and various things by authors like Iain Banks, Oscar Wilde and Umberto Eco.

What does he like reading? If he's in to Science Fiction / fantasy, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke and Terry Pratchett may be possibles?

AngusOg Wed 08-Jun-11 21:09:15

PS am loving the idea of The Haynes Manual and Zen and the Art of Motorbike Maintenance being used for this study grin

StayingDavidTennantsGirl Wed 08-Jun-11 21:10:16

I will tell him all of those, Angus - he's going to be a busy lad! He does like sci-fi, and we've got a lot of Arthur C Clarke, and every Pratchett there is - though the dses have to fight me to get first read of them when they come out!

dickyduckydido Wed 08-Jun-11 21:16:17

For mine, I did an Scottish author called Neil M Gunn. I don't know how they would appeal to a teenage boy these days but they are mainly based on Scottish fishing communities round the time of the Highland Clearances. I found the characterisation in them brilliant with plenty of scope for topics for dissertation. If I remember correctly (it was a while ago!) my title was 'The imagery of the sea and how it drives the storylines in the novels of Neil M Gunn with special reference to Morning Glory and The Silver Darlings'. I got an a if that helps!

Raeofsunshine Wed 08-Jun-11 21:19:21

I studied sunset song by lewis Grassic gibbon for my higher english and I loved the book but unless your son is Scottish or can read old scots don't bother with it cos he'll struggle to read the scots its written it.
It took me several chapters to grasp the language and I grew up in Scotland!
Iain banks is fantastic. And if he's into sci fi iain banks writes sci fi under the name Iain m banks.
I'm not sure if this book would be right but A Thousand Splendid Suns is an incredible book and very informative about life in afghanistan.

Carrotsandcelery Wed 08-Jun-11 21:34:14

I used to teach the old version of this course and the best dissertation I saw was on Wilkie Collins "The Woman In White" and one other by him (I have forgotten).

It is really important that he enjoys the books he chooses as he will have to read them a few times and immerse himself in them.

Terry Pratchett wouldn't be enough in my classroom tbh or Arthur C Clarke. Ray Bradbury would be ok (that is who I did myself when I did it) but he would have to really really get in deep with it to get a good mark so he would have to be careful.

I also think Lewis Grassic Gibbon would be risky as it used to be taught regularly as part of the course work so most teachers know it inside out which would make them more likely to pick holes in his ideas. It is also really difficult if you are not a Doric speaker yourself which I suspect he is not!

Bram Stoker would be weighty enough certainly but he would have to be very careful to choose a sufficiently weighty accomplice. I haven't read "The Historian" so I don't know if that would be sufficient.

Sorry if this is a bit negative. I am tired and not very inspired but I will keep thinking about it.

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