Ten books that would be on my syllabus if I taught Humanity 101

Or, Ten Books that Make You a Better Person. Oh yes.

I seem to be able make the same books fit for every Top Ten Tuesday topic. I was trying to work out why I love them all so much when this week’s topic came up. When considering what lessons could be learned from many of my favourites, I realised this: they teach you how to be a better human. Bold claim! I tried to mix it up a little, but my very favourites are there again, as always!


The Harry Potter series

For teaching about love, friendship, courage and all-round goodness, there are few series better than Harry Potter.

It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling, Bloomsbury, 2000, special edition 2015

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

A man meets five people whose lives were linked in a significant way with his own – even if he didn’t know it. I like to think this would make us consider our actions and their consequences a little more.

No story sits by itself, Sometimes stories meet at corners and sometimes they cover one another completely, like stones beneath a river.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom, 2004


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Harold Fry is an ‘ordinary’ man who does something extraordinary.

He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing it for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce, Doubleday, 2012

Harold makes an epic journey to repay a debt, meeting lots of characters with their own struggles along the way. It makes you think more about those around you – people who are bit parts in your life, but the protagonist of their own. Everyone has their own issues, and if we remember that, it helps us to be kinder.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Some people have very set views on certain issues without knowing very much about them. I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but I am sure this is one that has made plenty of people consider and understand the opposite point of view. We can always use a little more understanding in the world!

Do you know how hard it is to say nothing? When every atom of you strains to do the opposite?

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes, 2012


The Humans by Matt Haig

Playing on both meanings of humanity here, but sometimes it takes the perspective of an alien to appreciate all the wonderful things about being human. And there’s a whole chapter full of good advice as well.

Kindness is always courage. But caring is what makes you human. Care more, become more human.

The Humans, Matt Haig, Canongate, 2012

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Yes, this is YA, and yes, there will be people who might be disparaging of this choice, but that’s why this is my syllabus! Our protagonist, Sam, has high school made: she’s popular, with popular friends and a hot boyfriend – until she dies at 17 years old. Then she is forced to relive her last day over and over, learning several lessons along the way. This is a novel about what seems important versus what is – and making the most of the time we have.

Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.

Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver, 2010


Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I don’t think it is possible to read these books and be unaffected by them.

I used to comfort myself with the belief that it was only certain individuals and their peculiar notions that spoilt things for the rest of us. But how many individuals does it take before it’s not the individuals who are prejudiced but society itself?

Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman, 2001

Dealing with different types of inequality, these two novels paint very bleak worlds. I hope they would make us more ready to speak out against it.

Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, Vintage edition

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Children’s books that have meaning for adults have to be one of the best types of literature there is, and The Little Prince is a perfect example.

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1945

The Little Prince visits lots of different planets, meeting various characters along the way, before bringing his wisdom to Earth.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

And in a similar vein, let’s finish with a not-so-silly old bear. Winnie the Pooh reminds us to appreciate the little things, whether it’s the excitement of what’s for breakfast or simply a new day.

“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favourite day,” said Pooh.

Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne, 1926

16 thoughts on “Ten books that would be on my syllabus if I taught Humanity 101

    • Lauren, Wake Up Your Luck says:

      Thank you for the brilliant comment, Joey! I completely agree that those moments in reading are inspirational.

      What makes these books some of my favourites is their ability to explore darker themes without being despairing – there’s always hope! And Winnie the Pooh is always a good choice.

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