All of them.
When someone shares the latest novella to the Latin Best Practices Facebook group, I add it to my list, then drop the link into my budget/item request form at school so I can get a copy. I order one, read it, then order more if it’s gonna work well for first year Latin students. I’ll order a lot more if it’s a hit, or maybe 1-2 if it seems good but a little above reading level. Once I notice students always going for a particular title during independent reading time, I might even order enough so we can read some of the book as a whole class. N.B. no, I don’t always finish books as a whole class, especially if it’s been more than 3 weeks of reading.
Sure, I put books aside on a shelf of teacher-reading options and/or lofty goals because they’re way out of scope for my Latin 1 students (who don’t have much Latin & Roman prior knowledge and *must* take Latin, our only language offered). Is a book with 300 words that’s 10,000 words long gonna work well in my classes? No. It would take our first year Latin students months to read that kind of text during independent reading time. In my experience, 9th graders don’t have the bandwidth for that, and I don’t blame them. That’s too long to be reading the same thing, for anyone. Is a book with 100 words that in no way resemble English or Spanish—we have approx. 70% native Spanish speakers taking Latin—gonna be less burdensome than one with 50 words with half of them cognates? No. The less Englishy/Spanishy, and the more Classical, wordy, and lengthy a book, the less likely it will work well in my classes. Now, would things be different if I taught Latin years 2, 3, or 4? Yes, a bit. However, I’ve been teaching first year Latin since 2017. That’s why my own books are geared towards the lowest of levels, have among the fewest of words, are among the shortest, and are furthest away from Classical Latin. I just put aside other kinds of books for the fastest language processors to pick up and give a try come springtime. Besides reading level, I do occasionally shelve ones I’m not really a fan of after reading. That includes my own.
No, I do not think all of the novellas I’ve published are exceptional or even entertaining. I’ve written that compellingness is “however desirable, least reliable” knowing that what one kid loves, another hates. Sometimes authors get lucky and put out a book that appeals to almost every student. Sometimes not. And that’s fine. One of the main goals of novellas, at least from what I’ve seen, has been to make texts as comprehensible as possible so students can even have those kinds of opinions about a book. But it’s true. I don’t really like some of my earlier books. Sometimes I find it astonishing that teachers are still drawn to the first ones. Of course, they might be teaching the same kinds of learners I did when I first began writing—that is, self-selecting motivated learners, or at least those who had a choice and chose Latin—with the range of interests in the room stretching from “I guess I’ll take Latin” to full-out language nerds and myth fans.
It’s because of this range that I buy every book out there.
We can’t really predict what one student will totally get into or not unless we’re in a completely homogenous group of interests, which is rare. For example, my first books were highly-Classical in content, and that worked well for the students who had been taking Latin since middle school despite having a choice of 4-5 other languages. Even still, I saw that not all learners were into that Classical content. Teachers were, but not all students. And that’s important.
In general, the first novellas being written were exciting for Latin teachers to be able to…read…which was not a typical experience. For me, it was similar to my experience with LLPSI, a book with a fairly dull narrative, but one that a B.A. holder who never read Latin fluently could read down over a matter of hours/days. I think that teacher excitement overshadowed the intended audience of novellas, namely, students. At this point, we have more books that more students are interested in reading. And that’s good. These books are educational tools, which is why I limit my list to novellas with deliberate decisions on word choice, etc. For example, Harrius Potter is not on my list because it’s a translation. It happens to be a book written in Latin, sure, but not necessarily one written for the language learner. In fact, a lot of books like that are intended to flex one’s Latin. It’s to highlight one’s Latīnitās.
My own writing has evolved significantly, with more attention to the kinds of narratives students enjoy these days, regardless of their prior knowledge and interest in the Romans. That’s one reason why I’ve curated a list of my Top Picks. These are the books that work really well in class, especially the ones with audio, and cover a broad range of topics, from the familiar and modern to the classic Catullus and Caesar-inspired Classical.
But beyond those, you’ll find every novella out there somewhere in my classroom, whether it’s on the featured table for Latin 1 students to read in November, or available on the “more words/longer” shelves. And I’ll welcome more as they keep coming out.
One thought on ““What Novellas Do You Buy, Magister P?””
I truly and gratefully appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts, resources, and skills with those of us just starting out on this journey of CI. I am on this path to remove Latin from the elitist sphere in which it has existed for so long, and to share my joy in the language with students.