10 Books for Teaching the Hero's Journey

Updated on March 27, 2020
Saffron23 profile image

Molly is a Language Arts teacher and writer with a B.A. in English and French Literature and a M.A. in Secondary Education.

The hero's journey has always been one of my favorite units to teach as an English Language Arts teacher. It is extremely versatile and adaptable to classrooms of all ages as well as a number of teaching standards. The hero's journey can be used to teach plot structure; examine character development; determine theme; or study the subtleties of foreshadowing, irony, and other literary devices. Best of all, it is a lot of fun! What group of students doesn't enjoy a good hero's tale?

There are innumerable novels that you can use to teach the hero's journey in your classroom, but if you're stuck on what to choose, check out this list for some inspiration.

For Elementary Readers

1. Poppy by Avi

A young, timid deer mouse named Poppy goes on a mission to save her family from starvation and to defeat the cruel owl that rules over them, Mr. Ocax. This is a great read for younger kids who are often more engaged in stories about animals. In addition to teaching the hero's journey, this novel can also be a great way to discuss concepts such as responsibility, bravery, family, and even death (fair warning: Poppy's boyfriend is eaten by Mr. Ocax at the start of the book).

2. Pigs Might Fly by Dick King-Smith

Another great option for animal loving readers, this novel by the author of Babe is great fun for elementary readers. It follows a pig named Daggie, a runt with deformed feet who is danger of being taken away from his litter by the Pigman. Daggie dreams of flying, but ends up discovering that his strange conformation grants him a whole different set of special abilities that will help him save the day.

3. Faith and the Electric Dogs by Patrick Jennings

You may have a bit more trouble getting your hands on this one, but it is one of my absolute favorites. This story is told from the perspective of Eddie, a stray dog in Mexico who is adopted by an American girl named Faith. Faith is desperate to escape Mexico and return to her hometown in California. After constructing a makeshift rocket fueled by pig fat, she takes Eddie along with her on an exciting misadventure. An added bonus to this novel is that it includes a number of words and phrases in Spanish, as well as provided translations for readers. It's a great way to not only introduce the hero's journey but also a new language.

4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

You likely will have a number of students who are already familiar with this story, but that might actually be to your benefit if you have more reluctant readers or readers that struggle with retention and comprehension. This series works for both elementary and middle school readers and is rife with opportunities to discuss theme, mythology, character development, setting, and about everything else you can think of (can you tell I'm a fan?).

For Middle Grade Readers

5. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Elementary readers benefit from more obvious hero and adventure stories, but middle school is a good age to introduce the concept of the everyday hero. Your students will need to look a little more closely to find each element of the hero's journey in Auggie's story, but his transformation from a hidden boy with a deformed face to an open and celebrated member of his community has a very clear arc. This is also a great novel for discussion character development and point of view, since the story is told by multiple characters.

6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This novel has been a lifesaver when it comes to my 7th and 8th graders who aren't usually too enthusiastic about reading assignments. I've had a number of students read this novel who have complained about the lengthy chapters, but come to me the next day apologizing for reading too far ahead and letting slip some spoilers to their peers. Katniss's story is fantastic in many ways. She is an introduction to strong female protagonists; her journey includes the excitement and danger many kids crave without being overly graphic; and she opens the door to discussions about how our society mimics the one laid out in the novel. This is another novel primed for in-depth character study, especially since so often you aren't sure which characters are genuine and who is just another fake.

7. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

One of the greatest features of Esperanza Rising is that it is a wonderful tie-in to other content: history, social issues, language, culture, and many others. Esperanza is a young girl whose family is forced to flee their privileged life in Mexico and settle in a labor camp in California. The novel takes place during the Great Depression and is a great lens through which to discuss this point in history as well as issues such as gender roles, class, immigration, and discrimination. Given current events there are also ample opportunities to have students draw connections between the novel and their own knowledge or experiences. Ask students to compare and contrast Esperanza's journey as a heroine with the real stories of figures from history or present day.

For High School Readers

8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

This classic needs little introduction, especially since the first film was released in 2012. However, you likely won't have too many students that have actually read the entire novel. This is a great one for teaching the hero's journey at a high school level as the writing is quite complex (and, let's face it, a bit archaic) but very clearly follows the conventional structure of the hero's tale. This is also a great novel for delving into a more complex study of language and literary devices.

9. The Odyssey by Homer

If you want a real classic, this one is for you. Ancient epic poetry is daunting for most high school students, so studying it through the lens of the hero's journey can be a helpful way for students to ground themselves in what they are reading. Even if they feel thrown by the language, they will be able to identify the hero and discuss how each step of his journey fits into the framework. If you want an even more approachable version of this classic (or if you want a good resource for non-native speakers) there is a great graphic novel version you can purchase by Gareth Hinds.

10. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I love this novel, and I haven't met many high schoolers who don't love it, too. The voice of 14-year-old Junior is incredibly natural and relatable. Alexie also has a unique ability to blend humor and an informal tone with heavy topics such as alcoholism, poverty, racism, and death. Like Wonder, this is a great novel for introducing the concept of an everyday hero and inviting students to examine their own journeys in the story of their lives. This novel also addresses many of the issues that high school students are facing, particularly in today's world. There are innumerable thought-provoking questions it poses: How does a hero navigate between two disparate worlds? Does pursuing opportunity also mean betraying the people you love and leave behind? How exactly do you develop a sense of identity when it seems like everyone else has decided your identity for you? Even if you don't choose to teach this novel, I highly recommend you make it available for your students to read on their own time.

What hero's journey novels have you enjoyed reading or teaching? Share them in the comments!

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)