Hi, I'm Vanessa from SpeakEnglishWithVanessa.com.
Do you want some great book recommendations?
Let's talk about it.
Movies and TV shows are a great way to learn about the English language and about American
culture, but there is another way, another kind of material that is great for learning
about this as well.
Books, my love, but I know that not everyone loves to read as much as I do, so today I
have narrowed down, this means I have chosen five books that will help you to learn more
about American culture, American history, some ideas that are essential to the American
spirit, and I hope that these five book recommendations will help you to expand your knowledge of
English as well.
I added a link in the description to Amazon.com for all of these books so that you can check
All right, let's start with book number one.
The first three books are usually read by eight, nine and 10 year olds.
So the language is a little bit simpler.
The vocabulary is a little bit simpler, but the story is still complex and interesting
enough to hold the attention of adults, so if you feel a little bit uncomfortable about
reading books in English or maybe you've never read a book in English before, these are a
great place to start.
The first book is Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
As you can see on the cover of this book takes place quite a while ago, in the 1880s, 1890s,
and it's based on the true story of the author's life.
When her family moved from the north of the US to Minnesota to Kansas and this kind of
experience moving into Indian territory, starting a new town, and trying to make it through
the hardships and the struggles of early American settlers.
I feel like this book really shows that original American spirit of trying to find a home,
find someplace to live and having hope despite difficulties.
So I'd like to read a couple sentences from this book so that you can kind of see the
language and see if it's a good fit for you.
Chapter one, going west.
A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys
and little girls or very small babies or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura
and baby Kerry left their little house in the big woods of Wisconsin.
They drove away and left it lonely and empty in the clearing among the big trees and they
never saw that little house again.
They were going to Indian country.
Pa said there were too many people in the big woods, now.
Quite often Laura heard the ringing thud of an ax, which was not Pa's ax, or the echo
of a shot that did not come from his gun.
The path that went by the little house had become a road.
Almost every day, Laura and Mary stopped their plane and stared at surprise at a wagon slowly
creaking by on that road.
Oh, so here we can be introduced to some new words like creaking or the path.
Instead of a road, you can compare these vocabulary words.
I hope that you could understand a little bit of this story.
This book is one of the most simple that we're going to talk about today and it's a good
Let's go on to book 1.5.
It's not quite my second book, but it's similar to this one, so if you are interested in this
style of book, you'll be interested in the next one.
My next recommendation, recommendation 1.5 is Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Ross.
This book is also well known.
The story is well loved by a lot of Americans and if you have ever had a dog or even a pet,
but for a dog, you know that bond between dog and owner, owner and dog, that is a strong
friendship, a strong love and that's what this book is essentially about.
It's about a boy and two dogs, but these dogs are coon dogs, which means that they hunt
This book is a lovely story about growing up and love and friendship, but I have to
warn you, this book is really sad.
In fact, in fourth grade, after lunch, my teacher used to read us one chapter every
day and after lunch all of the students would sit at their desks and listen, but at the
end of this book, she couldn't continue.
She couldn't read it out loud to us because she was crying too much, so she asked a student
in my class to finish reading the last chapter so you can imagine that you get involved with
the characters, you get involved with the story and you really care about it.
So I warned you.
Let's read a couple sentences from this book.
When I left my office, that beautiful spring day, I had no idea what was in store for me.
To begin with, everything was too perfect for anything unusual to happen.
It was one of those days when a man feels good, feels like speaking to his neighbor,
is glad to live in a country like ours and proud of his government.
You know what I mean.
One of those rare days when everything is right and nothing is wrong.
I was walking along saline when I heard a dog fight.
At first I paid no attention to it, after all, it wasn't anything to get excited about
just another dog fight in a residential section.
As the sound of the fight grew nearer, I could tell there were quite a few dogs mixed up
They boiled out of an alley turned and headed straight towards me.
Not wanting to get bitten or run over, I moved over to the edge of the sidewalk.
So in this section already in the first couple paragraphs, you've seen new words such as
in store for me, what is in store for me, great expression or the word rare or whistling
or to get excited about something.
These are great words that are not too challenging.
Maybe you've heard them before, but it's going to help remind you of words that you already
know and help to build your vocabulary.
Book number two, because the last one was 1.5, is Wonder by RJ Palacio, this book is
newer than the other two and that makes it feel more relatable because it's more modern
and it's quickly becoming a new American classic.
I think that this book is required reading in some fourth and fifth grade classrooms
in the US and it follows a boy August or Augie as he goes to fifth grade for the first time
in his life.
You see, he has been homeschooled for his whole life because he has a facial deformity
that looks like his face is melting off.
This is an unusual situation, so it talks about him trying to find friends and acclimate
to a new situation and other people trying to accept him.
This book doesn't just focus on Augie's perspective.
Some of the chapters are written by other characters in the book so that you can see
it through their eyes.
You might see a chapter written by his sister, his sister's boyfriend, his best friend, some
classmates of his, so you can see the story from different perspectives and realize that
each person in the story is struggling with something.
Each person in the story maybe they look like their life is great, but really they're struggling
with something and need love and care and friendship like everyone else.
Let's read a couple sentences from this book.
Chapter one, ordinary.
I know I'm not an ordinary 10 year old kid.
I mean, sure, I do ordinary things.
I eat ice cream, I ride my bike, I play ball.
I have an Xbox, stuff that makes me ordinary, I guess, and I feel ordinary inside, but I
know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.
I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go.
If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face
that no one ever noticed at all.
I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and then doing that
look away thing.
Here's what I think.
The only reason I'm not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.
We see this from a modern 10 year olds perspective.
It's a beautiful story and I recommend it.
The next books are all written for adults, so the language is a little bit higher.
Maybe the sentence structure is a little more complex, but I chose these ones because I
think that you will like them and they're not scholarly journals, so I hope that you'll
be able to understand them with some practice.
The next book is The Help by Katherine Stockett.
This is not the usual cover of this book.
It's right here, but this book, can you imagine living in the US in the south, in the 1960s
as an African American woman?
Not easy, right?
Life was not easy in the south for these women, but this story is a beautiful story to give
us some insight into what life was like.
This book is told from the perspective of two, sincere wise and fun loving black women
whose job it is to take care of the house and the children for wealthy white families
in the south and it's also told from the perspective of Eugenia who is the daughter of one of the
wealthy white families.
She has an idea to create and write a book about the white and black race relations in
the south in the 1960s.
So it's kind of a book within a book.
She's writing a book in the book.
Personally, I really loved this story and I felt like I learned a lot about history
in the US and especially because I live in the south, I felt like it helped me to learn
more about where I live.
I'm going to read a couple sentences from this book, but I want to let you know I almost
included this book in my other video a while ago about recommendations for English books
in general, but I decided not to include it because the author decides to use some changes
in grammar and changes in spelling to show the dialect of the people who were living
in the south.
So I want you to just be aware that some of the grammar is not textbook correct grammar,
but it's accurate for the people who lived at that time.
So you're going to hear their voice, hear their dialect while you're reading.
Let me read a couple sentences and then I'll tell you about what I mean.
Chapter one, Abilene.
This whose perspective we're seeing.
August 1962, Mae Mobley was born on an early Sunday morning in August 1960, a church baby.
We like to call it.
Taking care of white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning.
I done raised 17 kids in my lifetime.
I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go to the toilet bowl before they
mamas even get out of bed in the morning, but I ain't never seen a baby yell like May
First day I walk in the door, there she be, red hot and hollering with colic, fighting
that bottle like it's a rotten turnip.
She looked terrified at her own child.
What am I doing wrong?
Why can't I stop it?
That was my first hint.
Something is wrong with this situation.
So here we see the perspective of Abilene.
One of the people who cares for the white children and the white households in the south,
but she uses some interesting dialect changes in her stories so far.
For example, she says, I done raised 17 kids.
The correct version is I raised, but she adds done, so once you realize, okay, when I see
done, this is just a regional dialect variation.
It's not the most common way of speaking.
Once you realize that, it's not too bad, it's easier to understand.
Or for example, she uses the word ain't, I ain't never seen.
I don't really recommend using the word ain't.
This is something that is also kind of a regional or even class difference in English, but because
she uses this word in the book, you kind of can get this picture of where she's coming
from, the kind of person that she is, and it's a good way to learn more about the culture.
The next book is another classic American story.
It is Into the Wild by John Krakauer.
I'm going to read the front of this book because it gives a beautiful description.
In April 1992, this is a true story, a young man from a well to do family, that means a
wealthy family, hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mount McKinley.
His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless.
He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car, and most of his possessions,
burned all the cash in his wallet and invented a new life for himself.
Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter.
This gives a gripping summary of what happens in this story.
The reason why I wanted to include this adventure story, first of all, it's a true story, so
it makes it even more incredible, but also we can see that the main character, Christopher
McCandless, he is leaving his life, his well to do, his comfortable life and he is going
off into the wilderness, into the forest, going out into an unknown territory.
But why is he doing that?
Is he doing it for survival?
Because he needs to.
Because in the previous book, Little House on the Prairie, they did that because they
needed to survive, but he is not doing that because he needs to survive.
Instead, he's doing something that's quite typical in American culture and that is trying
to find yourself, and this is quite a vague idea.
It's not specific at all, but it is trying to find your roots, or who you are, what you
love, and who you truly are.
So Christopher goes off into the wilderness trying to find himself, so if you enjoy some
philosophical thinking, some ideas about enlightening yourself, about what is society, how can I
This book is a great one for you and it's also an adventure story.
Let's read a couple sentences from this book.
This book is full of different maps and also real writings from Christopher because he
sent postcards and letters back to his friends and family, so this gives us quite a real
Alright, let's read some of the first sentences.
The Alaska Interior.
Jim Galleon had driven four miles out of Fairbanks when he spotted a hitchhiker standing in the
snow beside the road.
Thumb raised high, shivering in the Alaska dawn.
He didn't appear to be very old.
18, maybe 19 at most.
A rifle protruded from the young man's backpack, but he looked friendly enough.
A hitchhiker with a gun isn't the sort of thing that gives motorists pause in the 49th
Galleon steered his truck onto the shoulder and told the kid to climb in.
So here we've already been introduced to a lot of great vocabulary.
You have seen the expression, give pause.
Oh, how can we use this as a verb?
It gives me pause.
This means it makes me stop and think, and in the book he says, when you see someone
carrying a gun, it doesn't make you stop and think, it's quite normal in the 49th state.
This is Alaska, so in Alaska it's quite common to carry a gun, at least in this time period.
So it's kind of giving this general picture of the wilderness, this wild different land
in Alaska that the main character, Christopher has gone to.
Let's go on to the fifth book.
It is Bill Bryson's book.
I'm a Stranger Here Myself.
I love everything about this book.
This is one of my top 10 books of all time, but in fact it's not really even a book.
It's a series of articles and essays that the author Bill Bryson wrote.
This is a nonfiction book as well, that he wrote about his experience as an American
moving back to the US, so he has lived in the UK for 20 years and this is his notes
on returning to America after 20 years away, so he's kind of experiencing the American
culture for a second time.
He grew up in the US, but as an adult he lived in the UK for such a long time that that became
normal to him and now he's moving back to the U.S. and Bill Bryson's style of writing
is comedic and clever and witty and beautiful in every way.
Let's read a couple sentences from one of his chapters called take me out to the ballpark.
A great thing about this book is that you can complete a full story in just a few pages,
so in three pages you can finish this full story and feel like you've accomplished something
Let's read a couple sentences.
People sometimes ask me what's the difference between baseball and cricket?
The answer is simple.
Both are games of great skill involving balls and bats, but with this crucial difference,
baseball is exciting and when you go home at the end of the day, you know who won.
Cricket is a wonderful sport, full of deliciously scattered micro moments of real action.
If a doctor ever instructs me to take a complete rest and not get overexcited, I shall become
a fan at once.
In the meantime, my heart belongs to baseball.
It's what I grew up with, what I played as a boy, and that of course is vital to any
meaningful appreciation of a sport.
I had this brought home to me many years ago in England when I went out to a soccer ground
with a couple of English friends to knock a ball around.
We have the introduction to his little story about his experience with baseball and we
saw some interesting words here.
He said, this brought home to me.
I had this brought home to me.
Do you know what this means to have something brought home to you?
Is someone really bringing physically bringing something to your house?
This just means that you understood something, they're bringing it home to your mind, so
he says, I had this idea brought home to me many years ago in England, so he got this
idea in his mind many years ago.
This is a great way to introduce yourself to new vocabulary and idioms.
I'd like to talk about one more book.
It's kind of book recommendation 5.5 because it's from the same author, but it's a little
My final book recommendation is The Mother Tongue by the same author, Bill Bryson.
This book is my second favorite Bill Bryson book, and if you like language and the history
of language and those nerdy facts about language, especially English, you're gonna love this
I think that this book is the most complex book of all of my recommendations today because
it uses some clever jokes and twists of language while explaining history and it uses a lot
of vocabulary to talk about vocabulary and where it came from, but it's quite interesting
because it compares English with a lot of other languages and showing where different
English words came from.
Let's read a couple sentences from the beginning, chapter one, the world's language.
More than 3 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems,
It would be charitable to say that the results are sometimes mixed.
Imagine being a foreigner and having to learn that in English, one tells a lie, but the
That a person who says, I could care less means the same thing as someone who says,
I couldn't care less.
That a sign in the store says all items not on sale, doesn't mean literally what it says,
that every item is not on sale, but rather than only some of the items are on sale, and
when a person says to you, how do you do, he will be taken aback if you reply with impeccable
logic, how do I do what?
The complexities of the English language are, such that even native English speakers can
not always communicate effectively as almost every American learns on his first day in
Indeed Robert Birchfield, editor of the Oxford English dictionary created a stir in linguistic
circles on both sides of the Atlantic.
When he announced his belief that American English and English English are drifting apart
so rapidly that within 200 years the two nations won't be able to understand each other at
So here he's just giving a glimpse of some history, some cleverness, some little ideas.
There is a lot of information stored in this book.
So if you're interested in the history of the English language and also some humor,
this is not just facts.
There's a lot of humor and wit, I recommend it.
So today I recommended books from the past about American history, about the American
language, about the south, about the 1960s, about the northwest in the 1990s, about the
I hope that you can learn more about the English language, but also just American culture and
the complexities and learn more about this to help us all realize that in the end humans
are humans, no matter where we come from, we might have different backgrounds and different
But you know what?
We're still human.
So now I want to know about you.
What books do you recommend?
Let us know in the comments and I hope that we can read some books and expand our knowledge
Thanks so much.
I'll see you the next time for a new lesson on my YouTube channel here next Friday.
The next step is to download my free e-book, Five Steps to Becoming a Confident English
You'll learn what you need to do to speak confidently and fluently.
Don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more free lessons.
Thanks so much.