7 Cross-Media Suggestions for Reinvigorating George Orwell's '1984' | Refreshing the Canon

Summer reading is a whole new jam as SLJ and NCTE reveal the 2023 round of “Refreshing the Canon” selections. Check out these multimedia suggestions to enrich any reading experience of George Orwell's 1984, and change teenagers' minds about how "it could never happen here" and "it could never happen now." 

Last month, SLJ asked librarians and educators to weigh in on which classics should remain on summer reading lists. Inspired by the most popular titles that emerged, SLJ editors and members of NCTE’s Build Your Stack® Committee have curated this year’s round of “Refreshing the Canon” selections. 

Additionally, we’ve put together multimodal lists of recommendations—including nonfiction, graphic novels, documentaries, and more—that educators can feature in classrooms and libraries alongside the exemplar texts. Our aim is to inspire educators to breathe fresh life into lessons around these works by giving students context to understand why these classics are still relevant today.

Be sure to check out the 2022 “Refreshing the Canon” lists for more read-alikes of longtime summer reading picks.

In the novel 1984, George Orwell depicts a future society in which an all-powerful government, led by the figurehead "Big Brother," controls every aspect of citizens' lives, including their thoughts and emotions. The protagonist, Winston Smith, rebels against the regime and attempts to find freedom and love in a world where such things are forbidden. The list of books and movies that have taken inspiration from Orwell’s writings covers a wide range of settings and eras, from a Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale in all its iterations in print, sequels, and streaming. For the teen audience, other recent movies that mirror some of the concerns of Orwell’s book include The CircleReady Player OneBlade Runner 2049Snowpiercer and "The Hunger Games" franchise, which has a new installment set for November 2023. All these inspire a feeling that “it could never happen here,” but the following list includes both nonfiction and fiction entries that show just how close fascism cuts to home.


Nonfiction book
Gaddy, K. R.
Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis. Dutton. 2020. ISBN 9780525555414.
Gr 7-10–Teens from Cologne risked their lives for their beliefs. Like the members of the more well-known nonviolent activism group the White Rose, the Edelweiss Pirates opposed the Third Reich by handing out fliers and scrawling graffiti, derailing trains and committing other acts of sabotage. Thirteen of them were executed in 1944 for allegedly plotting to bomb Gestapo headquarters.


Graphic memoir
Sook, Kim Hyun & Ryan Estrada.
Banned Book Club. illus. by Ko Hyung-Ju. Iron Circus. 2020. ISBN 9781945820427.
Gr 8-10–In 1983, while at university in Korea, Sook circulated anti-government writings on campus and learned to make and hurl Molotov cocktails. Some of her friends disappeared for days while being questioned by the police. The  graphic memoir, co-written with Estrada, Sook's husband, chronicles this part of her life and the making of her as an activist.


[Read: Banned Book Club authors speak out]

Graphic novel
Moore, Alan. V for Vendetta.
illus by David Lloyd. DC Comics. 2020. ISBN 9781779511195.
Gr 8 Up–Originally published in black and white between 1982 and 1985 in the British anthology comic magazine Warrior before being collected and published as a graphic novel in 1988 and never out of print, V for Vendetta became a movie in 2006, starring, among others, Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, whom readers may know better as Mr. Smith in “The Matrix” movies. The story is set in a fascist, near-future United Kingdom, where a masked anarchist known only as V seeks to overthrow the government and inspire a revolution among the people. The graphic novel explores themes of totalitarianism, anarchism, fascism, and the power of symbols and ideas to inspire change.

Documentary film
State of Surveillance. Vice Recordings. 27 min. 2016.
A glimpse of how modern society has evolved into a surveillance state, and how Orwell's warnings about the dangers of government surveillance have become even more relevant today.

"And When They Come for Me" is by the band Linkin Park, and released in 2010 as part of A Thousand Suns. Like many of Linkin Park's songs, it deals with the darker aspects of society and human nature, and it encourages listeners to question authority and to seek out their own paths in life. It’s a powerful and thought-provoking song that addresses important themes of individuality, resistance, and the struggle for personal freedom in a society that often seeks to control and manipulate its citizens. 

And it seems ugly, but it can get worse
'Cause even a blueprint is a gift and a curse
'Cause once you got a theory of how the thing works
Everybody wants the next thing to be just like the first

And I'm not a robot
I'm not a monkey
I will not dance even if the beat's funky

When They Come for Me lyrics © Universal Music

YA novels
Lu, Marie. Warcross & Wildcard.
Putnam. 2017, 2018. ISBN 9780399547966; ISBN 9780399547997.
Gr 8 Up–In a future where a virtual reality game called Warcross dominates society, the protagonist is hired to track down a dangerous hacker who threatens the game's security and control; in the second book, the protagonist faces a new threat to the virtual reality world and must navigate the complex web of alliances and betrayals. The books explore themes of government control.

Television commercial
Apple introduces the new MacIntosh Computer with a commercial in which a young woman breaks a large screen where a man is speaking in an attempt to control the crowd. The commercial was directed by Ridley Scott, and was widely regarded as one of the greatest TV commercials of all time. The speech in the commercial was given by an actor who played the role of a totalitarian figurehead known as "Big Brother." The speech was not from Orwell's book, but was written by the ad agency for the commercial.



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