The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, was given to me by a colleague, who said that the book is for the journey that our team is on. I had to admit, I had never read the text. It sat on a classroom bookshelf for years. Some students chose it for independent reading, yet I never had a kid use it during a reading unit, so it wasn’t ever on my book stack.
And then, about a year ago, a popular song by Macklemore made some recommendations for life. One of them was, “I recommend that you read The Alchemist / Listen to your teachers, but cheat in Calculus.” I can’t speak to the math recommendation, as a person who avoided Calculus like the plague. But I can recommend that everyone from grade 7 onward read The Alchemist.
Santiago is a shepherd who buys his own flock of sheep, even though it isn’t his family’s profession. While looking at his herd and making plans for his future, he meets a man who encourages him to look into his heart. Santiago must look for his true desire, or, as it comes to be known in the book, his “personal legend.”
The decision to achieve his personal legend takes Santiago on a journey. He visits other parts of the world, and meets many people who guide him on his quest. But the journey is not as straightforward as it seems at first. Coelho reminds us: “Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he has never dreamed of when he first made the decision” (p. 70).
Why It’s Worth Reading
The Alchemist helps us remember that everyone has his or her own journey. Sometimes these journeys intersect. Sometimes they may be different from our own.
This makes me think about every learner that I interact with. My journey may be to forge students’ independence in reading, and to empower them to achieve writerly voices. But their journeys may be different. I just have to appreciate the time in which we have intersected on our journeys.
As Santiago learns about another, “Everyone has his or her own way of learning things. His way isn’t the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we’re both in search of our personal legends, and I respect him for that” (p. 86).
Beyond this important theme, The Alchemist resonates because it’s a joyful read, and its language is beautiful. The ideas are structured like those in a fable, too. This allows every reader to gain meaning from Santiago’s experiences.
I mirror Macklemore when I say, read The Alchemist. I hope you realize that it is a book from which you can find meaning at any point in your life. I daresay that, with multiple readings, you may find a different journey for yourself. And it is a great text for students who are in transitions–including those transitioning between middle and high school, and high school and college.
Reading Level: 910L
Publisher: Harper One
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
Awards and Accolades: Anniversary Edition, New York Times Bestseller
*Thanks to Bethany Bratney for the blog structure for a book recommendation.
Amy Gurney (@agurney_amy) is an ELA and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for Walled Lake Schools. She has a Master’s degree from Michigan State University in Educational Administration and an Education Specialist in Educational Leadership from Oakland University. She is a Galileo Alumni. She worked on the MAISA units of study and has studied reading and writing workshop practice and conducted action research.