Book Search Like a Boss

Warning: This post includes explicit language. If you’re not comfortable discussing curse words that appear in the texts our students read, you might want to skip this one.

“God damn.”
“Shit fire son of a bitch!”
“Fuck you.”

Yup, all of these words appear in the novels I’ve taught:
God damn = Of Mice and Men, 18 times
Shit = The Bean Trees, 4 times
Fuck = The Catcher in the Rye, 3 times – all in Holden’s discussion of the “fuck you” graffiti he spots at Phoebe’s school, btw

How do I know? Did I sit for hours with a highlighter and tally sheet? Nope. Amazon did the work for me.

My real-life librarian colleague Joni just showed me a hidden-in-plain-sight search feature on Amazon that’s useful if you need to research a book that’s been challenged by a parent, if you’re wondering whether to recommend an SSR novel that you haven’t yet read yourself, or when a kid asks how many times the phrase “green light” is actually used in The Great Gatsby. (The answer? Three – pages 11, 54, and 65 in the 2018 hardback Baker Street Press edition.)

Here’s how it works: (click any image to enlarge)

1. Search the title of the book at

2. Find a copy that has the “Look inside” option:

3. Scroll down and enter your chosen word or phrase in the “Search Inside This Book” bar:

4. Dig into your results!

Another useful research resource is, a tool my teacher bestie Annette shared a few years ago. This robust site covers classic texts and modern media and even includes parent/kid feedback, helpful when giving book recommendations or drafting reading lists. Definitely worth a look.

Finally, I have a simple rule that’s helped me avoid conflict when it comes to…uh…“mature” content in the books my kids choose to read. If a book is in our school library (and, yes, that includes Chuck Palahniuk), it’s fair game. If it’s questionable and not from our library, I’m going to need a note from a parent/guardian. So far, that rule’s kept me out of the principal’s office.

Read on, everyone!

12 thoughts on “Book Search Like a Boss

  1. Valerie Grenawalt says:

    I was so excited to read this one but it says page not found. Did you have to take it down!?

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Truth is Laura, that kids use a lot worse language than the one they may find in any book we may give them!

    Speaking for myself, in the 70’s, which was a very different world from this one (and that includes a lot of the language used in public by us teens), I don’t remember ever being shocked by the language of any novel in High School.

    On the other hand, I was out of my wits with the books my daughter was reading already in middle school! We’re talking of some pretty extreme violence, drugs, foul language, you name it – in every corner of those books. Her school considered that they showed “real life” (ugh!). Unfortunately, my complaints didn’t get me too far and she had to read them anyway but; in my favor, I can say that they changed the voluntary readings to more “adequate” ones and once in High School, her readings were definitely a lot more appropriate.

    I like your little trick though. It’s a great way to decide! As for me, I teach mostly young kids (at the most, mid teens), and I depend on the level of English in the book, so finding more appropriate readings is easier. The easier the book, the more “innocent” its content! For upper levels, they’re usually adults, so I can go for Steinbeck (one of my favorites!) or whomever I like! 🙂

  3. For sure, Carolyn, the language in the student parking lot every day after school is way worse than anything in our core curriculum. I’m the teacher who stops and asks, “You kiss your mama with that mouth?” Sigh…

  4. hahaha That’s funny! I do the same! I’ll let out a “Hey! Esa boca!” or “Boca sucia!” or the more common one “Sabe vuestra madre que hablais asi?” (I don’t think I need to translate these for ya) and it usually cuts them off for like one minute (if I leave) or the rest of the class, despite the sly smiles and a giggle or two. Sigh……..

  5. Yup, I know they’ll keep swearing the minute I walk away, but at least they know we heard them, right? I’ll take any second of pause and reflection I can get.

  6. Frances M Goza says:

    Boy did this hit home this week! I’m teaching Roll of Thunder to my 7th graders and was braced for the reaction to “the N word” used in the trip to Strawberry, MS… but, No… too busy sniggering about the word “pussyfoot”!

  7. Ohmygosh, Frances, you just reminded me of the time I totally lost control of a freshman class when one of them asked, “What’s a cat house, Ms. R.?” while we were reading Of Mice and Men.

    “Well,” I answered, “that’s an old-fashioned word for a house of prostitution.”

    “Oh…” one of my boys blurted out, “I get it. ‘Cause that’s where they keep the pussy.”

    And the class was gone.
    Thanks, John Steinbeck. *blushing*

  8. I had no idea this feature was available on Amazon! This rocks! Thank you! 🙂

  9. Thank you for sharing this! I strive to teach books that interest modern teens, but sometimes worry about the language. This year I’m moving from middle school to high school. I will be teaching freshman. I cannot teach TKAMB because they read that as sophomores. I’m considering Of Mice and Men. Side note: I have purchased your unit and it is fabulous! My hesitation is the N word. How do you handle that situation, and have you ever had problem arise from it? Also, what other novels would you suggest? Thank you for all of the wonderful advice and experience you share!

  10. So glad you reached out to me, BJ. Welcome to high school! Absolutely, you’ll need a plan about how to discuss the “N-word” with your students before you begin reading any work in which the word appears. I use a poem and a non-ficition essay that address the use of the word and lead students through a quick-write and class discussion about the word, their reactions to it, and how we will handle the use of the word during our novel study. I’m fortunate that I haven’t ever had any problems or issues arise from the lesson, but I’m always careful to approach this day with a tone of seriousness and respect. Delivery, as I’m sure you can imagine, matters a lot. These materials are included in the Of Mice and Men unit you’ve already downloaded, so you should be set there.

    As for book choice, I’m limited by the availability of class sets in the book room – and it’s usually slim pickings. That’s one of the reasons I teach only one major work (novel, memoir, play, epic poem, etc.) per semester. For the rest of our time, I fill the calendar with smaller pieces and a lot of writing instruction and practice. Most recently, our two major works have been To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo & Juliet. Back at my old district in California, I also taught Of Mice and Men, Greek mythology, The Odyssey, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to our 9th graders. All titles worked well.

    I’m also not as well-read as I’d like to be, but the blog community has been helpful in offering great suggestions. If you browse through the comments section of this post, you’ll likely find some gems that’ll work for your classes:

    Happy planning. Hope you have a great school year!
    🙂 Laura

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