For every required school reading there is a perfect Retro Report video to add context. Here are some popular books often assigned by E.L.A/English teachers, and the videos that offer historical background and connections to current events. Team up with a teacher across the hall to enhance your students’ critical thinking skills and content knowledge.

“The Crucible”

“The Crucible” was published in 1953, when Senator Joseph McCarthy was in the spotlight, investigating reports of communist affiliations. In this eight-minute video, students will learn about the Cold War witch hunt that inspired Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials.

“Animal Farm”

George Orwell’s commentary on Stalinism also serves as an introduction to the decades-long U.S. intervention in Latin America during the Cold War. This six-minute video explores the ongoing consequences of that intervention.

“Fahrenheit 451”

Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel about a book-burning fireman turned 70 this year, but it’s still  a timely read. Show students an 11-minute video that explores how censorship and warning labels have been targeting pop culture for decades.

“To Kill a Mockingbird”

Harper Lee’s novel is set in the early 1930s, when a wave of Depression-era resentment led to lynchings. The 83-minute documentary explores Black resistance in the Jim Crow South. A resource page contains links to clips and related activities. 

“Night” or “The Diary of Anne Frank”

This 80-minute documentary (short excerpts are available) follows Holocaust survivor David Wisnia as he returns to Auschwitz and reveals the story of his escape from the Nazi death camp. Wisnia’s sense of humor and his memory of a long-lost love will keep students hooked until the end, when he discloses a surprising secret.


In a graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi tells the story of her life in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. The 14-minute video explores the role of the C.I.A. in Iran’s political turmoil, then and now.

“Born a Crime

Trevor Noah’s memoir chronicles his South African childhood during apartheid, and describes the challenges and opportunities of living in Johannesburg. This 13-minute video shows parallels in the lived experiences of the Morris family of Chicago. Under a program to end racial discrimination in public housing policy, some Black families were able to move to majority white neighborhoods for access to better opportunities.


This seven-minute video includes interviews with elderly Ukraine residents who survived Nazi camps and are now refugees in Germany.

“The Poisonwood Bible” or “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”

Both novels explore the themes of cultural identity, colonialism and the conflicts that emerge when cultures collide, and family relationships play a central role. This 11-minute video on the Supreme Court ruling upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act contextualizes these themes in the present day.

“Refugee” or “Inside Out & Back Again”

The books chronicle the experiences of families escaping war and violence. The eight-minute video offers perspectives of an Afghan and a Vietnamese family, shedding light on the challenges refugees face when they attempt to start over in the U.S.

“They Called Us Enemy”, “Farewell to Manzanar” or “Unbroken”

These books highlight the resilience of young people who spent years imprisoned as a result of the standoff between the U.S. and the Japanese Empire in World War II. The 10-minute video explores the Supreme Court decision that upheld an executive order to imprison people of Japanese descent.