I see summer reading lists for many, MANY schools float through our store every summer. We keep notebooks at both of our point of sale counters that contain the summer reading lists for ALL local schools of interest to our customers, public and private, because every year they come in having left their copies at home. If a customer comes in and says "Do you have the summer reading list for _____?" we then open the notebook, flip to that school’s list, and make that customer’s day a lot easier. In the process, we make the sale.
Of all the school lists I’ve seen in recent years, the one that impresses me most is the one that’s produced by the English Department at Weston High School in Weston, Mass. I love this school list — not so much for the actual books it includes (though I do think it’s a rather diverse and interesting mix, especially compared to those of most high schools), but for the WAY it’s compiled and formatted. The list is available on the school’s website, so you can download a copy and see just what I’m talking about. (Click on the "W" beside download.com and it’ll open the list as a Word document.)
The Weston High School list begins with this introductory statement:
We English teachers believe that reading should be a pleasurable pastime as well as a source of intellectual growth. Anticipating the summer, we’ve been talking about the books we look forward to reading and the ones we highly recommend. Below, you’ll find the courses that will be offered in the fall of 2008 and books required.
Last summer, in response to student, parent, and teacher input, the department reduced required summer reading and in a number of cases collaborated with the history department to assign shared titles. This reduction in required reading should not downplay the importance of reading; it should amplify the importance of allowing students to have more control over what they choose to read. Statistics show that active readers practice important thinking skills.
Below the required reading you will find a lengthy list of books we heartily recommend but no longer require for any particular course. We have provided brief descriptions to help you make satisfying choices. We’re confident you’ll be drawn to many of them.
The list of Required Reading books is an interesting mix, but what really wows me about Weston is the way they choose to present their recommended (not required!) summer reading choices. Each teacher in the department selects a handful of books to recommend then explains what each book is about and WHY they’re recommending it. Their entries are insightful, personal, and interesting. The books they’ve selected are a truly interesting mix.
I love the personable feel of a list like this and the potential avenues for discussion it could open up between students and their teachers, not to mention the potential for increasing students’ respect for the folks who stand at the front of their classrooms every day. Maybe Mr. So-and-So doesn’t give the best lectures but he has fantastic taste in fiction. Maybe Ms. Such-and-Such’s interests are a lot more complex than anyone would have guessed. The best thing about this list, though, is the message it sends to students, on the teachers’ behalf: WE READ BOOKS AND WE ENJOY THEM. I can’t imagine a more effective behavior for English teachers to model than that.