Summer Reading Thoughts

Josie Leavitt - June 28, 2010

Schools all over have closed for the summer, and this should mean fun, relaxation and having time to read. But for many young people summer heralds a whole new season of school work. Yes, there are the ubiquitous summer reading lists (more on them later), but now these poor kids have pages of math homework to do, daily. I can’t imagine a summer where I not only had math homework, but I had to email it to my teacher weekly. Several schools have set up weekly blogs for kids to use to respond to every chapter they read. If they don’t have that, many schools require a paper, albeit a short one, in response to every book read.
Oh, to make matters worse, let’s pick some of the most tedious books and force kids to read them. I just reviewed the summer reading lists for three local schools and with rare exceptions the books are all written by white authors who were born in the early 20th century. While these books have solid value, I think asking kids to read these challenging (some would say boring, especially if you’re 14) books during the distracting days of summer is folly. Sometimes hard books need the help of a class and a skilled teacher to bring the reading to life. How many kids start Bleak House only to hate it and just give up? Animal Farm is wonderful, but if you’re reading it because it’s August 15th and it’s short, just how much of the political story are you really absorbing? And really, must every child read Lord of the Flies? Perhaps we could take that off the list and substitute The Hunger Games or The Uglies? I just want to put books on reading lists that children are actually excited to see on the list, not dreading.
Some of my happiest memories are reading massive Stephen King and Peter Straub books one summer, staying up way too late with my Mom and scaring ourselves silly. Then one summer I read all the James Herriott books, one right after the other, and it was wonderful. Then there was the Judy Blume summer, then the summer of Faulkner, which was a miserable failure, really, what I was thinking at 13? But the point is, even without assignments that were more than “read three books this summer,” I read tons, and I loved it. Free of schoolwork, I found that I loved reading for pleasure. There was a bookstore that I could bike to that also sold penny candy. I was in heaven.
Wouldn’t it be nice, just for the two to three short months of summer, to have kids read for pleasure and not give them homework for every chapter read? I don’t think forcing kids to read books written by dead white men (for the most part) is the best way to instill a love of reading. Reading should not be a chore, something to be checked off on a list; it should be something that brings pleasure, especially in the summer.

12 thoughts on “Summer Reading Thoughts

  1. Peni Griffin

    When I was 7 and 8, I read primarily Bobbsey Twin books. Old issue, new issue, read all I could get my hands on. When I was 12, I started reading Dickens, in chronological order, one library trip at a time. It took me two years, but I did it. (I thought Pickwick Papers was hilarious.)
    These facts are directly related. No one quizzed me on the Bobbsey Twins, but I learned a lot about narrative convention. No one required me to read Dickens. But I was required to read The Scarlet Letter, and I hated it – very articulately, all over the essay we had to write about it. I was protected by the fact that everyone knew an A in English was my right and no English teacher was ever going to fail me whatever I said. (Why no, I wasn’t a popular child with the other kids.) We didn’t even have summer reading lists.
    I still haven’t read Lord of the Flies, and I don’t miss it.

  2. Shelftalker Elizabeth

    I agree, Josie. Books were breath to me, the water in which I swam, and any number of other metaphors indicating how essential they were to my very being as a child. But nothing sucked the joy out of a book more than being forced to keep a reading log or answer multiple-choice questions designed to check up on whether or not I was really reading the book. “What was the last meal Piggy ate before he was murdered?” In the eighth grade, I was one of only two kids who absolutely LOVED The Grapes of Wrath. Even so, I despised the assignments (unless I got to create my own essay topic or project, in which case I was invested in the work). If teachers were allowed to qualify and quantify spirited discussions, rather than the dreary approved quizzes, etc., schools might have students who don’t associate the word “classic” with “the taste of dry dust in the mouth.” (Note: I do think it’s important for students to learn how to write thoughtful critical essays; I just think the way they’re usually assigned leads to active disinterest.)

  3. Cathy Ogren

    I clearly remember having to read LORD OF THE FLIES, and, at that time, I clearly remember hating it. I agree with you, Josie, make summer reading a pleasure not a chore.

  4. Andrea Vuleta

    I have to confess, I can’t recall ever having had required summer reading. But I read like crazy! I can see that over-structuring the process would turn it into a grind.
    I have actually been rather pleased with one summer program, not local to me. My cousin in NJ has 2 kids in high school, and they do require summer reading. But the thing I LOVE about their program is that they also have “Teacher’s Favorites” -loads of teachers participate. Each teacher sort of sponsors a title. The kids sign up for that title, and meet with the teacher when school starts for a discussion, like a book club. They do need to prepare a short essay on why they chose that title, but they’re to save the bulk of their thoughts for the group discussion. The cool thing is, with so many teachers the books are all over the place. From Riordan to Bronte. I wish more schools would try this.

  5. The Reading List

    I couldn’t agree more that kids have to be allowed to follow their own muse…. Like you, I read a mix of pop culture and more “literary” books – one summer I recall reading this Linda Barlowe bodice ripper followed by Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Anything on my mother’s bookshelf and at the library was fair game; my reading was completely uncensored (unlike movies).

  6. Ellen Scott

    I heartily agree with all of the above. We haven’t until just recently had much in the way of summer reading lists out here in the midwest. For me, it was the Edith Hamilton Mythology assigned in tenth grade English– I hadn’t been introduced to much mythology before that and to be assigned to read/write about one-eyed monsters and women with snakes instead of hair– well, it was just so uncool to care about these things. Since I have been a bookseller, however, I have watched any number of 6-10 year old boys get so excited about such monsters and superheroes that I make it a point to tell parents not to leave mythology to their child’s tenth grade English teacher. The private school here in Omaha that does do a required summer reading list with an assigned essay at the end of the summer seldom updates their list and has, I’m sure, turned their share of students off the whole idea of reading for pleasure. My question is — how do we start a movement with English teachers and other to let them know that their lists should include more up to date books. As Cory Doctorow said this summer, young adult literature is the most serious literature there is and yet it is so under-appreciated!!!

  7. Julianne Daggett

    I remember when I was in high school my reading list included some cool books like Night, but also included some incredably difficult to read boring books that were in a much older version of English like the original Rob Roy. Of Rob Roy I could tell it was supposed to be an exciting story, if I could read it that was, but it did prep me for Shakesphere and King Arthur that my teacher helped us translate later on in the year, but I really wish I had help like that on Rob Roy when I read it though and those school blogs are enormously helpful I’m sure.

    1. Matthew Petty

      I am 13, and I am required to read a minimum of 600 Pages in two months and write a summary. I mean, I could easily complete the 600 page part but it turns in to a dreadful task when you have to write a summary also.

  8. Jenny

    Oh how I remember those days of summer, where you could read what you wanted. I think by the time I was twelve I had read every Stephen King novel I could get my hands on. This was fine with the one exception of “It”. By fifteen, I had plowed through Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After and The Count of Monte Cristo and I had started on my brother’s Robert Jordan books.
    I’m still trying to figure out when all of this summer homework started appearing. Probably right around the same time that “New Math” showed up, which I totally can’t help my kids with, and I was an A-student through Calculus.
    Just let kids be kids for the summer. Tell them they should read x number of books before school starts back up. No book reports on what they read, just provide the teacher with a list signed by the parent confirming that they did indeed read those books. I’m just happy when the kids actually pick up a book and I’m not too picky about what it actually is. Heck, if they want to read the Twilight series (I tried and just couldn’t do it) they can go right ahead and do it.

  9. Sandy

    The other day, a family was in browsing, and the mother was excited to find the Chronicles of Narnia books, which she wanted to have her older daughter (who I would guess is around 7 or 8) start reading. Her daughter’s first question was, “But will it count toward my list?” by which, I can only assume, meant one of those dreadful reading lists, where only certain books are considered acceptable towards credit. This is no way to encourage a love of reading. What I do love is seeing the kids who come in desperate for more books because they’ve already read the pile they have at home!
    I second Jenny–let the kids keep track of books they read, without any outside requirements. It might be surprising to see how much reading gets done.

  10. Aelita

    I’m a student and could not agree more. I love to read, my room is basically a library but i hate summer reading lists! They only aggrivate me and stress me out. The books are boring and at points it’s so bad i could almost claw my eyes out. If we, as students were allowed to simply pick grade-level books i feel a lot more kids would find they like reading.

  11. Girlinhighschool

    Im 16 and have to read a 306 page book while taking an active reading journal….we only have 2 months of summer vacation and im not one for historical fiction…I undertsand that its junior year and we should be reading harder books, but come on its our summer vacation too. I read all the time…I absolutely love reading. Reading this book wouldnt be a problem if i didnt have to take the journal too…I love reading, but HATE….more than ANYTHING…summer reading. I think its dumb how we cant just choose our books…No journal just read….Summer reading doesn’t make us like reading books. It makes us hate them. I just wanna realax and have a good summer, but i can’t do that if i know i have to read this book before school starts again….


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *