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.