Musings on Summer Reading

(Note: This picture doesn’t really have anything to do with reading but I did take it a few summers ago on Cape Cod. Right after I took this picture I got in the water and Paul, Ang, and I decided to play that game where you dive to the bottom and grab something interesting. Paul found a huge conch shell with the huge, scary conch-tongue-animal still in it. I got out for a while after that.)

I started this post about summer reading over a week ago and I’ve written a few drafts of it. I kept changing it and it kept becoming more and more of a rant. I didn’t really want it to be a rant, but just more of some thoughts. So I’ll try again.

Summer is almost here and that means all the kids from the middle and high schools will be coming to me and the other librarians to figure out what they are supposed to read for summer reading. For the high school students it’s specific: each English class has a book or two that they have to read. Middle schoolers get to pick between 12 books for each grade and read three. But some sort of reading it required.

In general, I think summer reading is a good idea. It’s good to keep up students’ skills over the summer by having them read. But do you make them read classics or more contemporary books? Do you challenge them to step up their reading level and comprehension by giving them harder books than they read the summer before? Do you quiz them when school starts or make them write a paper over the summer?

I’m not sure how I feel about these questions. I’d love for summer reading to be more about how rewarding reading can be for the intellect but also for the imagination and the enjoyment of the reader. I think the books should be at the reading level of the student but also pushing and challenging them to read at a higher level. And they shouldn’t be insulting or patronizing to the reader. Say, if you’re going into 7th grade, I personally think it’s insulting to have you read a book with a 6th grade protagonist written at the reading level of 4th or 5th grade. No good. Not that I know anywhere that would do that . . .

I don’t know. Summer reading is just a strange thing. It’s hard for me to understand trying to get students, or grown ups for that matter, to read. It’s just because I read all the time and I know what I like to read, so I’m rarely without a book or two on my nightstand.

What do you think? Did you have good summer reading experiences? Should we challenge students or just get them to ready any old thing?

Ok, slight rant aside. Now it’s book recommendation time!

1493 by Charles Mann. You have to read it! If you haven’t read 1491 yet, go read that but then read this one. It’s about how the world changed after Columbus “discovered” the Americas. Mann’s thesis is that Columbus’ travels initiated the “Columbia exchange” of goods, diseases, plants, languages, and sadly in many cases, people, which created the modern world we live in today, a globalized culture living in an ecological “homogenocene.”  (The link goes to Mann’s introduction to the book where he explains the homogenocene.) Super interesting! Another book where I annoy people by telling them the weird and interesting facts that I learned while reading.

Also, I just started Ilium by Dan Simmons, the author of the Jesuits in space saga (sort of) Hyperion Cantos, which I love. It promises to be good, so I’ll let you know.

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One thought on “Musings on Summer Reading

  1. I think a little of both. A challenge is important, but also it needs to be fun. And I think a discussion is necessary in school. I always missed main themes/general points/the “thing” you were supposed to get out of reading something more literary. But I, too, was mystified by this summer reading idea. You mean you have to TELL kids to do this?
    I was a bit eager today, I wanted to sign the kids up for the library’s summer reading program, but I have to wait till June 1!

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