No More Pencils, LOTS More Books: Overhauling My Students’ Summer Reading List
Even as an avid reader, Summer Reading was the stuff of my teenaged nightmares. Every June it was the same thing: Our English teacher would trot out a mimeographed sheet of paper featuring two musty classics and a list of essay questions. An early September due date–traditionally the first day of school–would be handwritten at the top in huge capital letters, underscored for emphasis. Each Labor Day Weekend found my friends and me scrambling to the library for the Cliffs Notes or to Blockbuster for a VHS copy of the crusty classic du jour. It was hell.
When I started teaching high school English 13 years ago, my private school didn’t even have a Summer Reading program in place. My classes, small but chock full of reluctant readers, proved a challenge to teach on every level (grammar, vocabulary, and writing) because of their dislike of reading. Reading truly is the gateway to all Language Arts skills and without independent reading, teaching these other skills became an effort in futility.
Thankfully, I am able to plan and implement my own curriculum in my four classes (basic skills track English grades 9-12) and this allows me a fluidity and freedom that my other teacher friends only dream about. This freedom carries to our school’s Summer Reading program (which I implemented in 2003).
Instead of torturing my reluctant readers with classics we all know they won’t read, I offer up contemporary trade novels and save Of Mice and Men and The Glass Menagerie for the school year–when we read, listen to, and watch them. I need books that are, in teaching lingo, high interest and low readability. In other words, the books generally need to feature high school aged characters (and their ensuing dramas) but be written on an upper grammar school or middle school level.
This year I’ve worked really hard to add some books that are very high interest level and varied readability levels. The books need to be relatively snog-free–my school is pretty conservative–but most of my students still want a love interest of some sort. Sex is out and profanity needs to be minimal, so even though I have the freedom to choose my own books, it’s difficult to find YA to fit these parameters. I sometimes sacrifice literature for fluff but as long as they are reading, I’m happy. The fluff books might inspire these book-phobes to pick up other books! When parents call me crying because their student is reading at home, I’m happy.
Here are some of the titles I’m working on for this summer–I haven’t finished them all yet so this isn’t my finalized list. I did a test run on one of the books–Pride and Popularity–and it was a big hit with my sample demographic. The student I lent it to texted me to say it was: THE.BEST.BOOK.EVER. (direct quote). She then gave it to her best friend to read so she could have someone to talk to about it. Interestingly, this is a self-published series and I wasn’t sure how it was going to play. (Updated: I heard from the author via comment and she does have a publisher. My mistake!) I’m happy it was a winner.
- Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer
- The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
- If I Stay by Gayle Forman
- Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton
- Pride and Popularity by Jenni James
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Young Reader’s Edition) by Michael Pollan
- Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal
- Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley
I’m also considering The Book Thief–a favorite of readers everywhere–even though I’ve never been able to get through it. My students have also been asking for a Nicholas Sparks and/or Jodi Picoult option. I know Picoult has a new YA coming out in June so I’ll check it out and it might possibly be a late addition to the list. Another option is The Mother-Daughter Book Club series. I did the first book with my 9th grade this year and the other books in the series are equally cute and clean.
If you have any suggestions or comments on my books, let me know. I’m always looking for suggestions and would love to hear from you guys–you’re always the best source of information. Have you read any of the books on my list?