Sunday, July 13, 2008

Summer Reading Lists

I have been reading with interest the many posts on Summer Reading lists (for example, here and here and here) and am worried about where we, as a group, are going with this thinking. My biggest problem with summer reading lists is the fact that we, as adults, think that we are better equipped to choose books for kids than they are equipped to choose books for themselves. No one likes a summer reading list that is mandated and by creating one, no matter how good it may be, you are taking choice away from a reader.

I think summer reading is a lifelong habit we want to instill in kids. Summer reading is often the best reading. But kids are not going to become readers if they see reading as an assignment and don't have the opportunity to read the books they choose.

My daughter who will be a senior in high school, was thrilled to have the summer to read the TWILIGHT series. She is holding off on her summer reading list until August and fitting in as much of her summer as possible with the books that she's had on her "to read" list for a while. She is reading like crazy and loving it. Isn't that what we want?

Recommending books that are good for kids and giving our opinions is far different from creating lists of books by grade level or grade range. Creating lists for parents and teachers is far different from creating reviews for kids so that they can DECIDE what they want to read. Creating our own summer reading lists because we don't like the ones out there, only says that we like the idea of summer reading lists if they are lists that WE create. Where is the child as reader in these conversations?


  1. The best summer reading list is no list!

    Very true.

    I like lists and suggestions for reading; I gravitate to reading the lists and taking the suggestions, so I like making them for work, tho tend to do it more on theme/genre than for summer reading.

    Readers will read no matter what -- I think the lists are more for the parents, especially the parents who only come into the library with their kids because of the summer reading lists.

    Seriously; there are parents who only show up at the library in the summer months, with The List, because The School Said So.

    I guess the bigger question isn't the list for such parents and their kids (who may or may not be readers); but, rather, can something other than reading lists change their attitude -- ie reading is an assignment to be completed?

  2. Summer reading lists, ugh!!! I wrote about it Friday on my blog (

    I am dragging my fourteen-year-old son, who is not a terrific reader, through SNOW IN AUGUST by Pete Hamill. I loved the book when my book club read it several years ago, but it's a pretty tough go for a freshman in high school. Lots and lots of history, lots of Jewish and Irish mythology, lots of switching back and forth between time periods, and lots of description, which he hates. And it's LONG- 356 pages!

    I am reading the book aloud to him, thirty minutes a day. We'll finish before school starts, but I'm not sure the time would not have been better spent with him reading from great YA novels. I would not have minded at all if the school said you need to read thirty minutes a day, and bring in a reading calendar, or annotated bibliography!

  3. As usual, I love your thinking about a topic.

    The only thing I would say about a list is it could, and should, be a recommendation list only. I truly think some students and/or parents have no idea what's available -- therefore a list of recommendations for enjoyable summer reading, not mandates, might be helpful.

    In addition, I've found in the last few years since I started paying attention to the kidlitosphere, that I am far more aware of what's out there to read now than I ever was in the past. Through a list of recommendations from current books I've heard about or read myself, I could help guide children toward something they might enjoy.

    Bottom line, I agree with your point that no list is perfect; reading should come from within the child. I recently handed my senior daughter tne first book in the newest series (The Missing) by Margaret Peterson Haddix. She loved it! In addition, she has really enjoyed reading and rereading Jodi Picoult, too.

    Summer reading should feel enjoyable and relaxing; not just a task to check off a list.

  4. A big amen coming from my corner. This issue really takes us back to the same old question of who exactly it is we're trying to help children become. If we're after helping students become habitual, critical, passionate, lifelong readers, a summer reading list is the diametric contradiction to this goal.

    This is the very reason why I frown when I glance at the literature textbook I'm supposed to be using with my students come September.
    Although I will, as a non-tenured teacher, begrudgingly use it, my 90-minute a day blocks allow me to "sneak in" substantial time for self-selected reading. Because my school does not operate on the reading/writing workshop model, I will have to do what I can to bring in elements.

    I'm in the process of bulking up my classroom library--I'll be doing a post on all of the wonderful books I found at the booktrader nearby!

    Lastly, and back to the topic, some will ask what will happen to those children who won't read if there is no list. I ask, what is really the better option for students who are reluctant readers: to bombard them with mandatory summer reading that will most likely intimidate them further into a non-reading lifestyle, or to encourage them--to challenge them--to seek out books they may enjoy, and to provide them with resources and suggestions to do so throughout the whole school year?

  5. This summer reading list thing must be more of a upper grade thing. I have never given a reading list to a fifth grader, but that is not to say I haven't sent home recommendations to parents. Especially when they ask, and they usually do ask.
    When I read that anyone was thinking of making any kind of list of recommended books, I thought that has got to be redundant. There are lists upon lists already out there and what else are these reviews we type and put everywhere on the internet? Modified lists of recommendations... right?
    Now on to more important questions... YOU HAVE A DAUGHTER WHO WILL BE A SENIOR? impossible

  6. Anonymous12:27 PM

    Perhaps we need to give our kids summer reading suggestions that are generated by our students...

    The best thing that has happened to me so far this summer was receiving an email from one of my kids from the 07-08 school year asking me, "Ms. S.: May I read The Devil's Arithmetic yet?" I told her it was something better saved for the end of fifth or beginning of sixth grade since the content is disturbing. I told her "not yet," even though her reading level is parallel to Yolen's text, but suggested two other books to her. She ate it up and went and got them. I think that's motivation and that's what we need... kids who come to us for suggestions and with requests.

  7. Can I get an Amen?

    Wonderful post. Thanks for getting right to the heart of the issue

  8. I love the idea of suggesting books. Just not requiring certain books for summer reading. That is a whole different thing than creating lists. Could that work for those parents who show up only in the summer--here is a list of great books for primary readers, etc.? A list that kids can choose from is different from required summer reading.

  9. I agree with you. It is interesting how often schools/teachers counteract the very goal that they want - better readers and lifelong readers. In my hometown growing up I don't remember ever having a summer reading list, yet I was an avid reader and enjoyed the extra time to catch up on reading. An assigned list of books that may or may not have caught my interest would have took all the fun away from reading for pleasure.

  10. To me a list is a guide, not an absolute. But then again, I'm a reader. To my brothers, who were passionate about not wanting to read, it was a checklist. It was also overwhelming to them to try to pick something on their own from the library.

    I wish there was a way to harness technology so that kids who are reluctant readers could get some quality suggestions (which would appease their parents), not feel overwhelmed with "just pick something you like," and still make their own selections, albeit with a smaller number of options.

  11. Two thoughts:

    Number one: I went to the bookstore and listened as a mother and son bought books on his summer reading list. It was painful! The kid probably (I hope) has something he would love to be reading if he didn't have to get that required summer reading finished! And his mom just wanted him to be a good boy and get his schoolwork done.

    It was a sad conversation to overhear. At Barnes and Noble they have several tables marke "Summer Reading" full of the typical titles required for summer reading in middle and high school. So our bookstores aren't helping either.

    Number two: My summer reading took me to the book store today with a list of books I wanted to look for. Most of them were recommended by people I trust or ones that intrigued me on The reading I do for the remainder of the summer and into the fall will be the challenge of what I want to read first because I want to read all of them NOW!

  12. Anonymous3:54 PM

    Oh, I certainly don't want a required list! I think a recommended list is needed, and not for the students, but for parents, teachers, and administrators. Many school admins are too "overwhelmed" by all the books out there to be bothered with updating their outdated list. I think it will take a lot to change the culture of required summer reading lists. In the mean time, we can do what we can by getting suggestions into the hands of adults who make the decisions.

    I know my students are required to read Tom Sawyer for 7th grade. They don't have the background knowledge for it! However, they LOVE reading. Unfortunately, many of them are emailing me about how much they despise the book. These are students who love to read, and were thrilled when I gave them a 3 page list of books I read this year and loved. Nothing more than recommendations they could look at. That's what we need!

    Great thoughts!


  13. Uh, maybe I live in the dark ages...but I don't understand. Are you saying teachers are handing out a list at the end of the school year that is required reading over the summer?

    If so, eeesh! Some teachers just need to let go!


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