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Curse of the Summer Reading List

May 24, 2015
He wondered why there was no Ernest Hemingway on the summer reading list (image via wikimedia)

He wondered why there was no Ernest Hemingway on the summer reading list (image via wikimedia)

My oldest daughter received her school’s summer reading list yesterday, and she was not happy about it.  Her idea of summer is sitting around the house doing nothing until we take our vacation.  I don’t blame her.  I had lots of summer vacations where I sat around and did nothing, and that was before cable and the internet.  It’s a lot more fun to sit around and do nothing than it was 35 years ago.  But this summer, my daughter has another reading list.

“It’s my summer break,” she fumed.  “What is it about ‘break’ that they don’t understand?”

I laughed, not at her words, but at her level of outrage.  She has to read and complete book reports for a grand total of… two books.  Students are supposed to choose one from a list of classics that include Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  The other list consists of more contemporary stuff like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or The Lightning Thief.   My daughter has read most of the contemporary books, so she plans on doing her “contemporary” project on a book that she has already read.

I have mixed feelings about this.  Part of me thinks she should read a book she hasn’t read before because she has almost three months to do it and it never hurts to read a new book, even if it’s assigned.  On the other hand, if she already has read most of those books willingly, she should reap the benefits of reading on her own.  I’m a believer in taking advantage of your advantages.  But if she chooses a book she’s already read, I’ll require her to reread the book rather than going from memory.  There’s nothing wrong with reading a book more than once.

My daughter is acting like this summer reading list will ruin her summer.  I can think of other things that would ruin a summer, more serious things, but I don’t want to jinx anybody.  Her reaction is pretty typical of people who don’t want to do things they have to do.  If anything, I’ve been a bad role model for how to handle unpleasant tasks.  When I get a surprise list of activities I don’t want to do, I can overreact too, as if a couple chores will ruin a day.  But I’m not sure a reading list can ruin a summer, unless the list is really long.  Two books?  Not really long.

Last summer, when my daughter had a reading list, we bought the books in June, and she read them in August.  My wife was annoyed she waited so long.  I was just glad my daughter didn’t lose them between June and August.  A lot of stuff happened (we moved… that was the “lot of stuff”) where she could have lost them.

I’ve never been a fan of summer reading lists for adults either, even when the lists are optional.   Summer is that time of year when magazines and websites come up with their own lists of what people should read.   I used to check out the lists to see what I’ve read and what I haven’t read, but after a while, most of the lists seemed a lot alike.  Almost everything had To Kill a Mockingbird on it.  I don’t know why summer reading is such a big deal.  Most of us have to work just as much in the summer as we do during the rest of the year.  At least, I do.  I’ll take a week-long vacation with my family, but I won’t get much reading done, except in the airport before the (legal) drugs kick in.

I don’t have a pre-planned summer reading list anymore.  Years ago when I did, I’d quit most of the books and feel like a failure (except when I lied and told everybody that I’d actually finished them, and their admiration temporarily made me feel better).  It was as if every book I put on the list was cursed.  Now, I don’t make my summer reading list until September, when I go back and chronicle all the books I read over the summer.  This time, I only include books that I finished.  The others go on the NON-reading list. I hope the reading list is longer than the NON-reading list, but it doesn’t really matter.  You usually know after a few pages if you’re going to like a book or not.

My daughter also has to complete a math packet over the summer, but this doesn’t bug her as much, even though she likes reading more than she likes math.  The math is more like a refresher to keep students from forgetting the basics.  Between reading the books and completing the reports, the reading list will take much longer.  Even as I write this, she’s cursing the summer reading list (but she doesn’t know I can hear her).  I don’t blame her.  I don’t like summer reading lists either.


What do you think?  Should my daughter read a book she hasn’t read?  Or should she be allowed to select a book she’s already read?  Should I tell my daughter to watch her language in the house, even when she doesn’t think I can hear her?  Do you (or your children) have to complete a summer reading list?  How do you (or your kids) react to a summer reading list?


Here’s a book that every student would love to have on his or her summer reading list:

Now available on Amazon!

Now available on Amazon!

  1. Kids these days! lol

  2. I like your thought process on the issue. My personal opinion, let her use her advantages. I’m an avid reader myself. I had to do these same lists back in high school. It makes life much easier to take advantage of what you have. To me, there is nothing worse than reading an uninteresting book. Its pure torture. Even if it’s something she’s already read, it’s not like she can’t go back and read into it for fact checking.

  3. sgramblingconfessions permalink

    I never actually read the books on the lists- I read books not on the list and turned in reports … and still got an A. (I was 11 when I read Go Ask Alice and wrote a report on it; my teacher was floored) so I’m only now going back and giving myself a “summer reading list” of those books I was supposed to read (Mark Twain, Aldous Huxley, Jane Austen). I cheated and read the Cliff’s Notes. That’s pretty cool the school has given her options of classics and new contemporary books. and only 2? has she considered theater? 🙂 the fact she likes to read on her own is a bonus but let her use her advantages. just fact check for the report (don’t watch the movie for ‘facts’)!

    • You did a book report on Go Ask Alice? Ha ha! I’m surprised your teacher didn’t send you to the counselor to talk about your feelings. Or did your teacher do that?

      I hope my daughter doesn’t read Go Ask Alice (at least not for a couple more years).

      • sgramblingconfessions permalink

        nah she was just floored that I read it, understood it, declared I’d never do drugs (which I haven’t) and moved on. I only read it b/c she said I was too young to understand the content. Proved that old hag wrong.

  4. I think she should read a new book. Two books in a summer is nothing. Hopefully something on that list inspires her. I loved reading at that age, but generally hated the assigned readings. The Red Badge of Courage was probably the worst among the books I was forced to read.

  5. Read a new book, of course!

  6. In Australia, most of our schools (all the ones I’ve taught at or attended) don’t assign reading lists, so I have no experience with summer required reading. However, I do think she should be able to benefit from her previous reading, and reread one of the books she has read before, if she really enjoyed it. As for the classics, maybe if a parent showed some enthusiasm for whichever book she chose – maybe by discussing it (if you’ve already read it) or reading it, she might feel like her reading list isn’t such a chore because other people have chosen to read it. 😉

    • If I’m going to read a book with her, I hope she doesn’t choose Little Women. I have nothing against Little Women. It’s the only one I haven’t read, and I don’t really want to read an unfamiliar classic this summer, and I’ve earned the right to not have to read books that I don’t want to read.

      But I guess I’d read a book to help my daughter. I’ll practice saying that with more enthusiasm.

  7. My opinion is always that while it’s good to read classics, people should read what they enjoy. I don’t use reading lists, mostly because I have such a long list of books to read anyway and I’m not that fast of a reader anyway.

  8. She should read a new book. I would go with Tom Sawyer, that is probably the most entertaining of the three. I don’t agree with summer reading lists. Summer is for kicking back, sleep-overs, bike rides, summer trips. Schools should leave the kids alone for the summer. We have such a short time during our lives when we actually have summer vacations, the kids should be allowed to relax. Too much pressure on kids today. You should tell your daughter to watch her language, at all times, and everyone else in the house should as well. It is only fair. Like my husband used to say to the kids when they swore, Godammit, stop cussing.

  9. Laughed at most of this post but especially liked Hemingway phot and quip. My daughter and daughter make their kids ages 4 -10 do homework or read daily. I stayed home with babysitting kids and my own as a single Mom and we entered library activitis and they got stickers on a firm or stamped each time they read a book. All kids read at least one book a week or one chapter book every 2 weeks. It really was one thing my parents encouraged. We had matinee movies once a week, pool 3 x weekly and books came to pool in their backpacks. I think it is always best to let parents decide best actions. Happy summer (soon.)

  10. I let my kids read whatever they want, so far it’s worked. One of them got started on Charles Dickens over the summer before second grade. Then again, my dad thought “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and “Flowers for Algernon” were perfectly appropriate books to read young children for bedtime stories so you might not want to listen to my opinion.

  11. The minute I suggest (merely gently hint) that a book is good, my kids make a point of not reading it. I imagine it’s even more so when schools assign it. Luckily, their school doesn’t, just encourages them to read as many as possible over the summer. They always end up reading at least 6.

  12. N@ncy permalink

    2 books on a summer reading list? Piece of cake in my estimation! Personally,I think daughter should read a new book. But rereading has its advantages too. I would give her a reading chore: find literary devices in the book: alliteration, paradox, irony, personification. I love to do that myself!
    Ruined summer: my book was Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. My mother ended up reading it and took notes to help me. I hated the book!

    • I know what you mean about Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. One or two stories at a time are okay, but reading a whole book of that at one time (or within a short period of time) can be brutal. At least it wasn’t Bullfinch.

      I like your idea of looking for literary devices while reading, especially with the classics.

  13. …and I thought school’s tough here in Germany. At least we normaly don’t have homework over summer hollydays. Well, once or twice there was a book to read during vacation. Did it the last evening before school, the reading and the report. Somehow it worked well enough (and got me a temporary sleep deficit, but I knew I could, so I did).

    And, though I don’t know the intention of reading lists in your schooling system, I’d suggest: Let her do the contemporary report according to her choosing alone. Maybe it won’t even hurt, when she does it solely on memory, and see what happens – if it’s a success, that’ll be good news about her memory faculty; if it’s flawed, that’ll be a valuable lesson on how the mind can trick you at times (if marks are involved and to be worried about, you could check her report, just to make sure). You see: Nothing is more secure to disencourage a child from reading, than making a duty of it – espacially, when they read a lot voluntarily.

  14. kenyonarcopeland01 permalink

    Reblogged this on kenyona "kc" copeland and commented:
    My father always taught me to read, even when school was out. What person wouldn’t want to take advantage of expanding their imagination, and vocabulary comprehension? I sure ’nuff would!

  15. Not any more and never again. I read compulsively, omnivorously, constantly. I have anxiety attacks if I do not have books close by and available instantly. That being said, books that people give me and want me to read and comment on, book lists given by school or book clubs are impossible. Procrastination sets in and the ordeal looms and then I begin to hate the person, place or thing that has ruined reading for me. Something like this can put me off a book for life. I would say let her do a summer report on a book she read for pleasure. She will get nothing out of a book read for any other purpose and might lose her chance at thinking books are a guilty pleasure to be indulged at every opportunity. When you have to fight to find the time to read is when you truly appreciate books.

  16. A curse indeed! Tell you what. I didn’t read any, and I mean any of the classics until I became an adult. I hated reading as a child, but now I am a writer and have fallen in love with many of the classics. BUT when I was a kid, I just have this hunch that I would have been much more enthralled with reading had someone told me about audiobooks. Come to find out that fits my learning style so much better and I retain a lot more information. I am convinced that you still get all the benefits of reading, except perhaps exchanging a few visual elements for a few listening elements. In school these days people try to shove everybody into this tiny segment of learning styles that forsakes all the other learning styles as ‘wrong,’ and ‘nonexistent,’ but is acquiring the information the important part, or is the possession of the information itself the important part, regardless of how that information was acquired? Cliff and spark notes? Still gotta read them, but not audiobooks. (I know it wasn’t in your list, but Count of Monte Cristo took 40+ hours of listening! We had to read that in high school; I never did. That’s a lot of dang reading for anybody, a full work week, even!) Anywho, just giving my experience. Everybody is different!

  17. Can I ask what grade your daughter is in and if you have read all the books on the reading list? At least one of those books is reserved for “grown ups”. If your comfortable with that list perhaps you might also consider Animal Farm by George Orwell, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde, and Native Son by Richard Wright. Best Arlene

  18. Reblogged this on farida66.

  19. One of the perks of being a reader is getting to dip into your bank of pre-read books when you have a book report due. I picked up on that trick at some point as a kid and never looked back. If she does the book report right, she’ll at least have to do some research she wouldn’t otherwise have done, I would think.

  20. My daughter moved last summer from UK to Spain. She is 14 and the new classs where working on Animal Farm which she read the previous summer. This meant she lost interest in the book and did not do as well in her analysis than the previos year when she read the book for first time.

  21. I’m in college and just out of the period of assigned summer reading, so I sort of understand her position. I would definitely say not to worry about her rereading a contemporary book — if she wants to reread Harry Potter, more power to her in my opinion. I’d recommend instead bringing her to a bookstore and letting her pick out a classic book that she’s interested in, possibly by an author she’s already read. In my experience, it’s best not to let reading become a chore — let her enjoy an Agatha Christie novel or something fun like that!
    Also, about the language thing — to be honest, I just started following you and know very little about you, but I always think it’s better not to condemn any form of expression. Make sure she understands when it’s not okay to use that sort of language (like against another person or at school). I think you might find that you have a closer relationship with her if she feels able to be herself around you.
    Good luck!

    • Hi Christa,
      I actually came back on here to like a few comments but there isn’t a button (oh well). I did a lot of reading when I was younger actually more than my share. I’m assuming its because I liked it but when I started reading for work my desire to read serious articles waned, slightly. Anyway, for those that are following do any of you find your interest in a book piqued after watching a film? I often question why the director chose to depict characters a certain way or something is left unexplained etc. There is always more in the book and sometimes I watch the movie again to see what they did with it. All Rights Reserved.

      • Hey there! I typically have the opposite experience — I read a book and then see if there’s a movie of it afterwards. I tend to put off seeing a movie based on a book if I know I’ll want to read it sometime. Right now, actually, I’m reading Far from the Madding Crowd so I can go see the movie. 🙂

  22. I hate reading lists. You get more out of a book if you read what you want when you want to read it. That said I read constantly, as does my husband, and in consequence, my son who doesn’t read yet asks us to read to him constantly.

    • My thoughts exactly. The moment I see a reading list I get a mental block…. 😉 I read all the time but the books I pick up are those that appeal at the time.

  23. I am an adult with no kids and a gotta-be-read-otherwise-you’ll-feel-lost book list for summer. As a teacher, I don’t like the idea of giving assignmens on reading books which particularly would lead my students to have a huge prejudice on reading not only for fun but also for common wisdom. They would see it as a burden which would ruin their summer, they would start disliking reading and hence, the ultimate hatred to obligatory reading seeds itself on their minds.

    I let them create their own lists by going to a bookstore and letting them choose the book(s) they actually want.

  24. Anonymous permalink

    Le her curse as long as she thinks you can’t hear her. Make her re-read a favorite from the contemporary list and choose a classic. It’s normal to complain and it won’ hurt her to read 2 books over and above the ones she will read for fun. Check with your local library for summer reading programs. Maybe she can use the time she spends reading for school (and for fun) earning prizes!

  25. Hey, DL, thanks for the fun blog. I spent a good decade fruitlessly arguing against the summer reading requirement at the high school where I teach, but I finally caved in when they changed it from one book to selections from a list of 15-20 books. The odd mix of “classic” and “contemporary” titles on your daughter’s list make me think she’s in elementary or middle school. Brave New World and Tom Sawyer require way more context than Little Women, and probably shouldn’t be suggested for an age group where The Lightening Thief is a contemporary option. I hate to see students hating Mark Twain just because they had to read him before they could get his humor. When they’re old enough to read Letters from the Earth or Roughing It, they’re old enough for Twain. There are usually a couple of books on a book list that a semi-willing reader can tolerate, but your kid doesn’t have to read those books. She can easily put together a “book report” for the ancient titles on the list. The main issue is to keep her reading what she likes. I hope she’s read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian!

  26. Reading is Fundamental. Remember? At least she gets a choice, so there is freedom there. They sent us an email, saying, “Make sure your kid reads a book over summer and is prepared to discuss it in 7th grade.” So ours is much more vague. Mine thinks his book on Minecraft will count. We’ll see.

  27. I hated being assigned reading lists over the summer. Mainly because I had already made a list of all the books I wanted to read but hadn’t had time to read during the school year! Plus I hated the reports we were assigned, they were always super specific of what they wanted you to write about, and I just wanted to write about however I personally related to the novel or subject matter. But I was always a horrible student and only did the assignments that I felt truly benefitted me or helped me to learn something better, which I’m sure my teachers greatly appreciated…

  28. kmcclellan94 permalink

    Most kids think that reading lists are torture, especially during the summer. It’s supposed to be a time to relax and spend time with friends and family, not to do more school work. But as an avid reader, I love reading lists. Any added reasoning to read is welcome, no matter what books are required. That being said, I would say she should read a new book. Any way you look at it, you only gain. It’s like a vacation without leaving your house and you get to learn at the same time. Book reports are a completely different story. If she isn’t interested in the book, she’s going to have a difficult time writing about it. That being said, it wouldn’t be completely frowned upon for her to reread on of the books she has already read to write the report. Maybe get her to try a new book before she uses an old book.

  29. underdeepwater permalink

    I never had reading lists but I always did the library programs and I read all summer long (as well as during the school year). I don’t think it’s a bad idea to give a reading list as long as there is a choice as it probably saves the teachers from picking one or two of them to ruin for all the students by doing them during the school year and that makes it ten times worse. I really like audio books because you can listen to them while you’re doing other things like commutes, walks, doing crafts. It’s no different then having you read the book to her and she might find that more enjoyable.

  30. As a high school English teacher, I’d be happy just to know my students can/will read during the school year. Summer reading lists are like unicorns, fairies, and living on Mars: nice to dream about, but not part of our reality. Our English faculty meet every once in a while to dream about a world where students would actually do a reading assignment over the summer, only to leave dejected when we realize it simply isn’t going to happen with enough regularity to be meaningful. The students who are already readers will do the assignments; the others will be happy to take a failing grade.

    If you have a child who willingly reads, treasure her! She’s part of a dying sector of teenaged humanity. True confession time here: As a teacher, I’m not doing homework over the summer; realistically, why should I try to force my students to? Most of them work full time summer jobs, many of which help pay family bills.

    Just encourage your daughter to keep reading for pleasure. Sometimes, I feel that too much pressure to read in school dampens the pleasure that children can get from reading for fun. I know the point of summer reading programs is often to spur students to enjoy reading in a less pressure-filled time than the school year, but I doubt that it really works. Yes, I’m an English teacher. Really.

    • My daughter would probably say you’re one of the cool teachers.

      As for the summer reading list, my daughter has just finished reading the books, but now she doesn’t want to do the projects.

      • Your daughter should tell my students. I’m known as one of the b!t@hy ones at my school! I mean, I actually–gasp–make them behave and take essay tests.

  31. I used to cheat on these reading lists when I was a kid too, but I didn’t feel guilty about it because I was using the extra time to dig up better and new books on my own. I hated being “assigned” anything, and I think it’s not too bad to just come up with your own reading list. More independence, you know? As long as your daughter’s reading SOMETHING:)

  32. We don’t have reading lists in my neck of the woods, thankfully. So in this case I am with your daughter – summer is meant for doing nothing, not homework.

  33. The problem with summer reading lists is that they teach kids to hate reading. No one likes doing something they have to do. They should forbid the students from reading books over the summer and then they’ll all do it willingly. School is where the love of reading goes to die.

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