Friday, July 13, 2012

Remember those summer reading assignments?

Whether you loved or hated them, they were almost always there...a nagging reminder while you were in the pool playing Marco Polo, cracking the bat in a pick up game of baseball, and licking up all the ice cream before it melted that idyllic summer couldn't last forever.

Over the last ten years, my assignments have become that reminder for hundreds of students. There is plenty of controversy, as always, concerning summer reading, because, well, because anything involving education is fraught with contention. Some people say that the reading is a way to stop a malleable mind from regressing over the two month break, it is a necessary benchmark assessment. Other's argue that it is unfair to assess a student on something that lacked direct instruction, that summer is family time, and as I have too often heard, children simply do not have time to read a book over the summer. They were on vacation.

Wherever you stand on the issue, summer reading exists.

This year, my incoming 10th graders can choose their summer reading from a prescribed list grouped around a theme. Students taking the Enriched level (that's college prep or standard for ya'll) need to read one book. Honors level students need to read two books, one from the list everyone reads and another from a second prescribed selection.

A lot when into the culling of the offerings. I considered interest, Lexile, location, author, genre, time period, and on and on. I hope that the students have, at the very least, given the book a try and aren't begrudging me the time spent out of the water during their few weeks of freedom. I'm revisiting several of the books too, so I'll be fresh for discussion with my readers (and savvy enough to catch those who used the Sparknotes edition).

As far as assessment, it will be a homework assignment, not a quiz or a test, and will be used mainly for my instructional purposes and I see what needs my individual students have in terms of reading comprehension and writing.

Without further ado, I give you my lists and would love to know what you think. Which books would you select? Will you read any of them this summer? What was your favorite or worst summer reading back in the good ole days?
Theme: The Individual vs. Society:
Enriched and Honors English II must choose one book to read from this list.

600L* The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live.**

770L Feed by M.T. Anderson
For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon — a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires.

850L Paper Towns by John Green
Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life — dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge — he follows. After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues — and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.

890L Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Nowadays firemen start fires. Fireman Guy Montag loves to rush to a fire and watch books burn up. The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were burning — along with the houses in which they were hidden. Then he meets a seventeen-year old girl who tells him of a past when people were not afraid, and a professor who tells him of a future in which people can think — and Guy Montag suddenly realizes what he has to do.

910L Don Quixote by Miquel de Cervantes
Don Quixote has read so many books about knights and wizards, damsels and elves, he's gone completely bonkers and wants to be a knight himself. But the only person who takes him seriously is the village idiot, Sancho Panza. Ignoring the jeers of their friends, the two set off on an amazing adventure.

Theme: War and Its Aftermath
Only students in Honors English I must choose one book from this list.

730L The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Set during World War II in Germany, The Book Thief is the story of LieselMeminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist: books.

780L On the Beach by Nevil Shute
The story is set in what was then the near future (1963, approximately a year following World War III). The conflict has devastated the northern hemisphere, polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout and killing all animal life. The only part of the planet still habitable is the far south of the globe, and even these areas are slowly succumbing to radiation poisoning as the fallout continues to circulate southwards. Even in this wasteland, however, some hope still exists.

830L All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other—if only he can come out of the war alive.

910L In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
This is the story of the four Mirabal sisters during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. The sisters make a political commitment to overthrow the Trujillo regime. They face a multitude of challenges in reaching their goal: they are harassed, persecuted, and imprisoned, and their family suffers retaliation from the Military Intelligence Service.

1100L Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
This story is the tale of Scarlett O'Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, in the pages of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell brings to life the unforgettable characters that have captured readers for more than seventy years.

* The numbers represent Lexile scores. For information about Lexile, click here.
**These summaries are from and/or

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