Monday, June 29, 2015

"Required" Summer Challenge Reading

So I meant to write up some more apps as my next post but instead ... you're getting a rant. It's not eloquent. I don't have an eye-catching graphic to go with it. Sorry.

I think requiring kids of these ages it is a terrible idea. Required over the summer? Worst. Of course we want them reading. And we want them reading quality literature that will challenge their thinking. But ...

A going in to 5th grader reading Animal Farm?
A going into 7th grader ... well, maybe reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Maybe.
A going in to 9th grader reading 1984?

They're all great readers. But just like every day at school when I'd cringe if a parent insisted on a first semester first grader getting chapter books so they'd be challenged (and so they'd run over and pick out, for example, Skulduggery Pleasant) ... why? Those books will all still be there later. Great reader? READ MORE! Not necessarily UP. UP will always be there. You're not going to go back and read books you missed when you're 17, you know? Had a class of second graders that every week insisted on 39 Clues. Only one of them could ever tell me anything about the story the next week. I know, I know there were social issues at play there, too. It was just a constant delicate dance to get them to get at least ONE book that they could actually enjoy. I kept hoping more would realize "hey, wait a minute. This one is funny (or interesting or spooky) and I know what it's saying. I don't understand a word of 30 Clues. I want more of this one!" A couple did but not all of them.

I digress. Anyway. I know these three. I love these three. And maybe I am wrong and they will love these titles. Do you know of a kiddo that has loved any of these titles?

(And please don't think I am all rude at school and deny kids books they just think they LOVE and embarrass them and make the library an unpleasant place (cause I've had teachers do that and it breaks my heart). I just try very hard to make it a balance. If I know every single book in their hand is not one they are going to be able to finish I just try very hard to get them to change their mind on at least one ...)

So far my suggestions are not changing the "assignment." I just don't see a need for this. There are great, great, great books that were written in the past 20 years that are beautiful. What others would you add to the list?

1984-Want to discuss themes of power, warfare, technology, repression, loyalty, and memory?
The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau … The government that hid supplies from the people. Was that the right thing to do? Did the founders make the right choice sending everyone down below? How/why did everyone “forget” where they’d come from? See more discussion questions here, here, and here. Simple read for a 9th grader so she could concentrate more on the "issues." Plus it's summer. Pick her own books!)
The Giver (Lois Lowry See discussion questions here. Do NOT bother with the movie until after having read the book. They didn’t do a great job of it but that could lead to some great discussion there as well.)
Little Brother (Cory Doctorow … You can download it for free here. Cory Doctorow is one interesting dude. Google him or just poke around his website. Guided reading can be found here. Lots of tech jargon to muddle through but the story is scary in its believability)
Legend series (Marie Lu … See discussion questions here. Actually Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner all have possibilities for the same analysis of theme and making connections, though the actual writing is not as good)
Under the Egg (Laura Marx Fitzgerald … see questions here)

Animal Farm-Want to discuss themes of power, lies, dreams, religion, or equality?
The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate … looks like a simple read but LOOK AT THESE QUESTIONS. Why was it considered to be OK for them to take Ivan and put him in a concrete cage? Are zoos OK?)
Actually Crenshaw fits here as well, doesn't it.
The Family Romanov (Candace Fleming … was on our district summer suggestions. This page links to some great discussion questions and an interesting podcast about the research process. Now that I know who is reading what I wouldn't suggest this for a 5th grader. Or at least this one. But I'm leaving it here.)
The Long Walk to Water (Linda Sue Park … lost boys of the Sudan. See discussion questions here. Powerful, powerful, powerful story.)
Star Wars and Imperialism. There are some great lesson ideas/discussion questions that could be based around the movies and Rebels TV show (and the books, of course!). How could I not mention SW? ;) Good practice for looking for imagery. But there again … I’m sure some history review would be necessary for his age. It’s just really missing in today’s educational climate.

To Kill a Mockingbird-Want to discuss themes of race, justice, family, compassion, or fear?
Separate is Never Equal (Duncan Tonatiuh … picture book but part of a story that even here in TX. See some questions here)
Echo (Pam Munuz Ryan … I just finished it yesterday. I cried. I hate crying at books but so much of it was just so hard to read in terms of the topics. Nazi Germany? Orphans? Widows? Both Japanese and Hispanic Americans not treated fairly? See author’s note and discussion questions here.)
Revolution (Deborah Wiles … see questions here and an author interview here. Countdown is actually my favorite of the two but it is more focused on the Cuban Missile Crisis)
Brotherhood (AB Westrick … see here and here. )
Glory Be (Augusta Scattergood … I am embarrassed to say it was on our state list a year or two ago but it wasn’t that long ago I finally got to it. And it’s remarkably good! See some questions here and here.)
Every Day After (Laura Golden … still looking for good questions but believe me, it’s beautifully written and shows kids a time and place they wouldn’t know otherwise)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Jacqueline Kelly … see questions here and here. More about sex than race but I just finished book two and am dying to find out if Callie will get the education she wants so badly in a time/place that thought she should just learn how to take care of the house. Plus the writing is just so good!)


  1. Has there been nothing written in the last 50 years that could replace To Kill a Mockingbird. Ugh. My daughters and I all did NOT like that! That's the thing about required reading; there's no choice. Older daughter LOVED 1984 ( as well as Watership Downs), and younger one loved The Jungle (which still baffles me), but to make a group of diverse kids read ine book that's probably over A lot of their heads... sigh. Don't get it. That's why it's so hard to get the right book to the right child at the right time, and why we need librarians!

    1. It's where the "requirement" is coming from. Sigh. I mean, the intention came from a good place. But I think this particular plan should have been put on hold. Or scrapped entirely. :/