There's always a lot of debate about required summer reading for high school students. Should summer reading be required? The high school teachers who I know believe it's important to keep students reading during the summer—but many also tell me that a good percentage of students don't complete the assignment—even students who have enrolled in an Advanced Placement course! Some schools have resorted to asking parents and students to sign a contract stating that summer reading and assignments will be completed.
What to read? These lists can cause an uproar. This year, Waltham High School’s choice of All American Boys has been controversial. In the past, Pensacola High School’s One School/One book summer reading program was cancelled when their choice Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother became too contentious. There are many more examples. Google “summer reading high school controversy” to get page after page of hits.
In addition to classic literature such as Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, The Scarlet Letter, Rebecca, Brave New World, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and To Kill a Mockingbird, high schools assign an array of contemporary titles. Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, Ender’s Game, and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho appear on many required reading lists. This year, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr are making their first appearances on these lists.
In nonfiction, William Kamkwamba's The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricty and Hope, Outliers by Malcomb Gladwell, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Thank You for Arguing, and Zinsser’s classic On Writing Well are favorites.
Here's a sampling of required summer reading lists from public and private high school around the country:
- Oak Mountain High School
- Old Rochester High School
- Conwell-Egan Catholic High School
- Wesleyan School
- El Secundo High School
- Lowell High School
- Princeton Public Schools
- Grimsely Senior High School
If you’ve clicked and browsed through any of these lists, you've noticed that Thomas C. Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor is a summer reading favorite along with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Here, they meet in our First Page video series: Thomas C. Foster, a professor at the University of Michigan, leads students through the first page of To Kill a Mockingbird. Professor Foster shows students how the first page of a novel holds the key to style, point of view, narrative identity—and other important clues to what is to come. We hope you'll share this video with your students before they start their summer reading assignment.
For teachers who have assigned Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, make sure to share this video of Zora’s niece reading from the first pages of her aunt’s novel. Lucy Anne Hurston—a professor and chair of the sociology department at Manchester Community College—gives a reading that helps your students appreciate the beauty of the passages written in dialect.