At the school where I teach, there are two summer reading requirements: one for English class and one for our school-wide book circles.
The first requirement is for our ninth and tenth grade yearlong courses. For students entering our ninth grade World Voices course, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, is required. For sophomores entering our American Dreams, American Experiences course, students read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
The second requirement is my favorite. All of our high school students select another book based on faculty recommendations. Each fall, the entire faculty—yes, that includes science, math, history, English, foreign language, art, music dance, theatre, technology and media teachers—leads a book circle discussion with students who selected the book that teacher recommended. Selections are presented during an assembly in the late spring just before students head off for the summer.
When students return in the fall, they convene with their book circle leader for an entire period (50 minutes) to discuss their reading. What’s great fun about this tradition is that the book circles allow students to learn that reading goes beyond requirements for English class. Equally as important, it provides students the opportunity to see teachers who are outside the English department as readers and discussion leaders. Book circles ultimately build a reading community of teachers and students sharing and discovering books with each other.
To prepare students for their book circle selection, our amazing librarian Karyn Silverman (who tweets @InfoWitch), collects titles from each high school faculty member and arranges a dazzling slideshow of bookcover art for the annual spring assembly. During the assembly, teachers get on stage and booktalk their selection to the entire student body.
Talks include commentary on why we are recommending the book and why it’s worth reading. After the assembly, students walk out of our auditorium to find tables stacked with the very books they have just heard their teachers cheerlead. Our Parent Association and librarian organize the order and sale of books. Students can also check out the books at our school and local libraries.
Below find our 2010 selections. Can’t wait for our book circles in the fall!
- The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (vice principal/chemistry teacher rec)
- Going Bovine, by Libba Bray (librarian rec)
- A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess (technology teacher rec)
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid (media teacher rec)
- Up the Down Staircase, by Bel Kaufman (math teacher rec)
- Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson (English teacher rec)
- Giraffe, by J.M. Ledgard (photography teacher rec)
- The Lost Art, by Simon Morden (science teacher rec)
- In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin (history teacher rec)
- The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand (English teacher rec)
- The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (principal/English teacher rec)
- Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut (math teacher rec)
- The Visit, by Friedrich Durrenmatt (science teacher rec)
- I am an Emotional Creature, by Eve Ensler (life issues/dance teacher rec)
- Open: An Autobiography, by Andre Agassi (drama/tennis coach rec)
- My Life In France, by Julia Child (French teacher rec)
- Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (my rec, English teacher)
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan (technology teacher rec)
- Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, by Oliver Sacks (music teacher rec)
Note: Per yesterday’s post on the National Association of Scholars’ criticism of college summer reading selections having a “liberal bias,” my school is in good company: seven colleges have selected Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis as their summer reading selection; seven have selected Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma; four have selected Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, including Smith College, my alma mater (WuDunn will visit Smith in connection to the summer read); two have selected The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid and two have selected Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Finally, four have selected Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, which is in our ninth grade English curriculum.