In the Wall Street Journal, writer Lee Siegel laments the passing of a once-cherished American tradition, the summer reading list. While past generations once spent at least part of their summer holidays tackling particularly challenging books, Americans of all ages are now much less likely to spend the final days of summer with their noses in a good book.
“For well over a century, Americans have looked to the summer not just as a time of travel and recreation but as a semi-sacred space in which books served as vehicles of enlightenment, enrichment and spiritual replenishment,” Siegel writes.
But the summer reading list still has one last stronghold in American life, in recommended and required reading lists for schools. Unfortunately, parents don’t always agree with the books recommended to their kids.
In Tampa, Florida, Clarissa Dane Hughes was disturbed to find that her 12-year-old daughter was reading Lightning by Dean Koontz, a science-fiction novel that contains strong language and violence. Because the novel was on a suggested summer reading list, the mom didn’t think twice about letting her daughter read it.
“It’s a list from Scholastic and so I assumed that it’s fine and that it’s going to be safe,” Hughes said. “We don’t let them go to rated R movies why would I let her read a rated R book?”
Hughes’s daughter found the book through Scholastic’s “Reading Counts!” program, which generates a personalized reading list based on the individual student’s reading ability. In this case, 12-year-old Cady was reading several years ahead of her grade level, and the program recommended material that she wasn’t ready to read.
“Parents can help their kids by first determining their child’s reading level and choose books based on their age,” says Scotty Sanders, Author of “Quest of the Keys.” “Next, read reviews online and ask teachers or other parents who have similar values for their ideas. Always remember, parents need to be engaged in every area of their teen’s life! A helpful resource is Common Sense Media. The site rates books in language, violence, sexual content, and adult themes. They also rate books by age and learning value and provide a “Top Picks” or recommendations.”
Studies have consistently demonstrated that young adults and teens are reading less than their older siblings and parents did at their age. And with many adults opting out of summer reading during their own leisure time, required reading lists for schools may well be one of the last, best tools for encouraging a new generation of eager readers.