Summer Reading

In the spirit of Independence Day weekend, I started cleaning and otherwise organizing my office. I even started fixing the files … and in the process, found my Record of Personal Reading; An Invitation to Personal Reading Program (Scott, Foresman and Company, 1967) filled with notes and reviews; a mimeographed copy of a Suggested Reading List that is described as “all-inclusive…[and] contains titles the authors have used in their Advanced Placement English classes” (broken out by genre); and my personally created “Terry’s Summer Reading List” for both 1981 and 1982.

So, when I read Jennifer Armstrong’s In Praise of Lists over at I.N.K., and then I read the Summer Reading Rant at the Reading Zone, I had a nice laugh as I started wandering down memory lane.

The Record of Personal Reading is a treasure trove.The booklet is dated 1967, but I would have been in pre-K that year (if there had been such a thing), so I can date it to 1971. Essentially, this is a guided journal with questions about various aspects of books and reading, including a genre list that gives you a chance to say what you think about each one. There are two pages about the Dewey Decimal System, card catalog cards (title card, subject cards) and how to find books in the library. And there are plenty of guided book review spaces. My favorite author? Lois Lenski. The famous people I admired? Helen Keller. I wrote a whole page about her based on reading The Biography of Helen Keller, and compared her to Laura Bridgeman, who, like Helen Keller had Scarlet Fever at age two.

I loved a book called Trina Finds a Brother by Berit Braenne. In my review (age 8): “It’s about a little girl who goes to Africa with her father who is the captainand her mother and she sees this little orphan boy in the street in a box with sacks to cover him. On her birthday she asked the boy to be her brother.” Did it influence my life and becoming an adoptive family when we got married? Don’t know … I had completely forgotten about reading Mulberry Music by Doris Orgel … but I remember it now. It is also a book I wanted to own back in third grade!

The lists from 1981 and 1982 are fascinating. Detail-oriented as I am, I even have the number of pages and start and end dates. Ah, those lazy college summer days! So what was I reading? In 1981, I was devouring lots of Irving Stone: Love is Eternal, The President’s Lady., et al. Most of those books took just a few days. The Decameron of Boccaccio by Giovanni Bocaccio? Well, that took more than two weeks. In 1982, it was lots of Victorian Lit: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert; Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone; Silas Marner by George Eliot and The Red and the Black by Stendhal, to name a few.

Some things do pass into history. The Mulberry Music is only available through used book dealers, and most are marked “former library copies.” Both Scott, Foresman and Company and my elementary school (Maiden Choice Elementary, Arbutus, MD) are defunct. But the idea of reading lists live on, and as I can see from my own history, need to evolve.

Reading lists shouldn’t look a collection of books a teacher picked out because that’s what she read 20 years ago! In 1982, I was clearly reading from summer lists related to my major. They were appropriate reading for college … and most likely the only time I’d have enough time to savor them as literature. But that’s the exception to the summer-reading rule. Summer reading lists (or any reading list, really) should have titles that will engage readers in the joy of reading … in their space and time, not yours! Yes, there are classics. But who says they have to be your classics? There are modern classics, too.

The Reading Zone has an excellent idea about creating annotated reading lists … tell the kids what about the book makes it worthy of the list. I have another idea … Let the last English project of the year be a class project: ask the “graduating” class which books they would want their successors to read.

I am probably too old to think that a simple tool like the Record of Personal Reading would work with today’s youth. Out there, somewhere is someone with the savvy to make something like that guided reading booklet work for today’s kids. I sure hope so, because there are kids who are list-makers in training. Someday, they will love reading that old list on a lazy summer afternoon.

One response to “Summer Reading

  1. Thanks for sharing, Terry! I know a lifelong list-maker, and he gets much joy from looking back over some of the lists from childhood (one list involving Halloween candy is priceless). It does seem like there should be a way to tap the potential of kids who like lists to get them to share their book lists with others, or with their own future selves…

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