School Summer Reading: An Opportunity to Evangelize for Pleasure Reading

 

When it is difficult to determine who dislikes your high school’s summer reading program more – the students who have to produce evidence of having done their reading or the teachers who have to assess grudgingly penned essays – it is probably a wise idea to consider a revamp. Such was the case nine years ago at San Jose, CA’s Harker School. My then campus librarian and now director, Sue Smith and I longed to refocus our students’ summer habits on pleasure reading. We sketched out a plan and appealed to our head of school to take a leap of faith. ReCreate Reading, a program title that cued the philosophical shift toward the recreational, was born.

ReCreate Reading asks all teachers to select a book they would like to discuss with a small group of students. As librarians, we encourage sponsorship of popular mysteries, science fiction and fantasy appropriate for teens. Each spring we create a LibGuide that features a page for each title. Last year, we had over 70 books on offer. Titles ranged from intellectually challenging (Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup), to culturally significant (Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything), to awarding-winning YA (Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, E Lockhart’s We Were Liars), to pure fun (Erika Johansen’s The Queen of Tearling, Hugh Howey’s Wool). Students are required to register for one book, with upper classmen getting first shot at the 16 seats in a group.

Nowadays, surveys of teachers and students tell us that we annually enjoy over 80% genuine participation in spite of the fact that there is no assessment – no test, no required writing – for kids to face when they return to school in August. Beyond looking lame in a discussion group for not having made the effort – a status that attracts scorn from their peers – students have no fear of retribution regarding their reading commitment. Still, most of our students read.

Anecdotally, we regularly hear about groups where all participants have read their books and groans drown out the dismissal bell marking the end of the 45-minute discussion. My discussion with two teachers and 16 teens about Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle a few years back was easily one of my most rewarding experiences regarding a piece of literature – including my ten years as an English teacher before I earned my MLIS. My head of school made a beeline to my office at the conclusion of a Skype session with Columbine author Dave Cullen. “The bell rang and nobody moved!” he reported.

Even better are some the long-term benefits we have begun to observe. We announce the title choices with a dynamic slide show featuring cover art at a school meeting. At this much anticipated annual event, the faculty has come to enjoy students’ unmitigated cheers and whoops for titles by Orson Scott Card, John Green and Max Brooks – to name a few. In an appeal for suggestions for the program, students recently offered over twenty titles for next year’s list. Thinking they might veer toward the simple? Guess again. Students have asked for and our teachers snapped up Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime.

Ultimately, we believe that ReCreate Reading successfully did what we hoped it might. It leverages our teachers’ diverse and enthusiastic love of reading. It reinforces the same reading choices many of our students are already making and encourages those who might not otherwise be keen to engage with a great title over the summer months. ReCreate Reading unleashes reading habits to naturally social circumstances. Students sometimes select a book because their friend is reading it or because they admire the person who recommends it. These are all legitimate methods that avid readers organically employ all year long. Perfect for emerging lifelong readers and summer.

For more information about ReCreate Reading, Lauri created a ReCreating Reading LibGuide for program directors: http://library.harker.org/recreatereading . The most current LibGuide for students is at http://library.harker.org/read.

Lauri J. Vaughan is the upper school campus librarian at the Harker School in San Jose, CA. Her summer reading program, ReCreate Reading, won YALSA’s 2017 MAE Award for Best Literature Program for Teens. Vaughan writes reviews for VOYA magazine and serves as a judge for the Independent Book Publisher Association’s Ben Franklin Awards.

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