Summer: The Season for Peaches
I was gratified a few weeks ago to find that the Language Arts Lead/Dept. Chair at the new high school where I will be the media specialist next year solicited my opinions when organizing the summer reading lists for our students. Not only was it wonderful to find that he is amenable to collaboration, but I was also thrilled that his philosophy of summer reading was so Peach-friendly.
At my prior school, a fabulous but hugely work-intensive summer reading program had just been taken off life-support machines this past year. I kept the patient alive for two years after both its Language Arts mama and its principal were long gone from the school—without strong widespread classroom and administrative support, a system that requires every teacher to read a book, make a test, host a book discussion, and deal with the grading paperwork is not likely to thrive. When the LA Dept. developed its new summer reading lists, they went the other way—if we want to make the summer reading decision a binary thing. They decided to choose works that they would like to see students read as a part of the upcoming year’s curriculum, when possible; that is, something American before Am. Lit; something British before Brit. Lit; something more global in scope before World Lit. That makes a kind of sense, no doubt, especially for a block schedule school that only gets 18 weeks of reading time with kids. However, I have always been, even when I did it as an AP Lit. teacher myself, confounded by the premise that we can get kids to read over the summer, on their own, books that they are unlikely to read and understand well without assistance. If they’re substituting Pink Monkey, Cliff’s Notes, and Wikipedia with such titles during the school year, why would summer more incline them to independent study?
So, back to my new school and Peach Book Nominees on summer reading lists: Suddenly, it was like Christmas, and someone was asking for my recommendations. I didn’t even really want to divide my suggestions into specific grade levels, with the exception of ninth graders, but you can’t have everything—where would you put it, right? I went through the twenty titles from the 2009-2010 list (SO much great fantasy on that one) and the new 2010-2011 list (this one is WAY more realistic) and took off a few I didn’t quite cotton to or hadn’t read or that didn’t do so great on the voting. I gave him some annotations and indicated whether I saw the book as a freshman offering or not. He used those Peach books with just a few additions to craft the lists. He explained that he sees summer reading as being for the purpose of actually getting kids to read a book (or more) in the summer, not primarily as a means to further specific curricular objectives. Peach Books aren’t chosen to be “good” for students, except inasmuch as reading is good for students. And it is good, or we wouldn’t all be teacher-librarians, true?
I think Peach Books are wonderful for summer reading because we do try to get a variety of books to appeal to a variety of students. Now that I’ve had the fun of blending lots of Peaches into a summer reading program, I’ve gotten curious about whether the Peach Book Nominees or winners have become a part of other school’s summer reading programs and how so. Suddenly craving a Peach smoothie—must be the blending thing. I always like to hear about how schools take grades for theses kinds of assignments. I also wonder where in the state public and school libraries do a good job of working in tandem to assure that reading happens and is supported during the break. Is there a way that the Peach Committee can help? My understanding is that school summer reading programs have NOT been shown to have a long-term effect on student achievement, so shouldn’t we evaluate what can be accomplished with summer reading and tailor our assignments to fit feasible goals? Let them read Peaches, I say.
Peach Committee Chair
Lanier High School