We’d been planning it for weeks. My niece and I share a love of young adult fiction. We have a great time talking about books we’ve both read … recommending books to one another… waiting for new releases from our favorite authors. Last month I came up with an idea to formalize our shared interest a bit. We would choose a book together, read it at the same time, and discuss it as we went along. Kind of like the world’s smallest book club.
So we began with our go-to authors. Sarah Dessen? Nope. We’d both exhausted all of her titles. Susane Colasanti? I had only read a few, but my niece was up-to-date and the latest release wasn’t coming out till spring.
I stumbled upon a great book site called Epic Reads, which posted a blog entry called “The United States of YA.” The blog author created a cool map of YA books that took place in each of our 50 States. What a fun idea! My niece and I decided to choose the book from our home State of Connecticut – My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. It was exactly the kind of book we both liked and the reviews were positive.
Then I got a call from my niece that put our plans on hold. Her 8th grade English teacher had assigned a book to the class: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. This was not her genre, and she was finding the book pretty tough to slog through. Worried that she couldn’t split her attention, she asked if we could postpone our mini-book club. I could see how disappointed she was, but school had to come first. After all, my husband’s an English teacher. I understand the importance of reading the classics… of having students read the same book so they can discuss it and analyze it together.
Still I was struck by the fact that my niece was putting down a book she loved in order to read one that she hated.
Something similar happened to my older niece last year. She spent an entire agonizing summer trying to get through Great Expectations (required reading for incoming 9th grade honors students). Sadly she put away the stack of fun YA novels she had chosen to read over summer vacation, knowing she wouldn’t have time to read them.
Once again I was saddened to see a bright young woman putting away a book she loved in order to drag her way through a classic that brought her no joy. I wonder where the balance is here. If students can’t read for pleasure during the school year because of assigned texts, shouldn’t summer vacation be a sacred time for pleasure reading? How can we honor the valuable lessons to be gained from reading the classics while still fostering a love of reading in our children?
I’m asking Mark to weigh in on this one, from his perspective as a high school English teacher. You’ll see his thoughts in a future blog post. In the meantime I’d love to read your comments below.