Assigned reading equals summertime blues in my book

Dad Days of Summer: While Momania’s Theresa Walsh Giarrusso takes a vacation, local dad and sportswriter Andy Johnston will be filling in. You can e-mail him at

A quick Google search showed me something that I hadn’t thought much about because we haven’t reached this stage with Ty, who will be in kindergarten this year.

Two questions:

  1. When did teachers begin assigning books for their classes to read over the summer?
  2. Whatever happened to summer vacation?
Andy and his son Ty.

Andy and his son Ty.

At one high school, the advanced placement English class must read “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck and “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer and then study essays that other people wrote about those books.

Another high school assigned “Lord of the Flies” to sophomores, “The Scarlet Letter” to juniors and Aristotle’s “Poetics” – have they made a movie of that? – to juniors and “King Lear” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to seniors. In addition, the students were expected to write lengthy answers to questions about the books and journal about them, providing “reactions, analysis, and interpretations of your reading.”

Another school assigned two books to students in the regular English classes and told the AP students that they must read those two in addition to their other reading.

I’ve always read a lot, which pleased my mom, who was a teacher, but I probably didn’t read anything other than the sports section during my summers in high school. I couldn’t have given you a reaction, analysis or interpretation of anything other than reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes” or “Gilligan’s Island.”

Most of my friends tore up their notebooks and left the pieces on the bus on the last day of class.

I didn’t take AP classes in high school, but knew plenty of kids who did and don’t remember them ever having to read anything on summer break. Theresa, who is several years younger than me, said she had to read books over the summer for her AP world history classes.

I think it’s ridiculous to ask kids to assign kids to read over their summer break. What do you think?

Is it limited to AP classes, or do other students have to read all summer?

Are your kids doing their assigned summer reading? What are they reading?

Do you think it’s fair that they are expected to read during their so-called summer break?

What did you have to read over the summer when you were in school?

- By Andy Johnston, for the Momania blog

68 comments Add your comment


July 18th, 2011
6:03 pm

I got reading lists myself and dealt with it. Either read the book or buy the Cliff Notes.


July 18th, 2011
6:50 pm

I’m a science and math nerd (Engineer) that loves to read. Reading is my favorite thing to do to relax. So summer reading lists were no big deal. The books were not to my tastes, as I remember, but I read them and did whatever assignments and kept it moving. I can see why this would be hell for kids who absolutely hate to read. I don’t think people who hate to read are any less intelligent than those who love to read. I don’t think they are necessarily limited in imagination…or whatever excuse people use to try and “force” the love of reading on people. I happen to think science projects over the summer would be a good idea but parents who don’t like science would have a fit about it.

Zachs Mom

July 18th, 2011
7:16 pm

If we had year round school this wouldn’t even be a topic for discussion. Working moms who have to pay the babysitter all summer long and haven’t had time to read a book in years might be the only one to vote for year round but welcome to the real world. I haven’t had more that 3 days off in a row for the last 10 years.


July 18th, 2011
8:02 pm

God forbid we use our brains on summer break! Believe it or not, reading skills are important for success in school. Forget “summer” reading – you should read all year long!


July 18th, 2011
9:17 pm

my kids had summer reading and they also read the books they wanted to. they are major readers as am i…i guess they saw me reading so much they figured it must be fun lol…my whole family are readers…never had to be ‘made’ to read. as far as why not science projects etc…well…1st of all most parents arent trained to help their kids do science projects. 2nd…if a person can read and understand what they are reading the sky is the limit! if you can read you can do about anything you put your mind to.
i am cramming in fiction this summer before fall semester starts…lots of advanced psychology and sociology classes on the agenda and THAT is a lot of heavy reading. im going to miss my fiction.
mjg–im not a huge movie watcher either-but i will probably watch ‘the help’…i loved that book.


July 18th, 2011
9:18 pm

My kids have assigned summer reading since elementary school. The problem with block scheduling in high school is when you have your English class in January. There is the Christmas break, but not as much time to do that “summer” reading.


July 18th, 2011
9:57 pm

For the person who said that summer for metro Atlanta schools is barely 2 months, I invite you to look at the Fulton County schedule, which is a whopping 11 weeks. And yes, I’m one of those heretical moms who thinks that’s too long and who heaven forbid encourages her child to read and yes, even do a math workbook during the summer. The horror. No wonder the U.S. is lagging in math, science and so many other things. When kids get 11 weeks off and parents are not encouraging them to at least pick up a book to read for fun, we have only ourselves to blame when other countries overtake us in every subject.


July 18th, 2011
10:21 pm

I didn’t say we don’t encourage my children to study during the break. We do. My daughter reads grade level books every day. My four-year-old either works on his numbers and letters, or he dictates a story to my wife.

My point was that I didn’t agree with April’s sentiment that by assigning books to read you can make a kid love reading. That’s not a logical premise anymore than hypothisizing that forcing a kid to unclog toilets daily will make him love plumbing.

My other point was that I find it interesting that it’s usually only literature that gets assigned for the time off. This seems to be the area we struggle in least.


July 18th, 2011
10:30 pm

MJG, with all the traveling you do, I bet you’d really enjoy a Kindle or Nook. It’a a nice, streamlined way to take several books on the plane and the display on the b/w e-ink models is wonderful. I think they’re pretty easy to use — certainly no harder than using a GPS.


July 19th, 2011
3:04 am

I spent many a summer reading to my heart’s content. My oldest easily reads 3-4 books a week. My youngest reads at least one a week. I have spent part of the summer working on spelling for the youngest while the oldest plays a math-based game. For this most part this is all by choice and not an assigned task. I have issue with the school making an assignment over the summer. Suggested reading? okay. Extra credit? sure. It’s the fact that middle schools five miles in either direction do not share the same requirement. How does that work?


July 19th, 2011
9:40 am

@jarvis In high school, many subjects assign either summer reading according to content area or a summer project/lab. If you are in an AP class, expect multiple assignments. I think it’s great your four year old is using his summer wisely. That is such a precious age. The thing that made me love reading and also happens to be one of my fondest memories, is when my father would take me to the library and let me pick any books I wanted. We’d go home and read them together. I would see my dad reading all the time and I wanted to be like him. Being a bookworm might have gotten me teased through adolescence, but it certainly helped get me through grad school!

Warrior Woman

July 19th, 2011
11:04 am

Last summer, my oldest had a total of 18 books with journals and/or reports assigned for summer reading. Not only is this excessive, most of the materials was never touched or referenced in the school year.

Cobb MS Teacher

July 19th, 2011
12:12 pm

Another awesome topic! I graduated in ‘83, and I had assigned reading – I still remember hanging out at a park reading “Catch-22″ the weekend before school started, lol. I was a reader – spent the better part of my summers at the library, but I hate-HATE-HATED!!! being told what to read, and really HATED whatever assignment came along with it.

My kids didn’t have formal summer reading until high school – 2001 for my oldest daughter. However, I used to buy the Summer Bridge books for them throughout elementary, and they would do a page a day when it got too hot to play outside, before TV or going to the pool. I never made them read, but we took part in summer activities at the library and they read some for fun, my daughter more than my more active son. As a science person, I loved jarvis’ comment – I did a lot of nature stuff and kitchen chemistry with the kids, and that never seemed like work or school, for me or the kids.

I get the point of the assignments, but where do we draw the line? At what point do we value the more relaxing downtime? I don’t have an answer, and I somewhat suspect that the kids most in need of the remediation and reinforcement are the ones with parents least likely to ensure that they get it. I loved the idea of the more informal book discussions – not sure how it could be implemented at a larger school, but that’s a really neat concept.

Last thought – I had to laugh at the comment that mentioned Alas Babylon. I had to read that book in 8th grade and I hated it. I saw it a couple years ago in the library and for a lark I checked it out and reread it…it was pretty good! A little dated, to be sure, but as a fan of post-apocalypse fiction, I enjoyed it. Too funny, so now I’m going back and rereading some others as I remember them. Some of those turned out to be books my kids had to read as well – sometimes it’s not about doing the work for them, but having something interesting for you all to talk about – JMHO!


July 19th, 2011
1:37 pm

I think it’s math that the kids need to keep practicing during the summer. They can read for pleasure and keep up with that skill but it’s sad how much math skills they lose if they don’t do any math over the summer. All three of mine are doing timed tests a few times a week and working a math page or two (usually fun stuff like geometry, measuring or logic not long division or factoring).


July 19th, 2011
8:54 pm

I went to a school that taught me to enjoy education. I had parents that showed me they valued me and my education by the choices they made for that education. I had parents that read for enjoyment and taught me the value of reading as well. I didn’t have summer reading assignments. I went to the public library and signed up for their reading programs and kept myself busy during the summer reading (when I wasn’t out doing other fun things).

My parents didnt’ send me to a government prison for my education. Government schools don’t teach the value of education. I am not sure that they actually teach one even HOW to learn.

It is truly sad that summer vacation is seen by those who spend their days in prison (or send their children to those prisons) as a time to stop learning, or reading for enjoyment. I have no doubt that most homeschooled children and their parents correctly see every moment as an opportunity for learning – because that is what life is. Certainly as a child there is really NOTHING else to be doing besides learning.

But really what can you expect from a government system. The government caused the first great depression and learned nothing from it and so is repeating everything they did to make that situation the decade long horror it was. I mean if you can’t learn from something that horrible, how can you expect anyone in your system to understand the value of learning?


July 20th, 2011
12:51 pm

less readers = more idiots


July 21st, 2011
5:25 pm

First let me say I LOVE to read … always have, always will. My parents loved to read and passed that love on to me. I read today pretty much anything and everything I can, fiction and nonfiction alike, all the way from Harry Potter to presidential biographies and everything in between.

BUT, and I say this with only a few exceptions in mind, the assigned reading given during the summers in high school was NOT my idea of fun. I remember reading “Alas Babylon,” and “East of Eden” over one summer. I read “The Stranger” and “Lord of the Flies” the summer before my senior year, when I took AP English.

I think reading in and of itself is great, and encouraging reading over the summer is something that should be generally commended, BUT I’d like to see more choices given, as in students MUST read *something* but here’s a list of titles to choose from and students would be required to read one or two books from that list. Because, quite frankly, some of the required reading I had to do bored me to tears and I’m a natural-born reader. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for someone who isn’t inclined to enjoy it and/or has a learning disability or reading difficulties.

Having said that, a few of the books assigned in school I did end up truly loving. It was through school I discovered Pat Conroy. And I ADORE Pat Conroy. A few other books, I enjoyed the story, but had to wrap my mind around the style of writing, such as “The Scarlet Letter.” Good story, but of course the style of writing is so different than what we’re used to now.

So to me, encouraging summer reading is good, but choices in what to read (within reason!) would be nice.

Black and White Smiley Faces ☺☻

July 22nd, 2011
9:03 am

Summer reading assignments? How about something that actually counts for something worthwhile, like some technical skills, science, and/or other related subjects.

A 5 page summary of the character development of Moby Dick won’t prepare you for getting a job in the real world. Or any relevant at all, for that matter.