Summer Reading – required reading vs free choice

“Let My People Read” is  blog post by Donalyn Miller. She writes about her frustrations with summer reading lists from schools and says:

Summer is prime time for readers to dive into a series, research a topic that fascinates them, read every book they can find from a favorite author, or explore the stacks at the local library.

I completely agree with the sentiment that children, teens, anyone, should be free to read what they want. Reading levels, lexiles, contemporary=bad & classic=good (or vice versa)… none of that matters. If something engages you (and your brain), makes you think, laugh, feel anything – it’s good.

The best thing, my favorite thing, about the library is its non-restrictive view of books. To me, the library is a place where anyone can choose any book she wants, read it, put down, and take another.  I devour fiction but am pushing myself to read more non-fiction… but that’s my choice. I’ve taken a shine to graphic novels, ordering them from area libraries by the bucketful, because I wanted to (and I wish I had earlier – I’ve got so much catching up to do!). 

I don’t completely agree with Ms Miller about teachers ruining books by dissecting them. I am not one who writes in the margins, but I wish I was. I don’t automatically compare and contrast themes in the books I read, though it might be enlightening. I did enjoy my English classes in high school and college where we did do those things. In those classes, we had a teacher with who we could discuss and dissect books. My favorite was my 10th grade English teacher – we read Shakespeare, Milton, & Chaucer in her class. By reading as a group, stopping and discussing, giving back stories and histories, and side notes, I was able to get so much more out of the literature than I ever would have alone. 

Another teacher wrote a rebuttal-ish post, defending the close reading, group reading, etc, that takes place in schools:

I believe in giving kids ample choice in what they read, but I also believe in the power of shared literary explorations.  To me close reading, whole class book study, and so forth can be a joy not a horror.

To have both experiences with books is my wish for everyone. Think about it: a summer of freedom to enjoy stories, and then be refreshed for a school year of interesting historical and literary discussions… it wouldn’t get much better than that. 

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