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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Summer Reading Lists: A Ranty Rant

Summer reading lists in New York are strange creations.  I never had them when I was a kid, and somehow managed to avoid them entirely before moving to NYC.  Once I was there I learned that kids in Manhattan are given lists of books to read over the summer and that they spend June through August trying to track certain titles down.  We have such a wild variety of schools in the city that the kinds of lists presented to public librarians like myself vary immensely.  There are brilliant lists and there are bad lists.  Let’s talk about the bad ones then!  So much more fun.

I am sitting at the Reference Desk in the basement of Donnell (oh sole part of the library with air conditioning, how I love thee, how I dote upon thee) and up walks Adorable 11-Year-Old Child.  Adorable 11-Year-Old Child hands over a reading list of titles so old they make the picture I’ve included here look like a troupe of whippersnappers.  I stare at abject horror at the titles.  Consider, if you will, a list of historical fiction averaging between the years 1932 to 1950 and NO, oh no, not the good books from that era either.  Out of curiosity I check to see whether or not that old chestnut and my least favorite Newbery winner Daniel Boone by James Daugherty is there, and sure enough there it sits, grinning at me like some evil elf.  Heavens, I do not care for that book.  The Adorable Child has meticulously taken the time to make little notes next to each title, indicating preference (Boone, most fortunately, is not selected).  Almost all the books are out-of-print, particularly the ones he wants, but we still have quite a few of these titles in our room upstairs, so it’s no bother fetching them for him.  Just the same, I have to resist the urge to track down his teacher with the intent of throttling them thoroughly.  Aside from the fact that many of the titles on the list were picture books, this is just indicates poor research on the teacher’s part.  Often parents and kids will wander into my library with lists their teachers have copied out of old booklists from the past.  Book after book will be in our Reference section, because who in their right mind circulates a title from 1982 that only made it through a first printing and then was never seen or heard from again?

*pant pant pant*

Be sure to read a similar if different rant on the topic over at The Reading Zone, as well as the piece at Jen Robinson’s Book BlogShelfTalker also had a discussion up considering why YA novels are never listed on high school summer reading lists.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Chris VA says:

    Some years ago my school division decided to issue summer reading lists. They didn’t mention this to the public libraries who suddenly had lines of frustrated students and parents all clammering for the same books. The shock waves from that summer still reverberate. Since then we’ve gone to annotated lists of “suggested” titles, authors, and series and our school librarians have made concerted efforts in recent years to bring the teachers’ lists into the current century. What cracks me up now is the number of parents who bother me in MAY about when they can get the list. It’s a suggested list, the program is optional, the kids are in elementary school, and it is MAY for crying out loud!!! When did reading become such a chore?

  2. We’re so lucky in that the library and the school district work together to put the reading list out. Which means there are new titles on there, and that we have the list before the schools do, so we can be sure to have lots of copies.

    Of course, that doesn’t help with the private schools or the other area districts, but it helps…

    What I love is the book list I got on “Hope.” So poorly researched! It was for a 4th grade class and had a Lurlene McDaniel title that was aimed at older teens, some picture books, and some Bobbsey Twins (Because they were written by Laura Lee Hope. So, obviously, they are about hope.)


  3. The Pittsburgh city schools have required reading lists that go all year long, only it’s worse: every kid gets a “science calendar” with certain activities that have to be done for each week of the school year.

    Some of these activities require reading books: not just any book about, say, wind, but specifically Pat Hutchins’ The Wind Blew. That’s right: every kid in the city is required to read the exact same book during the exact same week of the year.

    Needless to say, our copy of The Wind Blew is noncirculating now. Parents are kinda good natured about it, but still.

    Sometimes, I wish teachers could “test run” assignments — try to complete them themselves — before handing them out. Not feasible, yeah, but still. The gap in partnership between schools and public libraries is too big.

  4. Here in Queens we get the leveled reading lists that have become my ARCH NEMESIS. Where do these titles come from?!? If they’re not ancient and out of print, then they are incredibly obscure. What gets me the most are the packs that have (I kid you not) around 150 titles on them, all typed up in 5pt font. C’mon, if you’re okay with the kids reading anything from this list of 150, how is that different from them reading from our CAREFULLY SELECTED collection. I feel like teachers no longer trust librarians.

  5. My city’s public school system is no better with reading lists – they insist on assigning books long since out of print (and long since weeded from our branch collections) without consulting the libraries.

    But I got the shock of my newly minted career earlier this week when a 6th grade girl trotted in with a private school reading list featuring none other than FOREVER by Judy Blume. Let that sink in for a minute. FOREVER. 6th grade. I mean, I’m pretty sure lots of kids read it at that age, but I was kind of surprised to see it on a list, especially alongside other titles that seemed to me way too emotionally mature for 11 year olds. Yikes.