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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Summer Reading Lists: Worst Titles Ever

Recently I was admiring two different but certainly related articles online.  The first was Mike Lewis’s Non-Required Summer Reading List, which is just the loveliest little PDF of fun summery read titles.  A great list in and of itself.

The second piece was the infinitely useful article How Teachers Can Create a Summer Reading List That Won’t Make Librarians Die or Children Cry: Unsolicited Advice from a Public Librarian.  That public librarian is Miss Ingrid Abrams, and when she talks about summer readings lists I know from whence she speaks.  You see, here in NYC, there is no over arching summer reading list.  Each individual teacher can come up with their own individual lists.  Sometimes, they’re brilliant lists of titles.  Well researched, fun, smart pairings of fiction and nonfiction.  But oftentimes you get something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 10.28.58 PM

This year THIS list is the bane of my existence.  This is one page of several from this school, and of those lists this is the good one.  The fact that Ms. Hesse’s Brooklyn Bridge is in the nonfiction section isn’t a surprise to me because it was in the nonfiction section last year and the year before that.  Yes.  I’ve seen this same list for three years in a row.  I don’t mind the fiction on this one, but the nonfiction titles slay me.

Or, as Ms. Ingrid puts it:

“Often, parents hand me lists so outlandish I’ve considered whether I was being featured on a really bad hidden-video reality show. They’re either really poorly organized or they contain titles that I know just by looking at them that we just don’t have. I’ve tried contacting schools and teachers, either by phone, email, or in person, and have had absolutely no luck. We have pre-written form letters that we send home with the parents (we call them “Dear Teacher” letters: Dear Teacher, Name of Child was unable to obtain this book due to 1) lack of copies 2) high demand 3) plague of locusts 4) flood of librarian tears, etc.) so that their children won’t get in trouble for not being able to access the books on the list. The letter has our contact info on the bottom, so the teachers and librarians can talk before the next summer comes around.”

We’ve tried our own strategies for combating problem before the summer hits, all to no avail.  Every year we see the same out-of-print books over and over again.  Birdland by Tracy Mack is unavailable people!!

After reading Ms. Ingrid’s post, though, I got curious.  Is this just a New York thing or do other public librarians around the country also find themselves in the weird position of having to check and see how many copies of The Well by Mildred Taylor are in the warehouse at Ingram?

So I put it to you, public librarians.  What are the most annoying titles to show up on a summer reading list?  Here’s a list of some of my own favorites that I’ve seen pretty darn recently:

Birdland by Tracy Mack


Back in 2005 I could have gotten you any number of copies!  Today?  Not so much.

The Acorn Eaters by Els Pelgrom


It came out in 1997.  It disappeared.  And then suddenly folks decided they just couldn’t get enough of it.

Sultans of Swat: The Four Great Sluggers of the New York Yankees

by The New York Times


Nope.  Can’t get it.  Just cannot.

Maxx Comedy by Gordon Korman


Surely Korman himself would admit that he has published books just as amusing, if not better, than this one.  Surely.

Those are my top four at the moment.  Any of your own bugging you?

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. Pam Quantz says:

    Missing Since Monday by Ann M. Martin is on the 2015 summer reading list here.

  2. Oddly, this reminds me of working in a public library in the 90s, when it was under attack by a small, but determined faction of book-challengers. They had a much-copied list of books they wanted removed from the library, including some science texts from the 70s and a few long-OOP novels, along with the usual suspects (Joy of Sex, etc.). If our tiny branch had *ever* had any of those books on the shelves, it certainly didn’t by the time they were 20 years old.

    I remember that The Group, by Mary McCarthy, was on my reading list in high school… in 1983 (it’s a book from the 60s that starts in the 30s–kind of like Class Reunion, but 20 years earlier). I had NO IDEA what the deal was with the hot-water bottles. Why would it be embarrassing to have a hot-water bottle in a box in your closet? (If you don’t know either, well–suffice it to say that the women of the 30s had some… er… interesting ideas about birth control.) It seems like such an odd choice. But hey, I found it for a dime on the spinner rack at my favorite thrift store, so at least I didn’t have to try to check it out of the library. I’m imagining some long-suffering librarian explaining for the 50th time that the whole system only had two copies of The Group; would I possibly be interested in, say, Lord of the Flies? 😉

  3. Stephanie Whelan says:

    We have a middle school teacher who has assigned. a list of about 6 nonfic titles to pick from. Two of the titles: Women Warriors: Myths and Legends of Heroic Women Hardcover by Marianna Mayer. And Golden Tales by Lulu Delacre are hopelessly out of print.

    I’ve seen at least ten kids with the same list.

  4. Jennifer says:

    My favorite is when every kid has to read the same book, and all the kids from the school come in looking for that one book of which we have two copies. I remember this from the two summers I worked at a large library in SC, and it was so frustrating. We can put the book on hold for you, but we can’t promise you will get it in time to read it. My favorite are the last minute students as well who are never going to get it from us but still come and ask the week before school starts. Thankfully where I am now in OH there are no summer reading lists.

  5. Our local school district(s) actually do a great job of keeping fresh titles on their reading lists. Sometimes a little too fresh — it would be nice if they chose only titles that were available in paperback, so that we aren’t forced to pay twice the price for mounds of extra hardcover books that we’ll probably end up having to withdraw due to space.

    This summer, the junior high took a new approach and actually chose one of our library-curated bibliographies for its 7th grade summer reading list, which has been a help, since obviously we already owned the books and could just order some extra copies.

  6. I don’t have it anymore, but ~8 years ago, I was handed a list that had 8 out of 10 titles with the the title or author mangled just enough that if you didn’t already know what book they were talking about, you wouldn’t be able to find them with a basic search. 3 of those 10 were also out of print. That list reappeared every year.

    I’ve worked in 3 states and this is an issue in all of them. Fortunately in Alaska, most schools participate in the Battle of the Books, a list chosen by school librarians. One criteria for the list is that the books must be available in paperback. Currently my only big problem is the one private school that does a separate program and has not (despite repeated requests) sent me an advance copy of the list so I can order copies before summer.

    The worst was in Kansas City. There all the Catholic schools (a very large and robust network of schools) participated in their own battle of the books. The lists were chosen by parent committee. One parent had a book she had gotten from her oldest daughter’s scholastic book fair order in the early 1990s. Helen Keller’s Teacher by Margaret Davidson. Published in 1992, only every available as a paperback through scholastic book fair orders. But this mom got this book on the list. This was in 2005. No one checked availability. Thousands of kids looking for a book that not a single library in the city had or could order. The next year the head of the parent committee came to me and asked if I would help her with checking availability before they finalized the list. I almost wept with relief (and passed her onto our collection specialist).

  7. 9th grader’s list doesn’t suck. Only one book out of print, and a nice variety of choices. Kids have to pick two from the list and read two other books of their choosing:

    Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, Finding Mañana by Mirta Ojito, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Going To Meet the Man by James Baldwin, The Outsider by Richard Wright, Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung, …y no se lo tragó la tierra…and the Earth Did Not Devour him by Tomás Rivera (translation by Evangelina Vigil-Piñon).

    6th grader’s list is, I think, better and quirkier (and more welcoming for kids at different reading levels) than the 9th grade list. Again, one book is out of print. Kids have to pick three from the list and read two others of their choice:

    • American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
    • American Eyes: New Asian-American Short Stories for Young Adults, Lori M. Carlson (editor)
    • Divergent by Veronica Roth
    • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
    • La Linea by Ann Jaramillo
    • Necessary Roughness by Marie G. Lee
    • New Kids in Town by Janet Bode
    • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
    • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson
    • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
    • When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
    • I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
    • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
    • Smile by Raina Telgemeier
    • Scat by Carl Hiaasen
    • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
    • Star Girl by Jerry Spinelli
    • The Fighting Ground by Avi
    • Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

    • C Baker says:

      Oooh, nice diversity in those lists.

      I amuse myself by suggesting books by/about PoC when people ask for books. I’m often the only one. So far, nobody has caught on to me.

  8. It’s not so much the titles themselves, but a few years back a certain teacher was requesting his students read very specific editions of the listed books (all of which were obscure to begin with!). We had to search them by their ISBN and, surprise-surprise, most couldn’t be found anywhere within our sizable library cooperative. One couldn’t even be found by searching participating libraries throughout the entire state!

    We contacted the teacher and, fortunately, he eased up a little on his guidelines. The next year’s list still contained the same bizarre mix of titles, but the students were (thankfully!) allowed to read any edition they could find. The following year, the reading list contained titles that were much more mainstream.

  9. The most shocking book I’ve ever seen on a summer list was an out of print title by Barbara Cartland, “Free from fear” published in 1980! Seriously? the most heartbreaking part of it? this was just last year, and it was 13 year old boy asking for it. The rest of the list was equally heinous, although I think I’ve blocked out the other titles. I guess that’s a success if your aim is to make kids hate reading. I did have fun envisioning the teacher who created the list though.

  10. Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate, by Ellen Conford. I love the book. However, it’s older than I am, much more outdated than I am, and has probably been out of print since I was in high school.

  11. Amanda Coppedge says:

    I adore the teachers who assign authors instead of titles. “Read X books by any of these authors” followed by a list of talented, prolific writers. Please do this, teachers!

  12. Personally I am not one for any of the lists, it is summer after all, yes, I want the kids to read and we have made great strides in our neck of the woods pairing up with the schools just to let the kids do the summer reading program here at the library and finishing that counts as their summer reading assignment. Win win they read, and they get to read what they want , so no summer slide and everyone is happy, plus there is no shortage of one particular book. Finally!

  13. Our high school teacher suggested some wonderful classic novels. Unfortunately, our system, though large, carries 5 or less copies of each. Yet, every 11th grader must read the titles this summer. While I understand the need to keep the “classics,” there is no way our library system would have enough copies of these for all 11th graders.
    Jasmine by Mukherjee, Bharati
    There Are No Children Here by Kotlowitz, Alex
    In the time of the Butterflies by Alvarez, Julia
    The Marrow of Tradition by Chesnutt, Charles W.
    Brave New World by Huxley, Aldous