‘Tis Summer Booklist Challenge Season - National Council of Teachers of English
Back to Blog

‘Tis Summer Booklist Challenge Season

digitalwritingAnd so begins the season of the back-to-school challenge. As teachers, parents, and students are getting ready for the next school year, the time of reckoning for many students has come. Now they must complete their summer reading list assignment so they can start the fall prepared for the classroom discussion. Now is the season when the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center offers assistance on a number of challenges—most to books included on summer reading lists.

For parents and guardians, a summer reading list can be problematic, especially when the back-to-school-eleventh-hour nears and their student is looking for the book and trying to crash read it, and especially when the student and their adult are alone in this endeavor, without the benefit of educator guidance.

The usual challenge scenario occurs when a student selects—or is assigned—a specific book from the list and encounters something they want to discuss with their parent. The parent often doesn’t understand why a particular character’s language or behavior in the text is necessary and why their student should be reading about such unsavory things. After all, the parent may think, Shouldn’t all the books students are assigned be golden models for behavior? Shouldn’t their student who is forbidden from using this language in school be forbidden from reading it in school-assigned texts?

And right then, there is no educator voice in the room explaining the importance of reading and how a book is so much more than an unsavory character and the explanation sheet that went home with the list last spring is missing and right now creating tension in their home. A challenge to the text begins. Take the one we’re working with right now: a parent is accusing librarians in one school district of distributing “pornographic literature” to students through the summer reading list.

Summer reading lists vary, but, I’m sure, they have been created with good intentions—to enrich students’ reading experiences, to keep students reading over the summer, and to stop the “summer slide.” Ideally, the lists are built on the principles spelled out in the NCTE, International Reading Association, and the Canadian Centre for the Book Leisure Reading statement. [see the statement for complete citations]

“Principle I: Readers should choose their own reading materials (Krashen, 2011). Students are better able to choose engaging and appropriate reading materials when teachers and family members scaffold their selection of leisure reading materials (Reutzel, Jones, & Newman, 2010; Sanden, 2014).”


“Principle II: The benefits to students’ fluency, comprehension, and motivation from engaging in leisure reading are increased when teachers scaffold school-based leisure reading by incorporating reflection, response, and sharing in a wide range of ways that are not evaluated (Parr & Maguiness, 2005; Pilgreen, 2000; Reutzel, Jones, Fawson, & Smith, 2008; Walker, 2013) and when students’ home environments support their self-selected reading (Sonnenschein, Baker, Serpell, & Schmidt, 2000).”

Ideal would be to have an educator present during the summer as in “Facilitating a Summer Reading Book Group Program.”

Really ideal would be using the summer reading tenets that Donalyn Miller espouses in her Nerdy Book Club blog post “Let My People Read,”  especially

“Family and community involvement. We must encourage our school communities to model and share positive reading habits with children. Parents who read and share reading with their children influence children’s future reading habits. Teachers who are engaged with reading are more successful at engaging students with reading (Nathanson, Pruslow and Levitt, 2008). Invite school community members to set and share their own summer reading goals. Encourage adults to invest time reading aloud and alongside children over the summer.”

Barring all these failsafes, if there is a challenge to one or more books on your summer reading, contact us. The NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center can offer assistance.