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Summer Reading Reflections

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Each middle school student had to read two novels this summer for English class.

Each middle school student had to read two novels this summer for English class.

Chase Malamala

Chase Malamala

Each middle school student had to read two novels this summer for English class.

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Having a boring summer reading book can be absolutely horrible for students, especially since they have to read and annotate hundreds of pages of a novel they might not enjoy. However, a good summer reading book can be a welcome addition that helps pass the time at the beach or in one’s room on a rainy day. Students always want a great summer reading book, but the question is, did they get that this summer with the English Department’s assigned titles?

According to a recent poll of 101 middle school students, the big winner this summer was Agatha Christie’s And There There Were None, a murder mystery about 10 strangers invited to a mansion who are killed off one by one. This book was assigned to eighth graders, and eighty-three percent of the polled students gave the book a favorable review, making it the most-liked book by far.

“I hate to admit it, but it was actually kind of good because I like mystery books, and I kind of found out who the killer was,” said eighth grade student Jasper Wright. “I was able to follow along with the story. Everything was clear.”

Middle School English Department chair and eighth-grade English teacher Mr. Kathleen Devine was not surprised.

“It’s a great mystery,” she said. “It’s a real page-turner.”

Conversely, the big loser this summer was Mythology by Edith Hamilton, which was also assigned to the eighth grade. The book recounts many of the legendary tales of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology. Even though eighth graders only had to read chapters four through seven, a whopping 57% of the students polled said they didn’t like it at all.

“Some parts were actually interesting, but I’m not going to lie, towards the end [of the book], I kind of skimmed over stuff and didn’t really read or annotate at all,” said Wright. “It was super long, and I don’t really read a lot, so it was a bit hard [for me].

 Devine and the rest of the English department, though, try as hard as they can to make the books enjoyable for students.

“[The English teachers and I] try to choose books that are more fun because we want students to be engaged with reading, and in the summertime, we’re all in lazy mode, so it’s important to have a book that will peak their interests,” said Devine. “We decide what books will best meet our curricular needs for the coming year. You know, what books are related to the curriculum that we will be teaching. I also connect with the ninth grade, and sixth grade connects with the fifth grade to make sure that the books are age appropriate, that they haven’t read them before, and that they are in synchronization with our curriculum going from fifth to sixth and eighth to ninth.”

The two books assigned to sixth graders, Shakespeare’s Scribe by Gary Blackwood and Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner, were both well-liked, with favorable reviews from 62% and 69% of the sixth-grade population, respectively. The former is about a fifteen-year-old orphaned boy in England in 1602. He becomes an apprentice actor, and soon, he gets on the road to avoid the plague, which is right behind him. On the way, he learns about his parents.

“I like Shakespeare’s Scribe because I read the sequel, and at every end of a chapter it made you want to read more,” said sixth grade student Kian Interlandi.

Nobody’s Princess is a historical fiction novel about the famous Helen of Troy who also happens to be the future queen of Sparta. In the book, instead of fulfilling her role as the beautiful and proper quen, she learns to fight, hunt, ride horses, and travel the world.

Rising seventh graders were assigned to read A Painted House by John Grisham and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.    58% of seventh graders gave a favorable review to A Painted House. Bookbrowse.com summarizes A Painted House with, “Thus begins the new novel from John Grisham, a story inspired by his own childhood in rural Arkansas. The narrator is a farm boy named Luke Chandler, age seven, who lives in the cotton fields with his parents and grandparents in a little house that’s never been painted. The Chandlers farm eighty acres that they rent, not own, and when the cotton is ready they hire a truckload of Mexicans and a family from the Ozarks to help harvest it.

For six weeks they pick cotton, battling the heat, the rain, the fatigue, and, sometimes, each other. As the weeks pass Luke sees and hears things no seven-year-old could possibly be prepared for, and finds himself keeping secrets that not only threaten the crop but will change the lives of the Chandlers forever.”

“[A Painted House] was interesting,” said seventh-grader Robert Letsche “[because it] kept you reading with something new each page.” According to Letsche, though, “it wasn’t very hard to read” because it was interesting to him.

Unlike A Painted House, seventh graders did not like enjoy Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry whatsoever with 82% of the seventh grade population saying that they did not enjoy the book. On bookrags.com, they summarized part of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry saying, “Nine-year-old Cassie Logan lives with her brothers Stacey, Little Man, and Christopher-John on a farm in Mississippi. Unlike most of the black families, they live near, they own land because their father has always believed in the power of owning one’s own property. Even though the children come from a happy home and have more money than some of their neighbors, they are very poor and must endure constant insults and cruelties from the racist white people who live near them.”

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry was a really good read,” said Letsche, who does not agree. “The book taught [me] about racism and how it was back then.”

Overall, students were mixed in their thoughts of summer reading. Some enjoyed, some did not. In the end, the books gave students a preview of what the year will be like.

 

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