Student reading lists a ritual of summer

July 26, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Reading lists are a summer staple for many children, as much a part of the end of the school year as final report cards and moldy backpacks.

Though some students don't unearth them until late August, others have been digging in, running off to libraries and bookstores -- which also gear up for the onslaught.

Most teachers and librarians see these collections of authors and titles -- usually geared to age and grade levels -- as beneficial and necessary. Some consider them confining and stressful, especially for young readers.

Public school systems don't generally require summer reading in elementary school, though they encourage it, often through community library programs.

Baltimore schools flirted with the idea of mandatory summer reading, but decided on strong encouragement through a partnership with Enoch Pratt Free Library. Baltimore County schools produced a suggested reading list as part of the "Families That Read Together" program.

Private and parochial schools take a tougher approach -- usually requiring a certain number of books to be read and even specific books, with reports or projects based on the reading due the first week of school.

"We take a pretty traditional approach to trying to see that kids read over the summer," said Cathie Reed, librarian at the Montessori School in Lutherville. Students receive annotated lists from which they must read five books -- two from a preferred section and three others. They are asked to keep a book log and have their parents initial the entries.

At St. Paul's lower school, librarian Winnie Flattery shuns lists, though certainly not reading.

"Lists can be restrictive and cannot begin to mention the choices your children have for enjoyable summer reading," Flattery wrote to parents in the Brooklandville school's newsletter. "Libraries are stocked with thousands of new quality children's books published yearly, along with books that have stood the test of time. Summer is a good time to relax and read for fun."

Flattery said she has always feared that overzealous parents would make youngsters read every book on a suggested list or that children would read listed books instead of those they simply enjoy.

L Between these extremes are a couple of different approaches.

At McDonogh School in Owings Mills, lower school librarian Susan Sartory and the school's reading specialists compiled a "summer reading calendar" for July and August. It contains daily reading and writing activities, and children are urged to complete three of five each week.

For instance, during one week in July, students are encouraged to "take a look at a cookbook" one day, then "pick a recipe and make it" the next. Filling out the week are other culinary challenges: Estimate how many hot dogs your family eats a year, list all the toppings and alphabetize them.

Students at Grace & St. Peter's School on Park Avenue don't receive a book list, but are urged to read a variety of books and required to keep a log of them, said Principal Sandra Shull. Those entering third, fourth and fifth grades also must complete one reading activity from a list of 10.

These lists and projects are not designed to bug youngsters over vacation or to lay another responsibility on parents. The goal is to keep children reading, introduce them to new books and, in some cases, give a heads-up on the year ahead.

For instance, this fall's third-graders at Bryn Mawr School on Melrose Avenue are assigned Dorothy Howe's "Bunnicula," the tale of a bunny suspected of being a vampire, and two other

mysteries of their choice, as preparation for a unit on mysteries, said lower school librarian Naudane Phillips.

The Baltimore County schools list, though not mandatory, also directs youngsters to topics, such as snakes, mummies and prehistoric life, that they will be exploring in the school year, said Della Curtis, coordinator of the office of library and information technology. The list also includes relevant Internet sites, and the sections of the library where children can find books and authors listed.

Area libraries gear up for summer reading, too. Some ask for advance copies of reading lists.

"This system does what they call a beef-up," said Jane Eickhoff, manager of the Pikesville branch of the Baltimore County library. "Sometimes it's things we know are coming [on assignments], and sometimes it's things we think will be popular."

Teacher reading

Reading lists aren't exclusively for children.

At the Montessori School in Lutherville, librarian Cathie Reed also provides a reading list for teachers, and she doesn't let them get by with easy beach reading.

Reed bases her teacher list on the program for the fall conference of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools, that when teachers attend they can be familiar with what the speakers have written.

Included on this year's list:

"A Family of Value" and "Just Because I Said So," by syndicated columnist John Rosemond.

"40 Ways to Raise a Non-Racist Child," by Barbara Mathias-Regal.

"White Privilege," by Peggy McIntosh of the Wellesley Center for Women.

"Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools" and "Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation," by Jonathan Kozol.

"A Fine Young Man" and "The Wonder of Boys," by Michael Gurian.

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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