By Ann Camacho, editor of Bookmarked, a collection of teen essays
Hmmm . . . what’s wrong with that sequence of words? Maybe your teenage students would tell you exactly what mine tell me: Summer has nothing to do with reading!
Well, not quite. Squeezing in some summer reading might actually be the best-kept secret to getting ahead in school. If you’re the teacher or parent of a reluctant teen reader, you might want to share these ideas with them to spark a summer book-list discussion.
Summertime reading doesn’t have to mean grueling novels you write book reports on in August. It can be any book you want to read! Of course, throwing some Pride and Prejudice or War and Peace into the mix would be impressive, but that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about here. I’m suggesting finding a subject or an author you want to read more of, something you didn’t have time for during the school year between process essays and research reports. Pick any subject that you’re genuinely interested in and read about it.
If you’re into a particular sports hero, get a biography about that player and read up. Or read a guide to improving your free throws and dunk shots. Or read about the career paths of famous chefs. Or read the novel of a movie you recently watched, even though you know the plot inside and out.
Personally, I love a good novel. I have read every book that Jodi Picoult has written, because it allows me to go into someone else’s world, see his or her problems and lifestyle, and get away from my own issues for a while. If you haven’t read many (or any) novels, ask a classmate who is an avid reader for a recommendation. Read that book in June; if you like it, find another book in the same genre and read that one in July.
Reading gives us a vantage point that movies don’t. It improves our understanding of human nature (and our own nature) and helps us relate to others in a unique fashion. When we read, we imagine what characters, settings, or events look like based only on a few hints from the author. We exercise our imaginations, a skill sorely missing from the process of watching TV or a movie. Instead of someone telling us what to see or think, we get to create these images, emotions, and feelings. Ultimately, this creative exercise leads to greater success in school.
If you do read a classic novel, like To Kill a Mockingbird, then read a similar-category book like The Help and compare and contrast the two. Study the friendships in A Separate Peace and The Outsiders and see if your friends are anything like those in either book. Read The Giver and Divergent and see if our society is moving toward that kind of scary dystopia. Take time this summer to explore new worlds and meet new people through an author’s eyes. That doesn’t mean giving up your smartphone or social media. But add just a few books to your summer and see if you don’t do better in school next year. I guarantee your perspective on life will change if you open up a book or two this summer—and your life might just open up, too.
Teachers and parents: How will you encourage teens to read this summer?
Ann Camacho has been an English teacher for more than 20 years. She currently teaches American literature at North High School in Riverside, California. Her students (and the student body as a whole) are very diverse, and many are in the school’s International Baccalaureate program and/or AP classes. Ann also participates in the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) college preparation program for students who have college aspirations but are falling short of their potential or who don’t believe college is within reach.
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