Boxes of yellow and green Crayola markers and other school supplies fill the shelves of our neighborhood grocery store. You know what that means. It’s back to school time! A time when joyful parents anticipate the end of summer vacation and high school kids scramble to complete their summer reading assignments.
We librarians on the front lines – the reference desk - are besieged by kids who have to write a report or do a project based on a class-assigned book selected by their teacher. And it’s due tomorrow! And all the copies are checked out! It’s a desperate time.
Back in the day – cue the black and white newsreel accompanied by old timey piano music – summer really was a vacation from school. Summer reading meant books of our own choosing, books taken musty and soft from the shelves in a lakeside cottage, or pulled from the hushed and dim recesses of a city library, or borrowed from a friend. We chose our own books.
Today’s kids, overscheduled with enrichment camps and sports leagues, now have math packets and civics assignments and book reports to complete in the break between the last and first days of school. They have assigned reading shouldering aside those last chances for a book of their own choice.
Here in the land of the helicopter parent, where every child is gifted (take that, Lake Wobegon), teachers assign a summer reading book carefully.
What’s new in this school-assigned summer reading?
Summer Reading Lists in my county now come with a warning:
“Please note that the books on this list may contain mature content and/or controversial material (i.e. offensive language, violence, and/or implied or explicit sexual situations). The resources listed below can be used to see book reviews and get more information about the books we will use in our class.”
Sure, I want to roll my eyes. Does everything, even literature, have to come bubble wrapped with a safety warning? But part of me is also amused and more than a bit pleased. I know the schools are just trying to ward off outraged parents, but this is an affirmation of what I’ve believed for a long time: Reading can be a dangerous undertaking. Imagine all those new ideas and epiphanies lying in wait for Cayden and Sophia. Literature can change minds, wound hearts, scar psyches. I know this wasn’t the motivation for the warning, but I can’t help getting a kick out of this unintentional nod to the power of books.