If you look at a Hinsdale South or high school student’s bookshelf this summer, sprinkled amid classics such as Frankenstein and The Awakening, you’re just as likely to see contemporary favorites such as The Namesake and The Last Lecture.
While summer reading lists are a mainstay in high schools throughout the area, the English departments at both schools have made a point to select books that foster a lifelong love of reading.
Seniors at Hinsdale South have the option of choosing one book from a special list of recommendations curated by both teachers and administrators at the school, said English Department chair David Anderson.
Much like the “staff recommendation” shelf at a bookstore, the school’s staff members offer their personal suggestions for summer reading, ranging from mystery titles to science fiction to nonfiction.
“We wanted to give them a wide variety of books that they’d want to read for fun,” Anderson said. “I’ve never heard a student say they didn’t see anything they liked on the list.”
Not only does the extensive list give students an opportunity to choose a book that sounds interesting, they also have the option of selecting a book simply because they trust the recommendation of a particular teacher.
“They might think, ‘Hey, if Mr. Anderson liked it, it must be a pretty good book,’” Anderson said.
The school has also started including more nonfiction titles to prepare students for a cultural shift away from fiction reading.
“The reading most people are going to be doing as adults is not going to be a novel,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be nonfiction, journalism, a newspaper. We’re seeing a huge movement to prepare students for that.”
Downers South English Department chair Janice Schwarze said her teachers survey the students each year, removing the most unpopular—and popular—books from the list.
“We believe students will find [the popular] books on their own,” she said.
At least three teachers read a book before it makes the list, she said.
“We attempt to find books that they will enjoy and that they can understand without help from a teacher,” she said. “Indeed, many of our students read more than the required one book on the list.”
Both schools take pains to avoid student shortcuts—neither allows books that have been made into movies for any grade level's list. Downers South also nixes titles that have Sparks Notes versions.
But the students don’t seem to mind.
“I’ve had kids come up to me saying, ‘Great choice, I love that book. Thank you for putting it on the list,’” Anderson said. “That’s what you want to see happening: They’re reading because they want to.”