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All You Need to Know About the HCS Summer Reading Program

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All You Need to Know About the HCS Summer Reading Program

Guess what? Huntsville City Schools has an awesome new program for their Summer Required Reading. Have you heard about it? If you haven’t here’s a quick rundown:

  • All students in grades 9 – 12 will read the same novel.
  • All students in grades 6-8 will also have a common novel to read.
  • Students who participate in honors and AP courses will have additional reading requirements, which will be posted on the HCS website.
  • The entire community will be asked to voice their opinion in a vote that is taking place on the Huntsville City Schools website. Voters can cast their ballot for a choice of one high school book and one middle school book. The books that receive the majority votes in their categories will become the Summer Required Reading book.

Students will be provided a list of options for the required assignment that will accompany summer reading at the end of the school year.

Book Choices for High School
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Book Choices for Middle School
StarGirl by Jerry Spinelli
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I’m really excited about the change in the Required Reading program, but I’ve heard a lot of questions from my friends. How did this list come about? Who was involved in the process? What about the classics?

What is the purpose of Required Reading?

There were (and still are) many varying opinions on this matter. Some stated they thought the purpose was to expose students to the classics. A few teachers suggested that they used Required Reading assignments to evaluate the students’ skills at the beginning of the school year. Then it was proposed that perhaps the purpose of Summer Reading should be to foster community literacy and a lifelong love of reading.

The goal of the entire program is to increase a love of learning in our students.

When I think back to my high school days, all I remember about Summer Required Reading was that it was horribly boring and did the opposite of fostering a love of reading. I have always been a voracious reader and even I, Book Girl Extraordinaire, dreaded Required Reading. Now, think about all the kids who already hate to read. Reading a bunch of old, dusty, hard to understand classics isn’t going to convert them to the “Reading is Fun” philosophy. In fact, it does just the opposite!


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My thoughts were echoed by several of the parents, teachers, and community partners that attended the Required Reading meetings. After researching several different Required Reading programs across the country, we cobbled together a program we felt would be right for Huntsville. We would select exciting new titles and let the community choose their favorite.

It was noted that the classics will still be covered in class, where a teacher was able to guide students through the experience. Teachers will still be able to use the summer reading assignments as an evaluation tool, but the evaluation will change a little bit too. A team of teachers and curriculum specialists is currently hard at work creating that new evaluation tool. The goal of the entire program is to increase a love of learning in our students.

HCS High School Required Reading titles.
HCS High School Required Reading titles.

The Titles

Great! So we had a purpose. Now we needed books. One of the first hurdles: selection. When several of the librarians and booksellers started talking about the new and cool Young Adult (YA) novels available, it became increasingly obvious that the teachers needed to do some summer reading of their own. In my opinion, one of the reasons that the lists stayed so stagnant for so long was because the educators making the decisions didn’t know of any exciting alternatives. And my little librarian heart leapt at the challenge of converting these teachers to the world of YA fiction! I showed up at the May 2012 meeting with a cart full of YA books. All of the books I brought had been received well by critics and teens, and many were award winners. The committee quickly whittled the pile of books down to twenty titles. Over the summer of 2012, the committee members picked up these YA titles as their “required reading assignments” and started plowing through the pages.

When we convened the committee in Fall 2012, the teachers had read the assigned books and had some great opinions. There were several books that we were able to cross of the list because of issues with content or reading levels. Another factor we took into consideration was our readers. We looked at what books would appeal to both boys and girls. We looked at the text reading level, and the depth of meaning within the text. What book could an incoming 6th grade and an 8th grader read, with the huge developmental differences between the two ages, and still have a positive literary experience? What books could appeal to both a struggling reader and an AP student? Those questions crossed a few more titles off of the list. And finally, we took price into consideration. We wanted to make sure that any of the books we suggested were either already in paperback or available in a cheap hardback.

HCS required summer reading titles for Middle School.
HCS required summer reading titles for Middle School.

We Need Your Vote

Finally, at the end of the Fall 2012 semester we had our finalists. Those are the books that are being placed before you, and are asking for your vote in April. We want the ENTIRE COMMUNITY to be involved in the selection process. Think about how cool this could be! What a powerful experience for the students to see their parents, their pastors, their teachers, their music instructors, their coaches, etc. excited and talking about the books. There will be a whole community of positive reading adult role models! We want the students to know what it’s like to discuss a book for fun with your friends and family. Of course, their peers will be reading the books too. And there’s something to be said for some positive peer pressure.

“Hey, did you read that part in Code Name Verity where…?”

See Also
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“Oh yeah, that was so intense. But I loved Monster so much more. I’m voting for that one.”


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“No way, I’ll have to check that one out too.”

THIS = AWESOME.

So if you haven’t already, please come check out these titles out at your Library, buy them at your local bookstore, or download them on to your eReader. OR… enter to win a set for yourself and your student below. Read them. Love them. Discuss them. And then vote. It’s going to be a great summer!

Win the Books!

Your family can get a jump on Summer Reading and win these books provided by the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library’s Youth Services department. There are two sets to win – please only enter for your age group and have or know a student in the Huntsville City School system. (Don’t worry if you’re not – we have plenty of other giveaways on this site!)
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View Comments (28)
    • It is a fairly new invention of public schools. However, it’s been around at least 20 years as that’s when I had to first do Required Summer Reading 🙂

  • We are a family that loves to read and we are so excited to see a new list of summer reading books come out.

    Hope the libraries and local book stores are ready to order lots of books lol.

    • DN Harper- no worries. The libraries have known about this list for months now. We’ve been quietly stocking the shelves with extra copies and we’re anxiously waiting to see what the finall books are. We’ll be ordering 50+ copies of those!!!

  • I’m not sure I’m excited about it. So, will we vote on a 6th grade book, a 7th grade book, an 8th grade book, etc.? Or will all middle school read the same book? Every year?

    • Hi Laurie,
      It will be just one book for all the middle school students to read. For instance, say Wonder wins the community vote. It means that all HCS students in grades 6-8 will read that book for Summer Reading.
      The books in the voting pool will change every year. We’ve already started talking about what we can include in the 2014 list!

  • my daughter is an upcoming 6th grader and loves to read! i love the new selections and can’t wait to read along with her. 8) thanks so much for a great article with such good news!

  • I’m super excited about this change! I think if kids actually enjoy the books they are required to read in the summer they will have a much better chance of picking up more books on their own. Plus summer = break! Have fun with your reading!
    I can’t tell you how many classics I had to fumble my way through in the summers for AP English that I never actually enjoyed or understood until I re-read them as an adult. Classics definitely have value, and I think reading those as a class during the school year makes much better sense when you’re a student.

  • Cynthia- nope. It was decided that it would just be one book for middle and one book for high school. On the middle school level, the two books that are not chosen will go onto the alternate list 🙂

  • I would love if they had a reading program for 3-5 grades as well…….the earlier the better!

    • Hi Carmela! Each summer, all locations of the Huntsville Madison County Public Library host a Summer Reading program. Kids can track the time they read each day, and monitor their progress on our display walls! It’s not a Required Reading list, but it’s still LOTS of fun!!

  • My favorite summer reading book might have been The Outsiders. It’s hard to remember back that far. I do know that I regularly visited the library as a teen and read a stack of books each week during the summer.

  • I should also add that I am more excited about the middle school choices than the high school choices. I cannot imagine my two very different high school students enjoying the same book from this group of choices. They are very different kiddos!

    • Hi Becky! Thanks for your comments. I love The Outsiders too! Have you read the High School choices yet? They were all picked because of their abillity to reach a vast and varied audience of readers. I know that we’re not going to make ALL the kids happy with these choices, but we hope a bigger group of the kids enjoys the experience compared to what we’ve seen in past years!

  • As a fifth grade teacher with a class set of Stargirl, I am super excited!!! Way to go HCS! I just told my students today that the required reading for 6th grade is Maniac Magee! It has been for years. So excited for a change!!!!

  • excited to see the results. my favorite required reading book as a student was The Outsiders by S.E. Hiinton

    • I guess I’m lucky and/or a nerd, because I was always excited about required summer reading and don’t remember disliking anything that was required – except maybe Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina – but I’m still glad I read it. 🙂

  • I didn’t have required reading and this will be the first year my child will have it, I have read Stargirl and liked it very much. I like the required reading, so will be curious to see which one it will be!

  • Hi, I am going into 7th grade. I am in all advanced classes too and I am wondering if I have to read any other books besides “Wonder”. I have been told it is only wonder. Is that true?

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