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.


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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!

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.


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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…?”

“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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