Reading Program Helps Keep Summer of 2022 Lit


During a summer filled with media reports of crowded airports, record-high gas prices, fears of COVID-19 and Monkeypox, and a backlog of passport applications, some students may have missed out on the opportunity to partake in much travel. Luckily for them, the Upper School’s summer reading program offered a slate of texts that could take them places without leaving the comfort provided by the covers of a freshly opened paperback.

The English department’s goal of inspiring year-round reading has traditionally challenged students of all grades to engage in a study of at least three texts; this year’s program was no different. To ensure that everyone has read their required books, the department will be giving a series of assessments during the opening days of the term.

Some students wish that they could choose their own works, a sentiment with which Chair of the English Department Mrs. Sharon Wendler empathizes with. “I can relate to having someone choose a book for me to read, and feeling like I wish I could have just chosen my own title.  However, there’s nothing better than realizing that I love that new book and that the person who selected it for me knew that it would be a great fit.  Summer reading for most students becomes an unexpected gift that allows for students to meet new friends, new ideas, and new settings,” said Mrs. Wendler.

This summer, current freshmen were introduced to Salmon Rushdie’s bildungsroman, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Thomas Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor, and two choice novels. 

Freshman Jackson Hill’s choice books were Zusak’s The Book Thief and Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Despite finding all of the readings interesting and exciting, he didn’t start the assignment until the reality of school came into closer focus.“I thought it was difficult to get them to read on time since I was gone most of the summer, but I finished them just before school started,” Hill said.

Readings for sophomores were class-dependent, with Honors students having one fewer choice text than their American literature classmates. In addition to continuing their study of Foster’s literary study, tenth-graders read Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying and Honors students read Chopin’s The Awakening.


Juniors enrolling in the Western literature course were required to read Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime in addition to two choice texts from a list of four contemporary options.

“We selected Born a Crime because we wanted to introduce more non-fiction into the curriculum. “As a comedian Trevor Noah takes the controversial and difficult subject of living under apartheid in South Africa and presents it in a light, relatable way,” said English teacher Mrs. Ditaranto.

Juniors in AP Language and Composition read Noah’s book and George Orwell’s dystopian look at government and society, 1984.  In addition, they were asked to read one choice text.

Returning junior Hannah Espensen, who selected Golding’s Lord of the Flies as her optional read, really enjoyed 1984. “I liked learning about how the characters’ lives were under government control. It was cool how they ended up in the same place where they started,” Espensen said.

Fellow AP Language student Ella Chait raves that Noah’s story was amazing. “I was really invested in the characters of the story and liked how it was a real-life story, not a fantasy,” said Chait.

Challenged over the summer by the demands of the college application process and completing all of their writing supplements, the reading load for Seniors taking semester-length courses was lightened to one novel: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Seniors enrolled in AP Literature, meanwhile, read a novel and play and viewed a film from one of four themes: Twisted Identities; Anna, Revisited; Schooled; and Classic Love.

Mrs. McCambrige, who is teaching From Brush to Book during the first semester finds summer reading to be quite valuable. “It is essential for students to continue reading beyond the classroom. To develop a love of reading begins early and can only continue when one engages with it throughout life,” said Mrs. McCambridge. 

 While the faculty of the English department clearly holds that summer reading is an important piece of the academic program, they don’t necessarily want it to be viewed as a taxing, over-laborious mental exercise. 

“Each year we gather to discuss the summer reading program. Our first question is why are we doing it. Essays, exams, academic penalties and gotcha-opportunities are answers that never come up,” offered department member Dr. Peruggia. “Similarly, we thoughtfully reflect on what texts can contribute to students’ growth as people, not just students of literature. Our works aim to provoke questioning, introspection, and conversation. If you enter any English class in mid-August, I think you’ll see that the results speak for themselves,” said Dr. Peruggia.