July 22, 2011

Some students had homework over the summer: reading

For most people, summer reading means lying in a hammock or lounging by the pool, flipping through a magazine or soaking up a guilty-pleasure novel.

For most people, summer reading means lying in a hammock or lounging by the pool, flipping through a magazine or soaking up a guilty-pleasure novel.

In any case, it's easy-going and syllabus-free. Right?

Not necessarily.

Students in some high school and college programs, including the prestigious International Baccalaureate program at East High School, have homework before they start the school year. They are required to complete summer reading assignments.

"The primary purpose is to keep kids engaged in school over the summer," said Steve Maack, who teaches senior IB and advanced placement English at East High.

"You know how on the first day of school, especially in English class, you don't have anything to talk about yet because nothing's been assigned?... Summer reading gives kids that common experience so we can jump right in."

Maack said he usually selects two books for incoming seniors to read over the summer, one of English or American origin and another by a foreign author or one set in a different culture.

One of his selections this year, "The Housekeeper and the Professor," by Japanese author Yoko Ogawa, is the story of a brilliant mathematician who is injured in a car accident, loses his short-term memory and continually has to reacquaint himself with his housekeeper.

Another standard on the IB reading list, Thomas C. Foster's "How to Read Literature Like a Professor," also is on Maack's required summer reading for advanced-placement seniors.

"It gives a really accessible framework for ways... to interpret different aspects of literature," he said. "It emphasizes the idea that there's always more in the text."

Last year for the first time, Kansas State University encouraged — though didn't require — incoming freshmen to read a common book over the summer in an attempt to spark conversation when students arrived on campus.

K-State's first so-called "common book" was Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games," a best-selling young adult novel in which a futuristic society is enthralled with a brutal reality TV show.

This year's is "Zeitoun," by Dave Eggers, which details the true story of a Syrian-American contractor and painter who stays in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Wondering what students in high school programs are reading, analyzing and writing about this summer? Here is the required reading list for students in the East High IB program:


* "This I Believe: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women," Jay Allison and Dan Gediman, editors

* "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," by Jamie Ford


* "How to Read Literature Like a Professor," by Thomas C. Foster

* "Reservation Blues," by Sherman Alexie

* "The Awakening," by Kate Chopin


* "The Tortilla Curtain," by T.C. Boyle

* "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight," by Alexandra Fuller

* And a third work chosen from a list of seven, including "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot; "The Book Thief," by Markus Zusak; and "Outliers," by Malcom Gladwell.


* "The Housekeeper and the Professor," by Yoko Ogawa

* "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien

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