Every summer, the middle schoolers at my place of employ have required summer reading. Required, not assigned: they have some choice about which books they read, but they have to read something.
And every June, I put together recommended-books lists, racing the clock before the end of school.
For years, I painstakingly compiled three separate themed lists, one for each grade, keyed to the Humanities curriculum each grade would be studying that year. It was thorough, but exhausting, and frankly I'm not sure how useful it was.
Last year, with thousands of books to weed through and pack up for a summer remodel, I tried something new: an annotated list of a couple dozen "Els's Picks" list for the whole middle school, from entering-6th to entering-8th. They didn't have to choose a book from the list, but if they wanted some guidance, it was there. I tried to range it out with young-ish books, old-ish books, male and female protagonists, different genres, etc. Because it was the first time I'd done a list like that, I went a little wild with it: threw in all kinds of stuff that I just loved, cobbled together some summaries, and tossed it to the kids. This was the result.
Now I'm up against the Summer Reading Wall once again, and realizing I have a problem. Last year's list was the cream of the crop of a lifetime's reading, so how can I possibly top it this time around? I'm thinking that rather than create a whole new Picks list, I'll revise last year's, deleting a few titles that aren't so incredibly compelling in retrospect and adding some new ones.
On the other hand, I've been reading teen/YA fiction at a furious rate this year, and might just have enough to support a brand-new list, supplemented with a few titles that ended up on last year's cutting-room floor.
So far, here's what a list like that would look like, in no particular order:
American Born Chinese
Fly By Night
Hattie Big Sky
A Drowned Maiden's Hair
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Weight of the Sky
No More Dead Dogs
A Mango-Shaped Space
The Lightning Thief
The Wee Free Men
Rules for Survival
A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life
Sorcery and Cecelia
I'd like to add a few more, like Heat by Mike Lupica, and a Gilda Joyce book, and The Schwa Was Here, and Vive La Paris, and Twilight, but I haven't actually read those yet so even though I think I'll love them I can't include them in good conscience. Ah, well; maybe next summer.
Now that I look at it, though, it's not a bad list just as it is. (Astute readers might notice a definite Cybils influence--no big surprise.) I might just go with it, if I can slog through the summaries in the next few days.