August 2016: Summer Reading List Triggers

Every summer students are assigned summer reading in anticipation of the following school year.

While elementary age students are encouraged to read what they choose, middle school and high school age students are given specific books to read related to the classes that they have enrolled in. Many of the books are part of the core curriculum including English or History classes and can be in regular, Pre-AP, or AP classes.

Books Bring Up Feelings

These literary works may have content that is uncomfortable or brings up thoughts and feelings that are related to a loved one’s illness, anticipatory death, or the loss of a loved one.  The books may also contain content that brings up other losses in a person’s life including family separation, moving, the loss of a pet, or divorce.  In general, the reading of the book is not the end of the assignment, but the beginning of the study of the book which could also include projects, papers, videos, or tests and quizzes.

These assignments are also being given at a time in a pre-teen or teen’s life when they are developmentally and cognitively more able to look at the world outside of themselves. They have matured physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Many of the themes of the assigned books can be related to world or societal concerns that inherently illicit an emotional response from the reader.

The theme of the book may trigger an emotional response in the reader even if the traumatic or significant event in the child’s life has occurred in the past. Some children are temperamentally more anxious or sensitive to begin with and have a greater need for emotional support.

Parent Role

Parents may not be aware of the assignments that their children have been given beyond the title and author of the book. Being proactive can possibly help a child best cope with the information they are being exposed to. If possible, the parent could read the book first and help prepare their child for the book’s message, or read and discuss the book together.

If keeping up with their child’s reading assignments is not possible a parent can be aware of the potential impact the book may have.  If a parent recognizes a change in their child’s behavior, understanding what their child has been exposed to through a school assignment may be helpful and could be an explanation for the differences they see in their child.

Some changes in behavior could include sleeping or eating patterns, physical symptoms, mood swings, anger, depression, substance abuse, a decline in school performance, being withdrawn, or isolation from friends or family.

Help a Child Cope

To help a child cope with the information in the story and their emotional responses, discuss with them their strengths and how they handled stressful events in the past along with what coping mechanisms work best for them.  Examples of coping tools could include drawing, sports, deep breathing, yoga, or other cathartic or relaxing activities. Also:

  • Discuss with them things that they can take control of in their lives including their schedules, time-management, or time with family and friends.
  • Focus on their natural support systems such as parents, friends, coaches, spiritual leaders, or their school counselor to help identify those people in their world who they can go to for support.
  • Be open to developmentally appropriate conversations with your child so you can gain insight into their thoughts and feelings and help them best cope with the emotional reactions they are feeling.
  • Be understanding and attempt to look at the child’s point of view as they work to make sense of new and challenging themes and cope with the emotions these stories can generate.

Books to Watch

The following list contains just a few of the books assigned to students and a brief summary for each. Any of these readings could create anxiety and frustration for a pre-teen or teen who has experienced the loss of a loved one or has a parent diagnosed with a serious or life-threatening illness:

  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. The teen survives a plane crash on the way to visit his father. His parent’s are now divorced and he learns of a secret within the family.
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  A story of two boys in very different circumstances. One is the son of a Gestapo officer and the other a boy he befriends that lives in the concentration camp the father oversees. Both of the boys die at the end of the story.
  • Night by Elie Wiesel.  An autobiography about the survival of a teenager in the Nazi death camps. It has an underlying theme of man’s capacity for inhumanity to man.
  • A Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen. Shana’s priority is to spend time with her father who is going blind.
  • There Will be Bears by Ryan Gebhart. Tyson is sad to see his grandpa, who is also one of his best friends, move to a nursing home.
  • The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, by Deborah. In a race against time, Eel, an orphaned mudlark, works to solve a medical mystery and save his town from the “blue death” (cholera).
  • Hopkinson.  An epidemic of cholera is killing an entire neighborhood.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. George and Lennie are ranch hands that come together. Lennie is a large man with a mind of a child. One of them loses his life at the end of the story.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Citizens are brainwashed to live within a caste society.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell. Animal citizens are governed by the cruel human leader. The book resembles the Russian Revolution and its societal challenges.
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