To all Parents:
Please find below the summer reading list for all grades. After last summer’s very valuable dialogue as regards the list, our choices, and our lack of guidance for possible parent–child discussions, please note that we have added suggested questions, problems, and methods of creative response for each work.
Hoping you have a peaceful, centered, and very present summer!
This novel tells the tale of a privileged white male and the destruction he wreaks on the natural environment. The quest for the “whale” is a depiction of white heteronormative disregard for the importance of renewable and sustainable energy, all told through the eyes of a first-person narrator who is exploring his non-binary sexual identity with a variety of his fellow mariners, one of them a colorfully tattooed indigenous South Pacific sailor named Queequeg. Questions to guide the discussion with your child: 1) How does the latent homoeroticism of Queequeg and Ishmael’s shared bed prefigure the all-male and exclusive politics aboard the Pequod? How would you like to share your bed with a large and fierce indigenous warrior? 2) Why is the whale “white” and what does it say about the racial politics of the time that the whale’s race needed to be specified?
The Scarlet Letter
The novel takes place in a repressive and religiously fanatical time (much like our own) when an innocent female is “slut shamed” by a corrupt populace and forced to wear an unfashionable outfit. Her ordeal is contrasted with the celebrated and exalted position her abuser enjoys due to the cis-male power structure. Warning: The novel depicts religious faith and religious conflict without context and characters are often described as “believing” and “faithful.” Care should be taken when discussing the book with your child so as not to leave the impression that religious belief is “okay.”
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
A young racist from the 19th-century American South engages in a clandestine gay relationship with an African-American slave. Throughout a series of misadventures in the picaresque tradition, the young Klansman attempts to check his own privilege, to middling results. Problems: The tone of the novel is light-hearted and sprightly, which we have trained most of our students to become instantly offended by. Violent hate speech has been abridged in the student study edition, resulting in a novel of 17 pages.
When Donald J. Trump is elected president of the United States with questionable tactics and swirls of controversy — including a popular-vote defeat — the resulting chaos causes three of President Trump’s close advisers to plot his death and overthrow. Questions for your child: 1) Which of the three advisers — McMaster, Tillerson, or Mattis — is the most heroic? 2) Write a short paragraph from the point of view of your chosen hero, as if he were writing a letter to his own child and discussing the reasons for his action. 3) Discuss why transgender and other LGBTQIA persons have been erased and made invisible by the text. How would you go about reversing that?
The Diary of Anne Frank
A teenage girl keeps a diary that suggests that, had she lived, she would be against Israeli settlements in Area C and East Jerusalem.
A young girl experiments with veganism in a rural setting and is schooled in the powers of text and language by a gay spider. Problems: Many ancillary characters display signs of carnivorousness and strictly binary gender identities. Be prepared to discuss with your child who is not present in the novel and what their absence tells us about the world depicted, our world, and the current state of pork farming.
A troublemaking alt-right citizen insists on disrupting the peaceful and nonviolent social movement led by “Big Brother,” a benevolent and sexually ambiguous two-spirited character who struggles with his own sense of what is true and what is not. The main character is a white, male “loner” who plots violent actions and deliberately flouts the social order. Questions for your child: 1) Terrorism comes in many forms, of course, but mostly it comes in the form of a white heterosexual Christian male. Does your child know any likely troublemakers? Who are the “Winston Smiths” in your child’s life? 2) A free and open society relies on its citizens to identify and denounce those who hold alternative — and problematic — views. Who in your child’s life deserves this? Which parent does your child find the most loyal to the social order? Which the least?
Have a great summer!