This is from today's Christian Science Monitor. Note the comments from new CEE-EC member Alleen Nilsen!
High school reading lists get a modern makeover
Find out what recent bestsellers are taking their place next to classics at schools across the US.
Precious summer minutes spent poring over Shakespeare or Nathaniel Hawthorne may seem less than appealing to teens, but some experts say there is a slowly growing trend to infuse more modern literature into summer reading. As a result, the revered literary cannon, which includes such classics as "Hamlet," "The Grapes of Wrath," and "The Scarlet Letter," may be due for a shake-up. Glance at high school summer reading lists across the United States and you are likely to find more recent authors such as Alice Sebold, Walter Dean Myers, and even Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong alongside Dickens and the Brontë sisters.
"Ten years ago, these reading lists didn't have new books like that," says Alleen Nilsen, Arizona State University English professor and co-author of the textbook Literature for Today's Young Adult. "These are really popular new books."
So what catapults "Life of Pi" and "The Lovely Bones" to the elusive reading list club? Both are bildungsromans, or stories of young people coming of age. Ms. Nilsen says this theme is crucial for reading list inclusion, as youth need to feel a connection to the literature.
J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" is an example of a long-lasting bildungsroman. The 1951 book was widely panned for its controversial subject matter, but it soon won the hearts of American teens.
"That was a book done for adults, but kids loved that book," Nilsen says by telephone. "Every year there are like 10 books that get compared, and it's like, 'Oh, this is the new "Catcher in the Rye." ' Of course, none of them ever are. But they're in that style – the flip, honest kid that's critical."
Nilsen says she understands why teens are frustrated with heavy assigned summer reading but says she's encouraged by the modernization trend. Her own granddaughter has chosen to read the young adult award-winner "Monster" rather than a difficult classic.
"It used to be, no matter where you were in high school, you got this list of classics that the value was to talk about them with other people, not to read them yourself," she says. "We're taking this lesson from the [physical education] teachers. Rather than making kids do these things they hate, they're letting them choose what they want to do, so that when they're adults, they'll keep exercising. Summer reading is the perfect time if we want to get kids to read the rest of their lives without us sitting over their heads and telling them what to read. Let them ... just lose themselves in a good book."
Read the whole thing here.