When I first started teaching, my husband was horrified at the fact that I enthusiastically assigned required summer reading for the students who would be coming into my class the next Fall. Now that two of our kids are in high school, he sees the merits as our teens while away the hours on youtube, tiktok and Netflix, but he still likes to needle me as that mean teacher. Fortunately, I’m in good company as all our rising 10th, 11th and 12th graders have assigned books, which, ironically, end up being the most frequently cited as the students’ favorite books from high school.
I am careful about choosing summer reading – it needs to be something a student wouldn’t necessarily pick up on their own, that is easily readable and somewhat fun. I am re-reading two books that my students are reading this summer: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (for the rising sophomores) and The Count of Monte Cristo (abridged) by Alexandre Dumas (for the rising seniors).
Returning to Trevor Noah’s memoir is a true joy. This is my third time reading it, and I find more to enjoy each time. While my students don’t know much about the history of apartheid, they do know what it is like to navigate a society that is designed to confound you at every turn. Noah’s balance of humor and brutal truth is perfectly suited to rising 10th graders who are both trying to find their place in the world and getting very fired up about injustices that they see. His writing is fully accessible and I love seeing what students pull out of the text that interests them. Noah’s audiobook is a gift in itself, and hearing the story in his voice makes it leap off the page. There are so many parallels to the unrest that has been running through the students’ social media feeds this summer; I am so looking forward to hearing what connections the students make when we meet in the Fall.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is over 1000 pages in its original form… so abridgment it is! I am also requiring my rising seniors to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, so I am pushing their patience. But, Monte Cristo is cited EVERY YEAR by a senior as their favorite book. The story, if old-fashioned, is gripping – a revenge fantasy that exceeds the possibilities of imagination. Students get caught up in the romance, the absolute injustice of his situation and the details of the Count’s plan, forgetting that there are so many pages in the book (which is my secret evil plan all along… insert evil laugh). This summer, I am also reading The Black Count by Tom Reiss as a companion. This Pulitzer Prize winning book tells the story of Dumas’ father, Alex Dumas – the son of a French noble and a Black slave from what is now modern-day Haiti. Alex, the father, was a highly decorated member of the French military during the time around the French Revolution. It is a fascinating story of the African Diaspora, and a really cool backstory for many of Alexandre Dumas’ novels.
I love discussing these books with students in the Fall. They are enough escapist enough to be fun but connect to issues enough to get people talking. Let me know if you have read and enjoyed (or not) either of these!