Much ado about Cape's summer reading list

August 29, 2014

I've had a great summer of reading thanks to what I'll call the Cape Henlopen book club. It actually started with a reread of Aldous Huxley's classic “Brave New World” when questions about its content arose last spring, and finished with John Green's best seller and major tearjerker “The Fault In Our Stars.” In between were another nine books that were on the Blue Hen reading list - a list initially used for incoming freshmen at Cape High.

I must say reading all the books was enjoyable. I would not have chosen any of the books to read on my own, but each one had strengths. It was refreshing to lose myself in a novel instead of searching for something to watch on TV in my spare time.

The Blue Hen list, a selection of books chosen by readers and librarians to keep students reading throughout the summer, received extra attention after the school board removed it from the school's recommended reading because parents complained about the content of one of the books. They also questioned how the list was chosen.

The board's decision to remove one book from the list and later do away with the entire list remains a topic for columnists and special-interest groups alike, both local and national. School board members have been called homophobes by some who say those members took issue with “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” because the main character is gay.

Parents opposed to Cape's use of the Blue Hen list questioned why this list was selected for honors and college-bound students. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” was singled out initially because of a large amount of profanity in the book; parents also questioned abundant promiscuity, and drug and alcohol use throughout the novel.

Those for and against the board's decision pointed out other books on the list had similar content, so I decided to see for myself. I wonder how many people who have come out with strong opinions bothered to do so before they weighed in on the subject.

For me, there was no way I could write about any of this without doing some research, and if that research meant reading all 10 of the books on the Blue Hen list, then so be it.

All the books on the list were fun to read. I liked some more than others, but if the books get kids to read throughout the summer, that's not a bad thing. Reading is a skill that requires practice, and the more one reads, the better one gets - just like with sports and other activities.

After I finished my 10-book marathon, my reading agility definitely improved. It served me well in my next endeavor as I deciphered dense Dickens prose to learn about the fate of Oliver Twist.

For that, I can thank the Blue Hen reading list. It proves the more you read, the more your comprehension and speed increase - a particularly valuable tool for students who intend to go to college.

As far as references to profanity, sex, drugs and alchohol use by teens throughout the Blue Hen reading list books, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” wins. The book easily has more than 10 times the amount found in all of the remaining nine books on the list combined. There's a handful of profanity in “Butter,” “Eleanor and Park,” “If You Find Me,” “More Than This” and “The Fault In Our Stars.”

There are no drugs, sex, profanity or alcohol in “March,” “Boxers,” or “Scorpio Races.”

With the exception of a brutal rape scene of two young girls in “If You Find Me,” the sex scenes in “Eleanor and Park,” “Fault In Our Stars,” “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” and “More Than This,” are minimal. The first three books have only one scene in which sex is alluded to and “More Than This” has a couple of scenes with brief detail.

But there's another interesting fact about “More Than This” that neither side bothered to mention: The main character is gay. So, if the board removed “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” because the main character was gay, why didn't they remove “More Than This?”

Someone should have pointed that out. Did the people who made the Blue Hen list or those who chose it for Cape's freshman reading list read any of the books on the list?

I wonder.

And that's the point that some members of the school board were trying to make - how was the list chosen? To date, no one from the district has defended using the list or explained why they chose it.

While the point of the Blue Hen List was to keep kids reading throughout the summer - an applaudable goal - parents questioned whether it should be used for honors and college-bound students.

Which leads me to one final point: If the list was for honors and college-bound students, why would two graphic novels - glorified comic books - be on the list?

Of all the books, I think “March” and “Boxers” - the graphic novels - were the least appropriate for anyone going to college.

It has nothing to do with the content of the books - “March” is about civil rights and “Boxers” is about China's Boxer Rebellion. The illustrations in “Boxers” are gorgeous; my 8-year-old and 10-year-old sons enjoyed both books. So while those books would be fine for elementary or middle school-aged children, high school kids, especially those who are going on to college, should have more demanding material to read.

Parents who care about their children's education want them challenged.

A little less second guessing by the community and a little more attention to detail by the staff may be what Cape needs to create a top-notch reading list to accompany its stellar reputation.