ELA Summer Reading

2021 English Summer Reading

As Beacon English teachers, we expect literature to help make meaning of the world and our role in it. Therefore, we have updated our 2021 summer reading requirements to reflect this moment in our country and our own values. During this devastating pandemic that is only now beginning to recede in the United States, many thousands of people worldwide have marched and continue to write and speak publicly in an effort to dismantle structural racism and reform harmful policing practices following the May 25, 2020 videotaped murder of George Floyd in police custody. In our integrated community of learners, we seek to read and discuss the work of celebrated authors whose writings, as Black Americans, highlight themes that continue to shape our conversations about race. For example, James Baldwin writes eloquently, in his epistolary and seminal work, about the terror that Black men face as they navigate this country in their skin. The trio of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X reflects a strong tradition of oratory focused on social justice. We are assigning these readings because we believe that it is our duty and desire to participate in thoughtful conversations that encourage our community members to reflect on race in a productive way. We do not claim that our work will be done once we have completed this unit. This is a beginning and we are grateful to have this opportunity, with the assistance of these writings, to begin a dialogue that you will continue throughout your lives. We are called Beacon; we seek to be one.

Instructions: In the chart below, find the column for the grade you are entering. Each grade has a required reading assignment and a choice of writing prompt (12th grade elective assignments can be found on page 3). You are encouraged to be an active reader—use post-its or another annotation system to record your observations, insights, and questions—and should be ready to talk about the summer reading/writing during the first few weeks of school.


9th Grade

Coming of Age

10th Grade

Self in Society

11th Grade

American Lit.

12th Grade


Required reading

1. Read “Brownies”

2. Read ONE of the four stories below (summaries provided on page 2):

Read The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin:

Read three speeches below:

  1. MLK Jr.:  “Where Do We Go From Here” (link to audio)
  2. MLK Jr.: “Letter from Birmingham Jail”  (link to audio)
  3. Malcolm X: “Ballot or the Bullet” (link to audio—slightly different version)

See page 3.

Writing prompt

For 9th - 11th grade, choose ONE of the following prompts and respond to it in 1 - 2 double spaced pages:

  1. Write a letter responding to one of the texts. This letter should refer to specific lines in the required text and could be addressed to any of the following people:
    • The author/creator of the text
    • A character in the text
    • Someone to whom you are recommending the text (e.g., friend, frenemy, family member)
    • A public official (e.g., mayor or senator)

  1. Write a review, op-ed, or analysis that evaluates one of the texts. Be specific about what you like/dislike or agree/disagree with, referring to specific lines in the text.

Need help getting started? Here’s some questions you can use to brainstorm.

See page 3.

Additional Information for 9th and 12th Grade

9thPlease use the summaries below to help guide your reading selection. You may read more than the two required texts if you desire.

  • “Brownies” by ZZ Packer: A fourth-grade Brownies (Girl Scout) troop of Black girls go to summer camp, where they encounter a troop of white girls. Believing that one of the white girls addressed them with a racial insult, the Black girls resolve to beat up the white girls—until they discover that the situation is not as clear-cut as they had believed. (Adapted from Encyclopedia.com)
  • “The Flowers” by Alice Walker: Myop, a ten-year-old girl, is out for a walk when she steps into the skull of a dead man on the ground. (Content warning: reference to racial violence)
  • “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara: A young Black girl named Sylvia and some other neighborhood kids go on a trip with a well-educated woman named Miss Moore. The destination is the FAO Schwarz Toy Store in Manhattan, where the toys aimed at white customers are extremely expensive. Miss Moore uses the trip to show how an unjust system creates unfair access to resources for Black Americans—but the lesson on economic inequality is almost lost on the children. At the end, however, Sylvia seeks to be alone to contemplate the events of the day. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)
  • “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by Richard Wright: Dave Saunders is a seventeen-year-old Black boy desperate to prove his manhood. After being teased, babied, and disrespected, he decides that the only way he can make things right is by buying a gun. One dead mule, fifty dollars of debt, and an angry boss later, Dave is challenged to finally prove that he's a man once and for all. (Adapted from Shmoop)
  • “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” by Walter Dean Myers: Greg Ridley, a struggling student, fears his dad won’t let him join the basketball team he’s dreamed of. Two nights after being banished to “hit the books” in his room, Greg decides to leave the house and just get away. He goes to an abandoned warehouse, where he meets Lemon Brown. Lemon’s experiences cause Greg to begin to reflect on his own life. (Adapted from Storyboardthat.com)

12thPlease find your elective and its corresponding reading/writing assignments below.


Required Reading

Writing Prompt

Fiction Writing

Recitatif” by Toni Morrison

Write a story of 600-1000 words inspired by “Recitatif.” Don’t worry too much about what it means to be “inspired by”—your story could be very similar to, or very different from, the original.

Fantasy & Science Fiction

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler:

Write an open letter in which you discuss your current & honest understanding of of fantasy and science fiction as well as how Butler’s book is representative of both genres. The letter should be an honest meditation on Butler’s book & story and any parallels that can be drawn between Butler’s narrative and our experience in reading it. 600-900 words.   

Stories on Camera

Recommended Films

For each film you watch, keep a journal articulating your response to both the way the story was told, or the way the documentary style resonated with you. Many of these recommendations will provoke a more personal response, like a free-write or an op-ed piece. That’s okay!

I will keep adding to this list of recommendations throughout the summer.


Two Feature Articles:


Write an op-ed articulating your viewpoint in response to a larger question or insight that you see one of two readings  as offering. Try to include a mix of broad statements, specific details, numbers if helpful, anecdotes or reflections. You can build from or even lean heavily on a personal experience, and thus incorporate the first person; you can leave the first person out of it entirely and write as an informed, educated observer. Either way, make a clear overarching point. 600-900 words.