English 10 Honors Summer Reading

The summer reading assignment for the English 10 Honors Option involves reading one of the novels listed below and taking notes on the novel’s themes.

To effectively take notes on your novel’s themes, you must keep in mind that theme is the author’s insight about life or human nature and that an author builds his or her themes over the course of a book. For this reason, your notes should include analysis of text from throughout your book.

Within the first week of school, Honors Option students will be required to write an in-class essay on this book. Comprehensive and thoughtful notes are essential to your success on this writing assignment.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
From goodreads:
Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine's father. After Mr Earnshaw's death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine's brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (* please see below for common sense media’s note to parents)
From goodreads:
Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local "powhitetrash." At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.
From common sense media:
Parents need to know that the first volume in poet Maya Angelou's autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is a poignant and poetic account of the author's life up until age 17. Named for the caged-bird image that Lawrence Dunbar used in his poem "Sympathy," the book honestly reveals the cruelty, indignity, and injustice that confined African Americans in the 1930s and '40s -- the cage -- but also celebrates black people's spirit, humor, and courage. Reading Dunbar's poem may offer further insight into this book. Nominated for a National Book Award, this autobiographical work is strong, honest, and beautifully written, but it details some very upsetting personal incidents, including the rape of a very young girl, shocking racial prejudice, and gritty urban life, so it may be too disturbing for preteens. Angelou also wrote the screenplay for a 1999 movie adaptation of the book.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
From goodreads:
In what may be Dickens's best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of "great expectations." In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
From goodreads:
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time, Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world's great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
From goodreads:
Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne's concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.

Use the Following Suggestions to Guide Your Note Taking:

  • As you begin your book, take notice of “seeds” or ideas that your author seems to be planting. What ideas feel important?

  • Throughout your reading, keep an eye out for places where your author develops the “seeds” that he or she planted in the early pages of your book. How has that seed or idea taken shape? What does your author specifically do or include to influence how that seed develops?

  • Carefully consider your book’s final pages. How does the author wrap up the story? In these final, culminating scenes the themes should feel stronger than ever. What does the author want the reader to walk away with? The author’s seed has developed into what message/theme?

  • Avoid summarizing the plot of the novel. Your goal is to choose passages of text that you believe introduce, develop, and summarize the novel’s themes.

  • Use dialectical notes to record your thinking about themes that emerge and develop over the course of your book. Dialectical notes feature an important quote alongside the reader’s thinking about that quote. Dialectical notes should sound like you’re having a conversation with the text. Please see below for an example of dialectical notes focused on tracing a theme in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

“The Radleys, welcome anywhere in town, kept to themselves, a predilection unforgivable in Maycomb. . . .” (chapter 1)

"I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody....it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you." (chapter 11)

"The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying those resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it ---- whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, the white man is trash." (chapter 23)

“He likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children.” (chapter 25)


In these early pages of the book, it seems that Lee is establishing that this town is a little closed minded in the way they view the Radleys since they don’t go to church or do other things common in Maycomb. This seems to be a prejudice against their lifestyle since it seems that the town might not really know them and has become pretty superstitious about them. People often get suspicious about what they don’t understand or what seems strange to them.

Atticus’ response to Scout’s question of whether he is a “nigger lover” shows that Atticus (and many people like him) tries his best to combat prejudice. Not only is he willing to use his professional life to take a stand against discrimination, but he tries to instill this in his children. He points out that prejudicial words shouldn’t hurt us and instead suggests that the person with prejudice in their heart is lacking - not money or material possessions, but basic human decency.

Here, Harper Lee uses Atticus’ character to expand on the idea of racial prejudice and how those who spew it are lacking. Atticus tells Jem how prejudice doesn’t belong in the judicial system but is there nonetheless. Atticus also emphasizes how discriminating or taking advantage of someone is a despicable act, making it very clear that no amount of money or social standing can change that. Atticus respects humanity - not a particular race, family heritage, or social status. There is a definite message that race should never come into play when judging behavior - a good person treats all others with respect.

When Mr. Underwood says this, it echoes back to Atticus asking the children not to shoot at mockingbirds and Ms. Maudie’s explanation to the kids about how mockingbirds sing their hearts out for people and don’t do anything to hurt them. Harper Lee is using the birds as a symbol to reinforce her theme. The birds seem to be a symbol of goodness or innocence. And here, Mr. Underwood says Tom’s death is like this innocence being “slaughtered.” “Slaughtered” is really powerful word choice, and I think that the author uses it along with the symbol of the birds in order to send her message that racism and prejudice are slaughtering or destroying what is good and innocent.