Clovis High School seniors Michael Stallcup, left, and Mathew Coker, look for books at the school’s library
Charles Downing didn’t really like to read before he became involved in Clovis High School’s outside reading program.
“It just took me forever to read a book — I would just put it off,” the 17-year-old senior said. “That’s not the case so much anymore.”
In fact, last year as a junior, Downing read Michael Shaara’s “Killer Angels” about the Civil War, and this year, he’s already completed his reading assignment by tackling “Cannery Row” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck.
Since his introduction into the program, Downing has become a discerning reader.
“They need to put better books on the (outside reading) list,” he said. “A lot of the books on it are ‘fluff’ books. They have, maybe, one or two books for the serious reader, so I don’t really care about some of them. But I do like the concept of the program.”
Carol Singletary, journalism teacher at the high school, said the purpose of the program is to draw more students into the realm of reading.
“We could have gone with all classics, but part of our purpose is to get kids to read and to see the real pleasure in it,” she said.
In the program, students pick books chosen for their grade levels, read those books, set up an appointment with a teacher who has read that same book and dialogue with that teacher about the book’s details.
“We do it in conjunction with the English department, American government and the history department,” Singletary said. “It takes the place of the traditional book report.”
It’s a reading assignment, and students get credit for it, Singletary said.
“It’s for all three grade levels, and it’s more important to some students than others,” she said. “On a whole, sophomores are more inclined not to do it and take the grade hit, but seniors tend to do it more because they know how important it can be.”
Singletary described one student just learning about the program, who told her, “This is the first book I’ve read since ‘Green Eggs & Ham’ or something like that.”
“We have tried to pick a variety of current popular fiction for students to read,” Singletary said. “The most popular authors are, probably, Mary Higgins Clark or Robin Cook — and, of course, the whole genre of science fiction and fantasy.”
CHS senior Amy Simonton, 17, said she appreciated the program.
“It gets us students to read a lot more — not just textbooks,” she said. “This program might introduce us to an author we might love for the rest of our lives. My favorite author is Mary Higgins Clark, but I didn’t get interested in her until my sophomore year.”
One of the best book Simonton said she has read was “Kaffir Boy” by Mark Mathabane.
“It was a good book,” she said. “It showed me what it would be like to be in South Africa during the time of apartheid. It opened my eyes to see how cruel people could be and how he could triumph over such segregation. It encouraged me to read his sequel, ‘Kaffir Boy in America.’ It was equal to or greater than the first book.”
Singletary said the program suffers from not having enough copies of many of the books.
“Our biggest concern is the unavailability of the books,” she said. “Sometimes, parents or students can get the books cheap or secondhand, but that may not be an option for some families. Ten copies of some of the more popular titles wouldn’t be too many.”
“A lot of times, the books in the library are all checked out, and we can’t find them anywhere,” Downing said. “So I went out and bought ‘Cannery Row.’”
CHS assistant librarian Ann Shuckman said funds are limited.
“The library tries to support the curriculum, but it’s hard to keep enough books for the students,” she said. “If they can’t get their books here at our library, they have to go to other places.”