After taking a hiatus last summer, the all-school summer reading program will return this summer with major changes. Over the next few months, St. Louis U. High students will be reading The Other Side: Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream of Crossing the Border by award winning author Juan Pablo Villalobos. The book was picked not by one of SLUH’s academic departments, as has been the tradition, but by a newly-formed committee aimed at choosing an engaging and pertinent book each year.
In the book, Villalobos combines the unique stories of 11 different migrants and their stories of courage, sacrafrice, and survival. The non-fiction stories serve as a way for readers to capture a glimpse of the U.S.-Central American refugee crisis.
All-school summer reading was started by English teacher Bill George as a way to keep SLUH students intellectually engagedduring the summer. Each year, one of the school’s departments would choose a book for the whole student body to read. The book was meant to be both engaging for the rising seniors and easy enough for the incoming freshmen to read. After reading the book, students would then take a quiz over it on the first day of school.
Last spring, Principal Ian Gibbons, S.J. announced that there would be no summer reading for the summer of 2019 due to the lack of excitement around the program.
With permission from Gibbons, librarian Lynne Casey decided to bring back the all-school summer reading this year. After reevaluating the program Gibbons, Casey believed that there needed to be a coalition of faculty members that would choose the book that connected with the school’s theme for that year.
“I wanted SLUH to be more deliberate about choosing the book; rather than tying it to the work of one department, SLUH should take a more thematic approach,” said Casey. “So, I suggested that we bring in a committee of people representing each department, people who cared and were interested in it, and that we tie the book in with the school's annual theme. Reading the book would be a way into the theme of the year, and that we create programming around the book.
Casey was modeling it after summer reading programs in other cities, who created a city-wide book for the city to read and bring in speakers and create discussion groups during the year.
“Chicago does this program called ‘One City, One Book’, where they have programming throughout the year, like speakers, films, and discussion groups, and lots of other cities have done this too,” said Casey.
After much conversation, the committee decided that The Other Side: Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream of Crossing the Border would be this year's summer book.
“Mrs. Alvarado brought up this book to the committee, and said she really liked it and thought that it approaches an important topic in an accessible way,” said Casey. “A few other teachers read it, and everyone that looked at it thought that it was a good idea.”
The Other Side: Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream on Crossing the Border is a medley of diverse experiences from eleven teenagers faced with the task of navigating the United States’s immigration process. It gives the reader insight into the thoughts and feelings of people who brave this process, illustrating the hope and optimism of those who forgo it while also highlighting the many risks involved.
The committee found the book as both accessible and entertaining to read, as well as, gives them the opportunity to do a lot with it during the year
“It is not long. It won’t be a challenge to get through. It is episodic,” said Casey. “The book also allows us to do a lot of programming. We don’t want this to be like past years, coming back, taking a quiz, and that be it, but we want to have maybe an event like we had this year for Black History Month with students going to different breakout sessions. We could watch a documentary or bring in an immigration lawyer or listen to speakers.”
The committee also thought that the book would be good for this year, especially since that year was an election year.
“We wanted to start discussion and make the students more aware of this issue,” said Casey. “We wanted to make them aware of this issue from the voices of kids that have been through the ordeal of immigrating. Maybe it just opens their eyes to language, stories in the news, to this issue.”
Casey suggests that students buy a book locally to support local business during the coronavirus pandemic.