Summer Reading List Analysis: Required vs Recommended
There is no standard reading list for all schools; each one is different. This is because the required reading is part of the curriculum students will take up in the fall. Even if the same books are going to be a part of the curriculum, the same one may not start off the school year every time. Also, there is usually a recommended reading list that may or may not also be "required" (unless there is an additional reading requirement where students may choose from a list). In that case, who gets to choose what books go on the list?
Curriculum is not the sole decision of the teachers; the decision also lies with the school superintendent. This is why the required reading is more or less the same every year unless the school board enacts changes (like the number of additional books to be read). Recommended reading lists are usually guidelines to keep students' brains stimulated during the weeks they are out of school. They may or may not be prompted to discuss the additional books they have chosen to read; usually they are not brought up again during the school year because schoolwork tends to focus on what everyone has read, and no one reads the same optional selections. Catalogs provide educators with a list of books that are popular (or are expected to be popular, as with new releases) with the students. Usually this is an informed decision, but there is also the rare occasion where the selectors are sadly mistaken on some of their choices.
Other summer assignments in the past have included research papers or "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essays. Not all schools have done this or still do this, so your mileage may vary. Because students are at home for the summer, this may also be a perfect time for that parental involvement some districts crave (although they might want less of it in the case of certain parents protesting and attempting to ban this or that book on their list). With many areas across the nation cutting funding to summer programs for students, there may be little else to do anyway besides read (unless your local Borders has gone out of business and your public library is being closed down, in which case you are s.o.l.).
Summer belongs to the students, and while some will not read without incentive or without being forced to, others should be trusted to read whatever they want and write about it once school starts if need be. Whatever the assignment is, even non-readers and non-writers are capable of expressing an interest in something and making it relevant to the learning environment. Curriculum is curriculum, but the rest is best left to the individual students because there is no accounting for taste on either side of the list.