As days get longer and temperatures get higher, the promise of summer vacation is anxiously awaited among students and teachers alike. Although, the notorious and inevitable task that accompanies summer vacation may cause a couple of groans and even a few eyerolls. You guessed it, summer reading! However, if you have been searching for a summer reading book that *might* absolve those groans and eyerolls: look no further, we got you. But first, let’s explore some reasons why summer reading isn’t all that bad.
Let’s face it: in an age powered by bright and colorful screens that offer us everything we need to know in 15 seconds or less, how could reading possibly compete? Reading, not-so-surprisingly, counters the problems caused by phone addiction, which include anxiety, stress, decreased attention span, and poor academic performance. Some benefits of swapping a smartphone for a paperback include reduced stress, improved mental health, increased focus, and an overall gain of valuable knowledge. Que summer reading assignment!
Summer Reading is Vital
According to Readingeggs.com, summer reading specifically is a vital key to children’s academic success. The endless pros of summer reading vary from everything to increasing knowledge base, preventing summer learning loss, and encouraging lifelong reading habits. Likewise, Study.com compares summer reading to a form of exercise.
“Assistant Principal Twana Santana-Embry likens reading to exercising. She encourages students to read in an effort to strengthen their reading skills. Just like exercising keeps muscles in shape, reading keeps the brain in shape. If you don’t exercise, you lose muscle, and if you don’t read, you will lose literacy skills.”
With that in mind, let us dive into our number one book recommendation for summer reading: The Alchemist!
Among the endless possibilities of books to choose from for a summer reading assignment, this particular novel holds a special place in my heart for a plethora of reasons. Like many others, I found myself in a reading frenzy over the lockdown in 2020. In my search for deeper meaning, this book was recommended to me by a family member as they were currently reading it for a summer reading assignment (oh, the irony). At first, I was pridefully hesitant to pick up this novel as it is classified under a middle-school reading level. However, I humbled myself shortly after realizing the piece of ‘literature’ I had previously consumed was a “Which ‘Tiger King’ Character Are You?” BuzzFeed quiz. Let’s dive into it!
Published in 1988, this beautifully written novel by Paulo Coelho follows the story of Santiago, a young shepherd on his journey in search of buried treasure. Exploring themes of love, nature, and spirituality, this 163-page read is an easily digestible book that is sure to inspire higher thinking within both you and your students.
Taking place in the Spanish town of Tarifa, we are introduced to Santiago, a curious shepherd boy with a hunger to travel the world. After dreaming of buried treasure at the pyramids, he makes the critical decision of trading his flock to follow his dreams. While selling his flock, he meets Melchizedek, King of Salem, who introduces him to the world of magic and spirituality. Inspired by the promise of his ‘personal legend’, Santiago sets sail to Egypt in pursuit of the buried treasure.
After making it to Africa, Santiago is robbed in Tangier. However, he quickly befriends a crystal merchant and begins working in his shop to rebuild his fortune. Getting back on his feet, the merchant encourages him to re-embark on his search for buried treasure once more. Hastily joining a caravan across the desert, he meets an alchemist. The alchemist tells Santiago of the unseen secrets of nature, omens, and magic. After his crew is captured by an enemy army, Santiago pleads an ultimatum; he promises the army to perform a supernatural act of nature in exchange for their freedom. Successfully performing the miracle, Santiago and his caravan are set free to continue their journey across the desert.
Finally reaching the pyramids after a long and treacherous journey, Santiago is robbed once again by a group of refugees. Before leaving him for dead, one of the refugees scorns Santiago for his naivety. The refugee warns Santiago of his own foolish dream of finding that same treasure in the fields of Spain ‘where shepherds and their sheep slept.’ Returning to his homeland in the fields of Spain, Santiago makes one last effort to dig for the notoriously elusive buried treasure. And the rest… I will leave you to figure out for yourself, dear reader!
Among the plenty of lessons Santiago’s journey teaches us, both worldly and supernatural, here are three of the most noteworthy.
No one’s journey is the same.
“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” Oftentimes, we find ourselves prone to caring more about what other people think or say about our lives, rather than how we view ourselves. Maybe this phenomenon affects the direction of our life on a large scale, like choosing a career field that our parents pushed us to choose. Or maybe it manifests on a small scale, like not trying out that new hairstyle or piece of clothing out of fear of being judged. However, we must keep in mind that every time we refrain from doing things out of fear of what someone else might think or say, we give away a piece of ourselves. In the words of Lao Tzu, “Care about people’s approval / and you will be their prisoner.” So why stay trapped in a cage of inevitable judgment, when you hold the key to freedom through self-acceptance? Breakfree from the weight of comparison and allow yourself the right to be yourself.
Don’t give up on your dreams.
In the never-ending rollercoaster that is Santiago’s journey, we can say that one thing is for certain: he never gave up. Even at the end of the day, when his journey came full circle, he never once gave up on his quest of living out his dreams. Where some may call this delusion, or others naivety, Coelho advises: “Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.”
Take each day for what it is.
OK, this one is definitely easier said than done. But the beauty of being human lies in having the ability to learn something new each day. When we find ourselves having a ‘bad’ day, it is hard to see it for what it is amongst the frustration; it is easier to dismiss something as a ‘bad day’, rather than exploring what these conflicts might be trying to teach us. The same goes for good and even ‘neutral’ days; The Alchemist teaches us the beauty of life lies in the mundane. We can start to truly appreciate the uniqueness of every day by being present. In the words of Paulo Coelho:
“We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”
The Alchemist Summary
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