Summer Reading information for AP English Lit. and Composition

Posted on May 18, 2017

Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition

Summer Reading/Writing 2021-2022

Instructor: Mr. Coffee, and Ms. Beelaert,

Students registered for the Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition course (0329) should receive their Summer Reading task as a shared document via email from Mr. Coffee at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. It is also available at the Penn High School website and through Kingsmen Nation sent from Mr. Galiher to all Penn students. 

Students enrolled in AP English Lit are typically seniors; although, it is not required that a student be a senior to participate in AP English Lit. Students who believe they are improperly registered and should have received a Summer assignment should partake in the task and contact their counselors immediately in August 2021 as the school year gets under way. 

N.B. The AP English Lit Course Description published by College Board (Effective Fall 2014) indicates that students enrolling in this course “should read widely and reflect on their reading through extensive discussion, writing and rewriting . . . [and] should assume considerable responsibility for the amount of reading and writing they do.” Additionally, this course seeks to engage “students in the careful reading and critical analysis of imaginative literature. Through the close reading of selected texts, students deepen their understanding of the ways writers use language to provide both meaning and pleasure for their readers. As they read, students consider a work’s structure, style, and themes as well as such smaller-scale elements as the use of figurative language, imagery, symbolism, and tone.” – Any reading students do this summer should be done with this in mind. 

The AP English Literature Course and Exam Description published by College Board (Effective Fall 2020) establishes that: 

Over the course of their literature studies in secondary school, and by the end of their AP English Literature and Composition class, students should have studied a variety of texts by diverse authors from a variety of time periods ranging from the English Renaissance to the present. However, students may not be prepared to read and analyze the most challenging literature from the very beginning of the course because students have not yet developed proficiency in the content and skills necessary to engage such literary works. The texts that students read should accommodate their current reading skill proficiency but also appropriately challenge them to further develop their reading skills. (117)

It is important to remember as students read this summer and through the coming year: “[T]he universal value of literary art [often] probes difficult and harsh life experiences,” and as a result, “fair representation of issues and peoples may occasionally include controversial material. Since AP students have chosen a program that directly involves them in college-level work, the AP English Literature and Composition Exam depends on a level of maturity consistent with the age of 12th-grade students who have engaged in thoughtful analysis of literary texts. . . AP students should have the maturity, the skill and the will to seek the larger meaning through thoughtful research. Such thoughtfulness is both fair and owed to the art and to the author.” 

Recall Test: Students’ summer-reading grade will be determined by a multiple-choice test on all three texts and an in-class timed essay over one of the pieces students are responsible for this summer (students will choose which selection they will write about, and they will choose the prompt to which they will respond). Assessment will not occur until mid-September (the week of September 13). This gives us an opportunity to address questions regarding the reading. We encourage students to complete the reading before school begins, but there is no writing assignment due on the first day. The multiple-choice and in-class essay will be recorded as two of the first scores of the school year. In addition, the writing task will also serve as a baseline by which to measure academic growth and mastery of skills of each student.

 Reading Requirements:  Over the course of the summer, actively read three texts: 

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

And one of these two Shakespeare plays:

  • The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare 


  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (which is currently slated to be performed in our area twice in the fall at Notre Dame–in August through the ND Shakes Fest, and again later on with the Actors from the London Stage). 

The texts ought to be read in that order, and we have to be heavy-handed about the order to have some sense of order about this whole thing.  While it’s summer, we have to have some rules.  If students access this document electronically, Jane Eyre and Shakespeare do appear in the public domain, and links are provided. However, I recommend hard copies for note-taking purposes. These texts will serve as reference points this year, and they may appear as an option for you to write about on the AP Literature Exam in May, 2022. Additionally, they represent the variety of literary challenges we will face both in class and on the AP exam in May, 2022. 

In other words, if students struggle with Mr. Shakespeare, Ms. Bronte, or Ms. Rhys, they may want to reconsider their course of choice for the year. Granted, students will not be left alone with difficult texts throughout the year, if they are willing to give it the effort, we will seek ways to make meaning from our reading together. 

While reading the texts, students should annotate as they read. (If students purchase a Kindle or Nook version of the text, annotations are still expected but may be done electronically.)

Please share this handout with parents/guardians so that they know our purposes.  If students have any questions at any time, please do not hesitate to contact us at or

Please note: This is not an exercise in just jumping through hoops. There are thematic ideas that are introduced through these three pieces that will span the year. Additionally, it is crucial that students have as much literature in their toolbelt as possible in preparation for the AP Exam. The first title has appeared 18 times, the second title has appeared 5 times, and the third author has appeared on the AP exam 89 times.

These texts are linked in specific, unique, and intricate ways. 

I recommend students do not wait until the last minute to begin reading these texts. Below, please find suggestions for how to focus the reading. 

Keep an eye out for the themes identified below:

“And, after all, our surroundings influence our lives and characters as much as fate, destiny or any supernatural agency.” Pauline Hopkins, Contending Forces. In literary works, cultural, physical, or geographical surroundings often shape psychological or moral traits in a character. Be able to analyze how surroundings affect this character.

In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a character or literary society whose acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Be able to analyze how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.

Be conscious of characters whose origins are unusual or mysterious. Be able to analyze how these origins shape the character and that character’s relationships, and how the origins contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole.

Remember–when reflecting on the impact of a thematic idea on the meaning of the work as a whole, to merely state that without that moment or action or character (just for example), the text wouldn’t be the same, one’s reader’s response would then be, “well, duh.” 

The meaning of the work as a whole is its theme. It is the overarching message about life and/or humanity in general, as stated or implied through the piece of literature. It is not a single word. For instance, Macbeth’s theme is not ambition. Rather, Macbeth’s ambition to “jump the life to come” and to “know the future in the instant” violates natural order and results in suffering far beyond what he imagined when the seed was first planted in his mind by the weird sisters.  

Or, similarly, Lord of the Flies’ theme is not savagery. Rather, Jack’s hunters’ cruelty in Lord of the Flies reveals that without parents and policemen and neighbors to keep a watchful eye, no matter how civilized we may think ourselves to be, we are not insulated from losing ourselves to temptations.

Again, if students have any questions, they should contact Mr. Coffee or Ms. Beelaert at the email provided above.

Last Modified March 31, 2022