If you or your children are looking for reading material to keep you entertained and informed during the summer months while school is out, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has some excellent suggestions.

In 1988 the NEH requested supplemental reading lists from public and private schools in every state, then selected sixty of those lists to compile a composite list based on the most popular suggestions. In order to keep the list limited to true “classics” that had lasted at least one generation, only books published before 1960 were included. This master list was released under the title Summertime Favorites and became an instant hit.

There wasn’t a big enough budget to send every schoolchild a copy, but a copy was sent to each school superintendent and each public library in the United States, and individual copies were provided for free on request. Today the original list and its successors are available in digital form to anyone who has access to the Internet.

NEH reissued the list in 1991 and 1995 under the title Timeless Classics, but the titles remained the same as those selected in 1988. By 2012 over a generation had passed, and NEH staff reviewed their entire reading list and updated it for a new generation. The 2012 NEH Summer Booklist for Young Readers is available only on the Web and covers only suggestions for grades K–8. Older readers are referred to the College Board’s list of 101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers, for which NEH has provided a number of supplemental study materials.

In 2014, as they were gearing up for their 50th anniversary, the NEH reviewed their perennially popular summer reading list and realized that very little on it was nonfiction. (Perhaps this is because nonfiction is more likely than fiction and poetry to become obsolete.) After consulting with experts in education and library science, reviewing similar book lists, and crowdsourcing more suggestions, they came up with an extensive list of suggested Nonfiction Favorites suitable for K–12 readers.

How many of these books have you read? Even if you’re not in school anymore, you might want to catch up on some of these timeless classics!


Article by Bobby Griffith.

Illustrations from posters for NEH Summertime Favorites Booklist and NEH Nonfiction Favorites Booklist.

Comments are closed.