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A reading project is not as bad as you think. There are plenty of ways that you can show your teacher that you read and understood your chosen book, and there's no need for the project to be painful. In fact, you might even enjoy this assignment.
First things first: Hopefully this goes without saying, but do make sure you complete the reading itself before moving forward to the project. No matter how creative your project idea is or how pretty your poster turns out, it'll be for naught if your teacher can tell you didn't read the book. We're harder to fool than you might expect.
Once you've finished your book, think about how you'd best demonstrate your new knowledge and understanding. I'm breaking my suggestions down into writing-based projects, artistic projects, and technology-based projects. Feel free to scan them all or pick the category that sounds most interesting to you.
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Engaging Essay Projects
Let me start this section by making it clear that writing projects about books do not have to equal book reports. Again, you do not need to write a bore-me-to-death book report. Chances are your teacher doesn't even want one. I never did. So skip the plot summary and the I'd-give-this-book-five-stars nonsense, and do something creative and interesting instead. You and your teacher will both be better off for your efforts. Here are my suggestions:
Keep a Diary or Journal in the Voice of a Character From the Book: You can follow the events of the novel and give your chosen character's impressions and reflections on those events. Be sure to go beyond the obvious. Sure, she might have been sad when her father died, but how would she write about that in a journal? What thoughts are racing through her mind? Who does she turn to for support? Is there any anger or frustration in her voice? Perhaps a sense of relief? Pick this project if you feel like the book's characters really came alive for you.
Write Letters Between Characters: This project can be done in two ways. You could write letters back and forth between two characters from your book. Or you could think outside the box a bit more and write letters between one character in your book and another person from literature or history. For example, say you read Theodore Taylor's The Cay this summer and think its protagonist, Phillip, might be a good pen pal to Brian from Garry Paulson's Hatchet. What would they say to each other? How would they get along? What stories might they share? Choose this project if you think interaction between characters is more interesting than introspection from one character.
Discover the Book's Relevance for You: If you like to write personal essays, full of your own opinions, don't limit yourself to a blasé "I liked this book because..." kind of review. Think about what--aside from liking or not liking it--you got out of reading this novel. Did the plot help you in some way to become a better person? Maybe reading Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak helped you realize that you wanted to reach out to your peers in school who don't seem to have a lot of friends. Or perhaps your book made you realize something that you don't want to do. Walter Dean Meyers's Sunrise Over Fallujah might make some readers eager to join the Army and others eager to stay out. Which camp would you fall into, and what in the book made you feel this way? Select this project if you consider yourself opinionated and like to share your views.
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Cool Crafty Projects
If you love to do hands-on assignments and create visually impressive products, check out these suggestions:
Create a Film Poster for Your Book: Imagine that your book has been made into a movie. How would you create a poster that shows something significant about the plot, tone, and/or theme of the story while simultaneously attracting a big audience? What famous actors would best play the rolls? Who would direct it? On the back of your poster, you could include a fictional review from someone like Roger Ebert. (As a rule, I think it's always a smart idea to include some sort of writing component with a project, to make it clear that you really know your stuff.) Pick this project if you think of yourself as a film buff or pop culture know-it-all.
Design a CD Cover and Burn a Playlist for Your Book: If your book's characters and themes reminded you of songs you love, go ahead and use that inspiration for your project. Design a cool looking CD cover that relates to your book, and in the CD booklet, include the reasons you chose each song (i.e. how they related to the story's characters, plot points, theme, or tone). This project works especially well for books about road trips, but can certainly be used for any kind of story. Choose this project if music is your life.
Get Crafty With Cartography (That's Mapmaking, FYI): Look back closely at the places that were important in your book, and illustrate a map that shows where they all are in relation to one another. Then create a key in which you explain why each place is so important to the story. This works well with books in which the location is really important, like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, but can be adapted to all sorts of stories. For example, you could map out the ship if you read Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Select this project if you're known for your close attention to detail.
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Clever Computer Projects
If you're tech-savvy, you have tons of potential projects at your finger tips. All of the "Cool Crafty Projects" could be modified to be done on the computer. And you're certainly able to create a blog for your character, rather than a paper-based diary or journal. The following are a few more ideas for computer-based projects:
Build a Facebook Page or Twitter Account for a Character: It's easy to set up a fictional Facebook or twitter account for a character from your book. Fill up your profile with the kinds of things that your chosen character would be into. If you've got a friend who read the same summer reading book, you could really wow your teacher and each set up an account for a different character. If you read one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books, one of you could be Sherlock Holmes and the other Watson. If you read Rodman Philbrick's Freak the Mighty, one of you could be Max and the other Kevin. That way you could comment back and forth on each other's pages. Pick this project if you're into social media sites.
Make a Mini-Movie About Your Book: If you're lucky enough to have advanced movie making software (like iMovie, for instance) on your computer, go make your masterpiece. If not, don't worry. If you have Windows, chances are you have Movie Maker without even knowing about it. If it's your first time making a movie on the computer, though, think about downloading Microsoft's Photo Story. It's free and simple to use and has enough features (photo effects, neat transitions, the ability to add music) that you can create a pretty cool product. Choose this project if you dream about being the next Steven Spielberg or M. Night Shyamalan.
Give a PowerPoint Presentation: I admit they're not exactly cutting-edge technology anymore, but don't overlook the possibility of a PowerPoint presentation. If you're smart, you can take advantage of the many features they now include, like sound effects and animation. Be careful, though; you don't want to distract your audience from the content of your presentation. Well-done PowerPoints only use the flashy features when they add to the content or highlight it. This kind of project works especially well if you happened to read a nonfiction book for summer reading, such as Sean Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. Select this project if you want to show off your technology and public speaking skills.
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Now Get to Work!
So now you have nine anything-but-boring reading project ideas. Stop dreading this assignment and go make something you're proud of!