NPR released its "Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf" this week - its recommendations of "books that every 9- to 14-year-old should read," in the words of the call for listener suggestions. That phrasing sticks in my craw; I'm sure the intent was to highlight the awesomeness of the books, but it comes off as prescriptive, and if there's one thing I'd love all whatever-to-whatever-year-olds to learn, it's that they can make reading into whatever kind of experience they want by choosing their own reading material.
And once you get rid of that "should" business, it's a great list that sends exactly that message. Like the extensive summer reading list from our local schools, this list is broken into categories that practically scream, "You get to spend your reading life on whatever kinds of books you want!" You like magic? The NPR list has a "Fantasy Worlds" category. Prefer a cozier read? Try something from the "Family Life" list. Graphic novels count. So does nonfiction, with or without lots of pictures (or adolescent snark from a certain young diarist). You can read about kids whose backgrounds are like your own or different from your own, whoever you are. You can read a book that says "ages 9 to 12" when you're 8 or 13, and you can skip a book that doesn't look interesting and, if you want, come back to it when you're 29 or 92.
"Must-read" in the sense that we might call a summer blockbuster a "must-see?" Heck yes. I just hope no one's looking at that list as "must-read" in the homework sense.