The newly discovered and circulated junior high reading list from Minnesota in 1908 just hit the conservative websites. A word of caution here. Note that this was a recommended reading list. There is no evidence that 7th-graders had them assigned, completed them, were tested on them for knowledge, or even looked into any of this. These are lists made up by one or more people, lists that just sorta seemed like a good idea for kids to read. As this was a published list, there is every reason to suspect that these were pitched as high as possible to makes one's own town look smart - a community with high standards and awareness of literary quality. Aspera ad astra, and all that.
When my God-daughter entered high school, I gave her a pile of books I recommended she read before she finished. Though she is an excellent student, I tried to remember at each turn that she is young, that this was a supplementary list for the next four years, that lists can be intimidating, and individual books often need an introduction*. It included How To Lie With Statistics, and Eat The Rich, which are likely not on anyone else's list. I don't know if she's read a word of any of them, halfway through her junior year.
In short, the existence of a list tells us nothing. The existence of the new list tells us nothing about whether those works are being read either.
However, the observations about the other qualities of the books chosen are worth noting. The older list not only contains books written over a wider time-span, they are set in a far greater range of places and times. This is straight out of CS Lewis and Reading Old Books. The modern list tells children that Now! is all-important; that today's political and cultural wrangles, and monitoring the feelings of today should dominate their contemplation and conversation. This is a great cultural shift from a century ago, when children were taught that they were bearers of a flame, of a long tradition of struggle and improvement, which they had a responsibility to pass on to succeeding generations.
One could make the argument that teaching children to focus on the world around them and make it good is a better goal. I disagree, but I can see that. I do note that it is a different goal, and is likely to lead to very different religious and social worlds. This may be unconscious, but it is not accidental. The educating adults have changed in attitude, and the lists illustrate that.
The third difference, that the more challenging reading level is good for children in and of itself, I no longer subscribe to very strongly. We believe it will slowly make them smarter. It won't. It might teach them that working at reading, or at anything, is personally valuable. It will teach them a different, more archaic vocabulary, but not give them a larger one.
*So I wrote an introduction of a few sentences on a slip of paper tucked into each one. Of course I did.