105 Ways to Give a Book

Shhhh! Summer Reading

Today’s comic Rhymes with Orange strip is titled “Summer Reading,” and features a reading boy addressing a reading adult with this question: “You’re in a book club too? How many before you get a prize?”

Cue the bemused literary laughter.

Thing is, I believe in Summer Reading. I believe in Summer Reading Prizes. I even believe in — the horror — Summer Reading Lists.

Cue the ominous music.

While I was busy not reading blogs so that I could answer patrons’ questions about my shiny new library branch (“Where’s the biography section? Um, I guess I don’t know that either.”), there was a big discussion on Summer Reading Lists that came down pretty firmly Against. Having offered to organize a kidlitosphere list of good books for the summer, I was surprised. First by the initial emails against the concept and later by the posts. And so I did what came naturally to me — I ignored it.

But last night I went back to those posts and what I see here is a failure to communicate. Most people seem to be railing against “required summer reading” and calling them “summer reading lists.” Okay, different things in my mind and in my county. To me, a Summer Reading List is a selection of books that parents and kids might not otherwise know about pulled together in an easy format. So when those kids and parents come to the library and are looking for something to read — and they do ask that vaguely — the parent and librarians can direct them to some vetted books that will hopefully hold their interest. I’ve worked on the list for My Fair County twice, and we made sure the books covered a range of reading levels, genres, and cultures. Extra copies were purchased so that the books would be available. The children’s department staff fanned out over all the county schools and booktalked these books along with the Summer Reading Program to generate interest in reading. And it is all voluntary on the part of the kids and the parents. (The staff is pretty much required to do the booktalking, and some of us enjoy it so much that we want to do it on YouTube later.)

No one has to participate in the Summer Reading Program. If they participate, they don’t have to read those particular books. They’re just suggestions, ideas, new titles to try. And I think the program works. It gets more kids in the library. It puts books in the front of their minds. They think about reading. Because here’s the thing that people don’t seem to talk about when they refer to the children picking out their own books and blissfully sailing through there to-read list: Some kids don’t like to read. In fact, some kids will not read. And even more, some parents don’t really care.

So if these prizes and lists and promotions maybe trigger an interest in some kids, than that’s a fantastic step. If they reward kids who read anyway, well, how great to get recognized for a job well done. These days soccer kids get trophies for just playing the game, why can’t readers get a little pat on the back too? And maybe, just maybe, we’ll pull in some kids who wouldn’t have been reading without the incentive. I can’t see how that’s so wrong.

So I believe in Summer Reading and lists and prizes. And I believe in lazy reading and informal book clubs and finishing the latest Clique book. There’s room for both.

Edited to add: I didn’t have time to link to the original posts about Summer Reading Lists, but some opinions are noted at A Year of Reading, The Reading Zone, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Book Whisperer, and Becky’s Book Reviews.


Dawn said...

I believe in summer reading too...what I have a hard time with is school's giving kids lists of books they are to read over the summer.
Our library has a summer reading program and my kids love it. We've been involved with it every year. Interestingly enough this is the first year the library hasn't had prizes.....and this year my kids have read more than any of the other summers. Hmmmmmmm...

Anonymous said...

My random, train of thought response:

1 - Summer reading lists are the entire point of summer, to me. I was the mousy brainiac kid would wanted to read all summer, not go to the pool, not go to camp, not hang out with my friends.

2 - I hate that schools have to give kids lists of books because it suggests that there is not enough time in school and/or resources to allow the students to read during the school year all the books that "should be" included in an academic curriculum. (I mean, let's face it. I would never have read Moby Dick if it hadn't been for my Jr. year English class, and now it's among my favorite works.)

3 - I used to think I was against prizes too - prizes to read? This is better than Disneyland!!! - but my son is autistic, and we've had to use a prize-system to push him over a lot of developmental humps. Prizes to get kids to read vs. kids not reading? Have at it!

4- BC (before children) I didn't read as much - I took a hiatus, I guess. Now that I'm reading voraciously again, I'm super bummed out there's no reading contests for adults (yeah, I had to miss the last 48 hour challenge, dammit). I think I've realized summer reading lists - the kind where you mark down the books you've read, whatever they are, and tally them all up - are the entire point of existence!!

Anonymous said...

Hi MotherReader,

I'm with you! When I see those summer reading lists and contests for kids in libraries, I want to sign up myself. I LOVED this stuff when I was in elementary school. Maybe they should have these summer reading lists/contests for adults, too. :o)

Joan Holub, author

Kristen M. said...

My son participated in our county's summer reading program for preschoolers this year and it is a great little program. They get credit for a mix of reading, taking "nature" walks around the neighborhood, singing and dancing and going to the library. He already reads every day so I'm glad this program includes some other activities as well. Maybe summer programs for older kids should include other mind-expanding activities as well instead of just being a list of books.

Anonymous said...

Nothing like summer reading. I'm always on the hunt for great children's books and have recently discovered Bayard and their series of StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks and DiscoveryBoxBooks (which is a special Olympic edition) They have work by acclaimed children's books illustrator Helen Oxenbury appearing in the Storybox series for September. In addition to this, they also have some great activities for rainy days: http://www.storyboxbooks.com/potatoprinting.php, http://www.adventureboxbooks.com/macaroni-picture-frames.php, http://www.discoveryboxbooks.com/skittles.php Enjoy!

Janet Brown said...

We all believe in summer reading--and we've all known kids when we were young who hated to read so much that to read aloud a portion of text in class was sheer agony. They were the ones who wouldn't have read if you gave them a ten-speed bike. And usually their parents didn't care because they didn't read either.
There used to be a program that urged parents to read aloud to their children for ten minutes a day, from the day they first gave birth, providing easy-to-read, attractive books through clinics and pediatricians' offices. The joy of this was as they read to their offspring, they became more involved with books themselves.
Maybe the point isn't summer reading but daily reading--out loud, by parents who weren't given the book addiction themselves.

web said...

I would love to see the sort of up-to-date intelligent list we've been chatting about, for my kid who absolutely insists on having his own tastes and personality and in not being interested in all the classics I've saved for him, the little fink.

Terry Doherty said...

Summer reading was always the best ... and it would be nice to have a way to suggest some of the "new best" for kids. If you're still interested, I'm still in.

Connie said...

I believe in summer reading. My sons have always read during the summer by their own choice. What I object to is a required list that offers very little selection. My 10th grade son finds his limited choices so unpalatable that he's gone from being a voracious reader to someone who says he hates to read. He agrees to reading whatever he need to during the school year but he feels, and I agree, that the summer is his time and he should be able to read what he wants. He also must complete a 4 page graphic organizer for each book. I don't thing there's any more value in extracting information about characters, important quotes, or main ideas from a book he finds a chore vs. a book that he enjoys.