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.