Category Archives: summer reading

Bye-Bye Summer Reading Blues

School supplies purchased? Check.
Summer reading done?
First day outfit selected?  Check.
Summer reading done?
One last cookout? Check.
Summer reading done?
Found assigned book under the bed and read it at the last possible moment? Check.
All ready for the first day of school?  Check.

Long summer breaks from school can be wonderful — they give all the players a chance to do something different, to take a break from the regimens and demands of formal teaching and learning.  Formal because summer can still be a time of learning, just not one that involves tests and grades and high-stakes assessments.  And one of the most familiar forms of summer learning is summer reading.  Concerned about children returning to school with weaker reading skills than when they left, the so-called reading slump, educators have developed a variety of solutions.  They assign single books to read, ask children to read one from a list of books, or even just say they can read any book they want as long as they read something.

Sounds sensible doesn’t it?  Well, not necessarily.  Here are some of the problems I’ve encountered:

  • The assigned book contains upsetting material.  It is one thing to read such a book together while in school and there is a teacher to support the students as they understand it, quite another to ask them to read it completely on their own and then perhaps write about it or talk about it briefly when back in school.  I am saddened when I see complaints about summer reading books of this sort because I feel that they are accidents waiting to happen. That is, they are books that are complicated, the kind that kids need to process with adults, they should be in classrooms and they should be read.  Just not as a summer reading book, I think.
  • The small list of books contains not a single title that is of interest to the child.  This may not be a problem for avid readers, but for kids who are just turning into readers when the summer begins I’m sure nothing is worse than having to read, before school begins, a book that looks long and boring.  I can only imagine these kids going through the motions of reading, but getting little out of the book except a whole lot of misery.
  • Finally, there is what happens when the kids go back to school.  Some teachers do something of substance with these assigned books, but unfortunately others do very little.  They may ask the kids to write something briefly about the book they read, discuss it briefly the first day, or actually they may not even acknowledge it.  This creates a cynical attitude on the part of the kids that does nothing to help them when they are assigned another book to read the next summer.

I should say (if it isn’t clear already) that I am not a fan of assigned summer reading.  Those who love to read will read without any requirements from me and they will read what they want to read, not what I think they should read.  Those who don’t like to read are the worry, the reason for assigned reading in the first place and my feeling is that these kids need something very personal and very open — their schools and teachers need to set up a way for them to want to read over the summer.

Those with involved parents and sensitive schools  can be helped with individual programs.  I’ve done this with my own students — working with them to find reading material for the summer that appeals (and this can be nonfiction, comics, magazines, as well as fiction), set them up to be in touch with me about the reading, perhaps encourage them to read together with their parents, and so forth. The bigger concern are those children without such individual school and home support.  Summer reading programs that give these kids books, ideally whatever books they want, strike me as the best option.  My favorite of these programs is the venerable First Books, a wonderful organization that has long seen the value in kids both selecting and owning their own books.  A new report supports this idea. Researcher Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee found that, “Spending roughly $40 to $50 a year on free books for each child began to alleviate the achievement gap that occurs in the summer.”

For children who have been in school for a few weeks, the summer reading situation is long behind them, but for those whose first day of school is still to come, I suspect that too many of them are celebrating Labor Day by laboring away, working and working to finish that assigned summer reading book.

Also posted at the Huffington Post.

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Filed under Huffington Post, summer reading

Whose Favorite Books?

David Elzey wonders about the suggestions Susan Orlean has been getting after tweeting a request for #booksthatchangekidsworlds.  They do have more to do with adults remembering beloved books than what Orlean’s five-and-a-half-year-old son will necessarily go for (and remind me of similar suggestions made in response to a Nicholas Krisof op-ed piece of last year).  Coincidently, J. Bell has a post on the art of recommending a book to a kid that could serve as a cautionary tale to all those nostalgic adults.

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Filed under Reading, summer reading

That Summer Reading Slump

The question of the summer reading slump some kids experience came up during the NPR show on Friday.  My response was to advocate for programs that turn all kids into book owners, those programs that buy books for families and kids who might not otherwise have books in the home.  Give them fresh new books that they get to read and keep forever!

At one point a mention was made of other media — magazines, newspapers, comics, etc.  I didn’t weigh in then, but will now — any sort of print reading seems great to me.  If a kid wants to read news accounts of sports, that is totally fine with me.  The point is that he or she reads.  Doesn’t have to be a narrative, fiction or nonfiction.  Just something that has them dealing with the shape, sound, and meaning of words; it all helps them to build stamina, confidence, fluency, and enjoyment.  Summer reading is leisure reading for all of us and I think it very important to do everything we can to support developing readers so they begin to see reading as a fun leisure activity and develop reading confidence.

And while I absolutely agree with my fellow-guests that there are books of varying quality out there and it is important to help kids and parents figure out which is which, I also feel it is very, very, very important to support young readers in their summer/leisure reading by celebrating pretty much whatever they choose to read even if it isn’t something we think is particularly well-written. Keeping kids reading over the summer is key to avoid that dreaded slump, weak readers most of all, and so for the summer I’m for every sort of book, magazine, online site, and anything else with text and words that makes a kid want to read on.

I feel differently about the school year. As an expert reader I do feel that I can help my fourth grade students learn more about books, about good books, about good writing.  I do think school is the place to teach about best, better, and not-so-great texts. And so I do read aloud books to my class and have my 4th grade students study the best together, all the while supporting them as they choose their own books to read as well. While continuing to celebrate those personal reading choices, I want to help them develop their critical capacities — to be able to recognize the elements that make one book better than another.  Because I know my students will be getting more and more assigned books to read in future years, as well as developing their scholarly acumen, I want them to have time to determine just what their own tastes are as a reader and to have plenty of time to read the books they personally love most. For more about how I teach reading go to this post.

A few years ago I wrote a parody about required summer reading.  Thought it might be worth reposting for those who missed it.  Enjoy!

To require, or not to require, that is the question:
Whether 'tis safer for the child to tackle
The tomes and texts of summer reading,
Or to rest after a year of standards,
And by resting be just fine?  To bore: to make tedious:
No more; and by saying no required reading we end
The heart-ache and the hundreds of pages down
That eyes are following, 'tis a consummation
Urgently to be wish'd.  To bore, to make tedious
To read: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
for in required reading what dreams may come
When they are reading not what they chose,
It must give us pause: there's the worry
That makes calamity of so long a summer;
For who would otherwise bear the scores of tests,
The teacher's wrong, the greater authorities correct,
The pangs of summer fun, the sandlot game's delay,
The insolence of NCLB and the spurns
That patient scoring of the unworthy tests,
When the grader himself might his intellect make
content with a book? who would a library visit,
To read and turn pages under a flickering light,
But oh that dread of something after Labor Day,
No matter the undiscover'd book in whose pages
No child is lost, or left behind
And indeed makes us happier for we have
played with others and enjoyed the sun!
But required reading make cowards of us all;
Teachers and parents unresolved
Are sicklied 'oer with the pale cast of thought,
Is casual fun of greater import and meaning
In this regard than our children's future?
And so we go --- required summer reading all!
The fair child!  Innocent, in our eyes
Be all our beliefs --- read required, read.

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Filed under summer reading

Live! On Point! All About Summer Reading! For Kids! Of Course!

Today I was on the NPR program, On Point, along with Esme Raji Codell and Pete Cowdin, talking about summer reading for kids.  It was a blast! If you missed us live you can still listen to the show here.

Coming up with the requested “seven or eight” recently published titles was torture and so I ended up with nine.  (Our lists are on the website — just scroll down to see them.) Figuring the radio audience wouldn’t be as familiar with kids’ books as many of us and wanting to suggest books I know for sure are kid hits ( as I’ve read them aloud and/or given them to my students to read) my list is a mix of new, well-known, some less-so, some for slightly older kids, some for younger ones, a few quirky titles perhaps, and so on.  There’s a graphic novel (volcanoes!); one nonfiction (having just seen Philip Hoose and Claudette Colvin* at ALA accepting various awards it was on my mind); one picture book (fictionalized, but based on a real story); and the rest are novels for middle grade kids and up.  I enjoyed putting it together and had a great time doing the broadcast.  I’ve done a few radio shows, but always over the phone. Pretty neat, I have to say, to do it in an actual NPR studio.

* I first saw Phil and Claudette speak about the book last fall at the Schomburg Center here in Harlem.  Claudette had a lot to say to the teens that comprised the bulk of the audience.  Very, very moving indeed.

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Filed under Children's Literature, Reading, summer reading

Rebecca Stead, Mary Ann Hoberman and Joanne Dahme reviewed in this Sunday’s NY Times

For kids who are ahead of the game and have finished their Harry Potters, Hobbits and other classics of summer reading lists, here are three recent novels they could polish off for fun before school begins: suspense with a bit of the supernatural; a friendship story set during the Great Depression; and a historical novel involving mistaken identity and swordplay. Call it the pleasure reading list.

Check out these reviews of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (by yours truly), Mary Ann Hoberman’s Strawberry Hill and Joanne Dahme’s The Plague in this Sunday’s New York Times and then head on over to their Paper Cuts blog for more on summer reading and comments responding to their questions: “What are you (or your kids) reading this summer? Do you love it or hate it?”

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Filed under New York Times Review, summer reading

To require, or not to require: that is the question

To require, or not to require, that is the question:
Whether 'tis safer for the child to tackle
The tomes and texts of summer reading,
Or to rest after a year of standards,
And by resting be just fine?  To bore: to make tedious:
No more; and by saying no required reading we end
The heart-ache and the hundreds of pages down
That eyes are following, 'tis a consummation
Urgently to be wish'd.  To bore, to make tedious
To read: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
for in required reading what dreams may come
When they are reading not what they chose,
It must give us pause: there's the worry
That makes calamity of so long a summer;
For who would otherwise bear the scores of tests,
The teacher's wrong, the greater authorities correct,
The pangs of summer fun, the sandlot game's delay,
The insolence of NCLB and the spurns
That patient scoring of the unworthy tests,
When the grader himself might his intellect make
content with a book? who would a library visit,
To read and turn pages under a flickering light,
But oh that dread of something after Labor Day,
No matter the undiscover'd book in whose pages
No child is lost, or left behind
And indeed makes us happier for we have
played with others and enjoyed the sun!
But required reading make cowards of us all;
Teachers and parents unresolved
Are sicklied 'oer with the pale cast of thought,
Is casual fun of greater import and meaning
In this regard than our children's future?
And so we go --- required summer reading all!
The fair child!  Innocent, in our eyes
Be all our beliefs --- read required, read.

18 Comments

Filed under Reading, summer reading, Teaching