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Reconsidering Summer Reading

by Susan Dougherty, NJLA Board Member

The days of summer vacation are numbered and parents are immersed in the annual ritual of gathering school supplies, refreshing backpacks and lunchboxes, and scrambling to make sure their child has read the required summer reading book. In my children’s district, the request was reasonable: a picture book for my rising 3rd grader, which is the “whole school” summer read and was selected for grades K-3, and a graphic novel for my rising 5th grader, which he deemed as “not bad” and that he read before bed across a few days. In my estimation, while these requests were reasonable, they have not done much to support my children’s development as readers or their motivation to engage in reading or writing.

What has made a difference for my kids? Reading aloud. Each night this summer we read a few chapters of a book in the Warriors series. My rising 5th grader had read a few of the books during last school year and he was sure his younger sister would enjoy them too. So, we embarked on a nightly read aloud that has sparked speculation about characters’ actions and motivations, that has led to discussion of the meanings of new vocabulary words, that has led to strong emotional reactions, and that has even led to the creation of a Warriors spin off, created by the kids jointly, but written by my youngest.

Most will be aware of the criticisms of reading logs and other ways we’ve attempted to prompt at home reading during the school year. What if we also haven’t gone about summer reading in quite the right way? What if rather than assigning reading to be completed independently by the child, we encouraged families to engage in reading aloud together? It is these enjoyable read aloud sessions that will propel children to want to read, to want to practice the reading skills and strategies taught by their teachers, and to persevere as they engage in independent reading during the school day.

I recognize it isn’t always easy for families to carve out the time for reading aloud during the summer, but most summer reading programs don’t attempt to involve families. The vast majority of summer reading I see is focused on independent child reading. Next summer, let’s send home a list of recommended books to read aloud and even allow children to choose a book to kick off their reading to take home with them in June. Let’s choose books that are meant for an adult or older child to read aloud and not worry about matching and developing the child’s discrete reading skills over the summer. Let’s put copies of these books in community spaces – barber shops, libraries, summer camps – and encourage the adults in these spaces to read them aloud to kids. Let’s focus on making summer a time for enriching children’s literary lives and building the kind of relationship with books and other humans that make the task of “learning to read” in school worth the effort.

Recommended books for summer read aloud:

The Toys Go Out (trilogy)

The Unicorn Rescue Society (series)

The Magic Treehouse (series)

Zoey & Sassafras (series)

The Borrowers (series)

The Warriors (series)

The Tale of Despereaux

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (trilogy)

Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief (series)

Amari and the Night Brothers (series)

The City of Ember (series)

Aru Shah and the End of Time (The Padava series)


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