Aside from the rush of a few major holidays (where candy and presents are often involved), it's hard to match the elation most kids feel on the last day of the school year. Homework takes a hike, and long days of play and freedom lie ahead. But educational studies bear out that too many lazy, hazy days away from books can result in a measurable backslide in reading skills. Hence parents, teachers and librarians encourage summer reading to keep vacationing students at the top of their game—and ready for the demands of the next grade level.
In recent years, an increasing number of educators have come to appreciate the value of audiobooks as a literacy tool—a reinforcement of the printed word and an entertaining way to introduce and enjoy literature. PW recently spoke with several experts in the library and academic worlds about how audiobooks can play a role in fulfilling summer reading requirements.
"Summer reading lists have two purposes, in most cases," said Francisca Goldsmith, who works with children's audiobooks in the Collection Management and Production department at Berkeley Public Library in California. "The lists are intended to give kids some direction in reading because it's important that they don't let 12—15 weeks lapse with no practice with visual reading, which develops skill for decoding, reading print for content, etc. If kids are reading something visually, be it series fiction, science fiction, or whatever, then listening to titles on the summer reading list is just fine," she added.
"The other purpose of summer lists is to engage students in thinking about works of literature in a way that prepares them to discuss the works during the new school year," Goldsmith explained. "One of the real benefits of undertaking the summer reading list in audio format is that kids often listen when they are with other family members (while doing summer traveling, for example), so there is a built-in discussion group right at hand."
Heather Gillies, children's librarian at the Stonington Free Library in Connecticut, supports summer listening as well. "There is certainly a place for audio in the summer reading mix," she said. "While listening, kids are still being exposed to language and literature. Audio is especially good for some reluctant readers and remedial readers. They can enjoy the experience of a book without the heartache," she noted. "You don't want a kid doing audio only because they need to practice other important reading skills in the summer. However, listening and reading go hand in hand. Once children are phonetically aware—and audio can help a great deal with this—they can explore a larger vocabulary."
Carolyn Markuson, a consultant for biblioTECH Corporation (which builds collections for school and public libraries), believes that unabridged audiobooks offer an excellent opportunity for kids to read along and sharpen skills. "My grandson and I have been reading and listening to things together," she said. "Audiobooks have helped him learn how to pronounce and understand new words—like 'swastika,' in a World War II novel. He thoroughly enjoys listening, and now, when he's reading a print book, he says, 'I only have to look up the hard words.' "
Some librarians believe that audio is a pathway to success for some otherwise unreachable students. "For some kids, audio is the only way they can enjoy a book, for a number of reasons [learning difficulties, etc.]," said Nancy Young, director of the Stonington Free Library. "I have no problem at all recommending audiobooks for summer reading," she added. Markuson concurs, "If a child is simply not going to, or is not able to read a book, they're going to be excluded from the discussion of that book in class. Audio can prevent those kids from being penalized twice."
These days many bookstores obtain local schools' summer reading lists and happily stock those titles. For the reasons mentioned above and others—including the high entertainment value of many audiobooks—booksellers may do well to offer audio editions of the books as well.