Summertime is a feast for the senses: there’s the feel of a warm breeze, the taste of campfire s’mores, the squeals of kids at the area pool… and the smell of a good summer book. In honor of this time of year, we spoke with four teachers/librarians about their thoughts on summer reading and the ways they encourage avid and reluctant readers alike to dip their toes in the water and dive into some good books.
One of summer reading’s biggest cheerleaders, Melanie Dulaney, is wrapping up her last year as the library media specialist at Hallsville Intermediate School in Hallsville, Tex. Soon, she’ll be onto her next chapter after 29 years teaching (19 years in the classroom, and 10 in the library), but not before she sends off her fifth and sixth grade students with endless options for summer reading.
“Right now, I’m pulling together a list of our state award books, the Texas Bluebonnet (grades 3-4) and the Lonestar (grades 6-7), and books from the website Reading Middle Grade that reflect my children’s specific interests and diverse needs,” Dulaney said. “I’ll send the list out electronically and in hard copy so everyone gets it, and include details about the summer reading programs at the two libraries outside our district’s borders, too.”
Dulaney also loads up the school’s book vending machine where children use tokens they’ve earned from hard work and/or good behavior to buy new books. She also fills book bags with ARCs and donated books she’s collected over the year for the kids in her Title 1 school. Many do not have books of their own at home, or their parents are unable to travel to the libraries outside their town. “We want each child to have at least one book to read over the summer,” Dulaney said.
Dulaney works tirelessly to choose books and genres that reflect the diversity of her student population, and offer them a bigger view of the world. “There’s a whole lot that they aren’t going to see in Hallsville, but [the world] is out there, and I want them to learn a little something about it every time they read.”
Maria Ruiz Olide, the children’s services librarian at the JFK Library in Vallejo, Calif., believes that summer reading needs a bit of a makeover. “Instead of focusing on the summer slide or required reading, it should be fun, engaging, and full of possibilities,” Ruiz Olide said. She thinks it all begins by getting kids through the library doors.
Her library’s summertime program line-up includes a juggler, an anime and manga workshop, and a pet parade that may be just the ticket to making kids excited about summer reading and books. “I love getting kids into the library for the summertime programs that may or may not be about the books right away,” Ruiz Olide said, “but it’s a great way to promote books and reading.”
When the promotion proves successful, Ruiz Olide is ready with books that interest and engage; tand that don’t need to check off boxes for tests or be at any particular reading level. “Why shouldn’t a sixth grader be able to read a third grade leveled book, or a graphic novel?” Ruiz Olide said, “We [adults] might read a book without the intent of learning or getting something out of it—just enjoyment. Why shouldn’t kids have the same chance? That’s how lifelong readers are made!”
Ruiz Olide believes this is best achieved with “books we like and that make us feel good.” Because this is different for every child, she helps each reader choose these types of books by asking questions including: “What was the last book or show you really liked?”
Ruiz Olide said, “Choice is so important because in most kids’ lives they’re always being told what to do. Here they can and should be making their own choices,” She keeps track of her patrons’ diverse likes and needs with a variety of lists and notebooks, encourages readers to do the same, and uses Novelist, a blog that gives tips on connecting books with readers, to help her keep up with the latest titles. But her greatest tools to connect patrons to their next favorite books are her ears.
By listening and paying attention, Ruiz Olide says that she can help a child find what they will enjoy—and balance it with what a parent wants for their child. She’s also able to discover whether a reluctant reader is having trouble with reading or needs the latest book by their favorite author.
“Summer is a perfect time to encourage the fun of reading, relaxing, and exploring new books,” Ruiz Olide said, “It’s also a good time to grab an audiobook if there’s a book a reader may want to read but might be too hard for them right now, or read it as a family read-aloud. I often suggest that older kids read to young siblings and make it a family event. It helps teach the joy and importance of reading—and encourages learning, too. Lifelong reading and learning go hand in hand. Summer is filled with possibilities!”
Galiah Morgenstern is a fourth grade special education teacher who co-teaches with Liz Lapidus at P.S. 174 in Queens, N.Y. “Her expertise lies in curriculum, while mine is in strategies,” Morgenstern said. “I also help promote reading and reading engagement because I love literacy—and books!”
Morgenstern goes to great lengths to learn which books interest her diverse group of fouth graders and chooses all of the class’s reading materials and read-alouds with this in mind. She says, “You have to know your kids!” She also knows books and is “the person” her students and others in the school ask for book recommendations and to borrow books. Morgenstern has run a summer book club for interested students for the past few years. “We met in-person pre-Covid and remotely last year,” she said, “and chose titles the members were excited about reading and talking about.”
A past book club selection, A Thousand Questions, by Saadia Faruq, sparked lots of conversation, creativity, and interaction with the author during a virtual visit. “Like the main character in the story, the kids created t-shirts with catchy sayings and they cooked because she prepared different foods from her ancestors’ homeland.”
Summer book club members are expected to meet three to four times a month, complete a portion of the book between meetings, read with a prompt in mind, and participate in projects and/or activities related to the title. Morgenstern’s goal for each activity is “to take a concept from a book and explore it further, and to use different learning modalities.”
Aside from the book club, Morgenstern encourages all of her students to read widely and deeply during the summer to build their reading stamina and to keep the gains they’ve made during the previous school year. She likens reading time to training at the gym. “Like athletes who don’t train regularly, if readers stop reading for two to three months, they’re going to have to go back to square one when they return to school.”
To encourage forward momentum, she and her co-teacher supply each of their students with special reading/writing notebooks for their summer reading and writing. Before leaving for vacation, the students decorate them, discuss how they might use them, and are encouraged to start right away. Morgenstern also offers students additional book recommendations based on their interests, and encourages them to visit the library and bookstore.
Morgenstern hopes these efforts will help her students transcend to a whole new level of reading. “I hope that the more they read, they’ll see reading as something we do—not a chore,'' she said, “and eventually, they’ll move toward wanting to curl up with a good book and read.”
Eti Berland is the youth and teen services librarian at the Lincolnwood Public Library in Lincolnwood, Ill. When she’s not organizing a flash mob celebrating Caldecott Books at an American Library Association Annual Conference, hosting a Youth Media Awards Breakfast with donuts, fuzzy slippers, and goodie bags; or soaking in everything from two of her literary/literacy influences, Jason Reynolds and Donalyn Miller, among others, Berland moves about her library helping readers find that book—the one that will change everything.
For Berland, summer reading begins and ends with access. “We want kids to have books before they go on summer break,” she said. “Books that are really interesting, engaging, and ones that they choose. We’re wired for choice, and if we help cultivate choice, we are cultivating the skill of becoming a reader.”
Berland’s added, “The whole point is for them to have lifelong relationships with words, books, and stories. “I agree with Reynolds when he talks about the importance of readers’ relationship with words.”
To build this relationship in the summertime—and year-round, Berland helps readers choose books that interest them, whether those books are recommended by their teachers or they discover them together through a variety of means. Bertland creates engaging book displays to entice readers to find something new, reads endlessly, and uses the We Are Kid Lit Collective especially for its summer reading lists. “We don’t want any child who comes into our library to leave without a book,” Berland said. “Even if they don’t have a library card for some reason, I will find an ARC for them to take home.”
You won’t find Berland using terms like “summer slide” and “learning loss” from remote learning in her dealings with kids and parents. “I think we need to recognize that our children have dealt with so much, and we’re measuring them with a yardstick that is ineffective,” Berland said. “When we do this, we diminish any gains they have made in terms of showing kindness, taking care of each other, and all that they did learn at home during virtual learning—and all in the midst of the constant drama of a global pandemic!”
Instead, Berland sets her sights on reading readiness and encouraging a love of reading. Her tools of engagement start with asking readers, “ ‘What kinds of things do you like? What is your favorite thing to read?’ That’s when, for example, I get to give young readers the latest book in the Phoebe and Her Unicorn series and help them on their way to becoming independent readers.”
She’s also ready with questions for readers who may not seem to love reading just yet, and/or find it challenging. These questions may include, “What is it that you like about reading—and what don’t you like?” Then, Berland makes recommendations to help all of her readers to become “wild readers” (as Donalyn Miller calls them in Reading in the Wild), or readers who “cultivate lifelong reading habits.”
Berland also involves readers’ caregivers in conversations. Many of them will specifically ask for Berland’s help because of her previous recommendations. “Sometimes I’ll remember them and what I recommended. Other times, I’ll say, ‘Remind me what I recommended last time that you liked,” Berland said. “They sometimes say, ‘We came for you, because you’re our librarian.’ It’s a privilege. It makes my heart so happy.”