Summer is almost over, which makes me a bit wistful and nostalgic. When I was a kid, one of my favorite summer activities was going to the library with my mom. She would take me to the kids’ section and go to the adjacent adult section (those were different times; I could never recommend such a thing now). I loved going through the shelves and taking down all the books I wanted to check out. By the time my mom came to get me, I needed her help to get them all to the checkout desk! I devoured them at home, and was ready to check out more by the time they were due.
In other words, I LOVED summer reading.
BUT – if my school had required me to read specified books over the summer, I would have HATED it. I would have resented that chore and put it off until the last possible moment. And then I would’ve approached the required readings with such a chip on my shoulder, I might not even have enjoyed books which otherwise I would have loved, if I had just been given the choice to read them.
If this is true of me, an avid booklover, what must it be like for kids who don’t love to read, and for those who struggle with the process?
I do understand why so many schools put a great deal of emphasis on reading over the summer: to keep and build reading skills, and keep kids’ minds active. I entirely respect that. But is forcing kids to read really the way to do that?
When I worked as a bookseller, every spring the dreaded reading lists would come in. And I would be filled with sympathy for the kids. For one thing, the lists were patently unfair. Some kids got to read popular novels by the likes of John Grisham or Stephen King, while other kids had to read things like the nonfiction book First They Killed My Father. I have absolutely no doubt that the latter is worthwhile to read, but in that case, why not have the kids read it during school when they could discuss it, and then help them process the difficult material?
Many kids had long and specific lists they had to read over the summer. Heavens to Murgatroyd, there was required reading for kindergartners! Again I ask, is forcing a kid to read the way to nurture a life-long love of reading? I have to think the answer is NO.
In the words of Mark Twain, “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and… play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” Why make such onerous work out of something that could be a joy?
Why not do something like libraries around the country are doing? My local library system hosts Summer Reading for kids of all ages and adults. It varies from library to library and between age groups, but what I’ve seen are things like game boards for the younger kids and bingo cards for the older students and adults.
You get to fill in a spot when you finish a book or do other fun things – like go to a library program, write a book review, or design a book cover.
Then you get raffle tickets for gift baskets of cool things, like movie candy with vouchers for free DVD rentals, and gift cards for everything from grocery stores (for adults) to concerts, plays, and music lessons. And for students, books read must be age- and reading-level appropriate. The library offers lists for reading suggestions, for example from the YA Library Services Association and Teen Reads. Note that they emphasize to the kids “a book YOU want to read.” They also encourage kids to ask the Youth librarians for help. And the teens get a pizza party at the end of the summer. How cool is that!
I tell you what: I took part in the adult program, and it was great fun!
Libraries absolutely do rock!