More Thoughts on Summer Reading

Earlier this week, I posted a blog entry called In Defense of Summer Reading, and I love the conversation it’s sparked. Some more thoughts:

Author   shares her thoughts on this topic in a post today, The Guiltless Pleasure of Summer Reading.

My friend   , a future librarian finishing up her graduate work right now, writes:

Kids have personalized visits with their guidance counselor, with the school nurse, etc. Why not with the librarian? At the beginning of the year, when a librarian is getting to know their students, they can hand out a questionnaire about reading habits: What is/are your favorite book(s)? Who is/are your favorite author(s)? What is/are your favorite genre(s)? It will help develop reader advisories. Before the summer, the librarian can set up one-on-one meetings with students and give them some personalized summer recommendations based on the students’ preferences, interests, and abilities and that are available at the local public library. Inform students how to borrow even more titles through interlibrary loan. Put a graphic organizer on the school website that students and their parents can access from any location. Students can then fill in brief details about a few of the books they read. Even better, make an online form for the students to submit the details immediately. For super-ambitious librarians, create a wiki and allow for (monitored) discussion of books. When the students return in the fall, the librarian can teach students to create their own booktalks to share with the rest of their class in the library.

(Don’t you so wish Stephanie could be your librarian?)

I mentioned that the "One Book to Read This Summer" project that prompted my students’ list was the brainchild of fellow English teacher & writer  .  She shared her 7th graders’ list of summer reading recommendations here.

Author Janni Lee Simner ( ) liked Cindy’s idea so much she’s started her own version.  She’s inviting us all to comment on this post, with our own summer reading recommendations (any age, any genre), and she’ll share the list later on.

Donalyn Miller, author of the amazing teacher resource THE BOOK WHISPERER, linked to my summer reading post and shared her blog post from around the same time last year, "A Tale of Two Tables."

And finally, there was this response to my passionately stated position that kids have the right to choose books for themselves, from   …

OKAY ! OKAY ! I’m soooo sorry for hiding Judy Blume. Love, Mom

(I fully expect my dog-eared copy of Forever to arrive in the mail any day now.)

Happy Summer Reading!

In Defense of Summer Reading Freedom

best tracker

I am a huge fan of reading.  And a huge fan of summer.

But I am not a fan of Summer Reading Requirements for kids.

That’s not to say I don’t think kids should read in the summer time.  I do.  At my house, you’ll find us all settling in with our books & sweaty glasses of iced lemonade at about the same time every afternoon.  So if that’s your idea of a summer reading program, then forget what I said about not being a fan.  It’s that other kind of Summer Reading I’m talking about.  The kind with capital letters and mandatory lists.

I’m a teacher, so I understand the reasons that some schools hand out lists of what has to be read over the summer months.  They have to do with testing and accountability and achievement gaps and the list goes on and on. But I think there are much more compelling reasons for schools to keep their standardized noses out of kids’ summer reading.

  • One-size-fits-all lists are a recipe for failure.  Kids in the same grade read at wildly different reading levels, and handing them all the same book as required reading is like giving them all the same size sneakers, no matter how big their feet might be. There is no “perfect book” for seventh graders or for tenth graders or fifth graders.  Not even the one that the teacher loves so much.  The reality is that any one-size-fits-all book requirement is going to be too easy or too little for some kids, too much and too difficult for others.  If our goal is to create readers, this is not the way to go about it.
  • People have rights as readers.  Think about it.  You’re probably looking forward to some summer reading yourself, right?  I’ll bet you have some titles in mind, and I’ll bet that some books will pop up over the next few months, too — books that your friends recommend or books you read about online.  But wait….  On June 24th, someone gives you a list.  “This is what you’ll be reading this summer,” they say. “Okay?”
No.  Not okay.  Not even if it’s a list of, say, twenty titles and I get to pick any five I want.  Twenty titles? Out of all the books in the world?  I get to choose from these twenty?  Really?
  • Summer is a time when our kids actually have the luxury of extra reading time, and if they’re passionate about what they’re reading, they can read for hours on end.  We can’t do that in school (as much as it’s a lovely thought).  But summer readers only show that kind of passion when they have choices.  As teachers — and parents — we need to respect those choices.
I live in a fairly small community, and sometimes, parents approach me in the dentists’ office or the waiting room at ballet lessons to talk about concerns over their kids’ reading.

“I’ve been wanting to talk with you about Jane,” they’ll whisper, leaning forward as if they’re about to confess her addiction to heroin.  “She reads those…those….Clique books. What should I do?”

“Get the rest of the series for her,” I’ll say.  “The library has all of them.”

I’ve had this conversation more times than I can count, with slight variations.  You can substitute graphic novels, Gossip Girls, R.L. Stine, Manga, or any number of books that kids love, that their parents have judged as less than literary.  And sure…there’s an argument that those books are the crack of the reading world.  But guess what?  An addiction to reading is what we’re after here.  And rabid, passionate reading can mean huge growth for kids’ literacy. I was reminded of that this week, grading my English final exam, a reflective essay in which students discuss their growth as readers.  One student wrote:

I used to read mega-slow, and by mega, I mean ultra-mega slow. But then I picked up the Clique series and it’s like everything changed. I couldn’t put down that book at all. So I kept reading and then I noticed I was reading at least 60 pages in one class period.

That’s what we in the education world call fluency.  And it’s an essential element of literacy — one that we can’t always develop as well as we’d like in the classroom because it takes time.  Lots and lots of time reading books that kids love. Books that might or might not be on that Summer Reading list with the capital letters.

So what’s the alternative?  If you don’t send home a list of classics and give a test in the fall, how will you know kids are reading?  Well…you won’t.  But the truth is that half of them aren’t reading that list of classics anyway, so there’s not all that much to lose by going with a more progressive summer reading model.  Ask parents to commit to a daily reading time at home.  Teach kids how to request the newest YA titles through inter-library loan.  And if you really like lists, what about letting kids make their own, based on your suggestions and recommendations from classmates?

There are some great summer reading idea lists floating around – here’s one that Josie Leavitt over at ShelfTalker pulled together from reader suggestions after lamenting the state of summer reading lists. And here’s a list of recommendations from  at Not-Your-Mother’s-Book-Club.

And one more…courtesy of my students.  I love teacher Cindy Faughnan‘s end-of-the-year assignment and stole it last year to use with my own 7th graders.  I use their suggestions of “The One Book to Read This Summer” to make a list of recommendations that I send home in their portfolios.

Summer Reading & Win Free Books

As a teacher, I’m often asked to recommend summer reading for kids.  I don’t like one-size-fits-all summer reading lists, but I often provide "idea lists" — with lots and lots of possibilities for lots of different kinds of readers.  Along those lines, I’m trying something new on my Twitter feed… Kate’s Great Summer Reads will feature a book a day with thoughts on who might like it and a link to IndieBound.  Today’s tweet:

Kate’s Great Summer Read #1: For mystery-lovers ages 8-12, E.B. White Read-Aloud Winner MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach.

I’m KateMessner on Twitter if you’d like to follow and make summer reading suggestions of your own, too!

Now on to the free books…

If you haven’t had a chance to play the "What Tree Are You?" game & enter to win an advance reader copy of THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z, you have until Friday, and you can click here to enter.  I’m loving the comments so far.  For example, did you know that   is a purple-leaf plum,   is an aspen, and   is a Charlie Brown Christmas tree?  What kind of tree are you??

Also in the blog-world this week:

You can visit   and enter to win a copy of Linda Urban’s delightful, foot-stomping picture book MOUSE WAS MAD.

Mary of KidLit fame is just back from BEA and giving away CATCHING FIRE, SHIVER, and ALONG FOR THE RIDE over at her KidLit blog.

And Reviewer X has a bunch of contests (some ending June 3rd so be quick!) Titles up for grabs include CATCHING FIRE as well as books by

   and Elizabeth Scott.  

And one more thing…

If you have not checked out this post from   about the caterpillars/eggs in her backyard, you should go see her photos and then get yourself outside to explore your own yard.  In my little world, this is what summer’s all about.

The One Book to Read This Summer!

Actually, my students and I are offering up several dozen books for you to devour in the coming months…

Thank you, thank you, thank you,

!  My 7th grade students loved your project idea, THE ONE BOOK TO READ THIS SUMMER.  I promised I’d share their recommendations with the team and beyond, so here we go…

If your friend said he or she was only going to read ONE BOOK this summer and asked you which one to read, what title would you recommend?  Some of my kids agonized over this. (“How about three? Can I recommend three?”)  Here are their choices:

(Note: I’ve linked to some great independent bookstores for cover copy. Feel free to order from your own favorite bookseller. And Global Citizens…don’t forget you can ask the library to get these through inter-library loan!)

Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata (recommended by Matt, Justin, Henry, Josh, & Bethany)
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (recommended by Natalie)
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (recommended by Katherine)
November Blues by Sharon Draper (recommended by Becky)
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson (recommended by Victoria)
Crash! by Jerry Spinelli (recommended by Alan)
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (recommended by James)
I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder (recommended by Caitlin)
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (recommended by Tianna)
Wolf Brother by Michele Paver (recommended by Ryan)
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (recommended by Eunice and Dee)
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (recommended by Molly and Amy)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (recommended by Robert and Kyle)
Cirque du Freak: Tunnels of Blood by Darren Shan (recommended by Tyler)
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (recommended by Nate)
Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes (recommended by Anna)
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix (recommended by Kemar)
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (recommended by Alexandra)
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce (recommended by Eunice)
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages (recommended by Brad)
Rooftop by Paul Volponi (recommended by Nathan)
Uglies by Scott Westerfield (recommended by Jonas)
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (recommended by Andy and Zane)
Rules by Cynthia Lord (recommended by Saleana)
The Elder Gods: Book One of The Dreamers by David & Leigh Eddings (recommended by Josh)
Extras by Scott Westerfield (recommended by Kianna)
Over the Wall by John H. Ritter (recommended by Cole)
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (recommended by Shawn)
Warriors: Power of Three by Erin Hunter  (recommended by Amanda)
The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson (recommended by Hamzah)
Late Bloomer by Fern Michaels (recommended by Francesca)
Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard (recommended by Allison)
Camp X by Eric Walters (recommended by Mohamed)
Arthur: The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossly-Holland (recommended by Maggie)
Small Steps by Louis Sachar (recommended by MacKenzie)
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (recommended by Alec)
Heroes Don’t Run by Harry Mazer (recommended by Devin)
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (recommended by Katelyn)
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud (recommended by Michele)
Broken China by Lori Aurelia Williams (recommended by Maegan)
Rescue Josh McGuire by Ben Mikaelsen (recommended by Kyle)
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (recommended by Josh)
Breathe My Name by R.A. Nelson (recommended by Meghan)
Last Shot by John Feinstein (recommended by Joey)
Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber (recommended by Logan)
Crank by Ellen Hopkins (recommended by Lakeiah)
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (recommended by Olivia)
Confessions by Kate Brian (recommended by Paige)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (recommended by Margaret)
Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy (recommended by Tracie and Kayla)
The Big Field by Mike Lupica (recommended by Josh)
Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy Hoobler (recommended by Cody)
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (recommended by Nicole)
Gossamer by Lois Lowry (recommended by Athena)
Private by Kate Brian (recommended by Janelle)
Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs (recommended by Nathaniel)

Happy reading!