Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Reading, & the Reading is Easy

Or not.

Summer reading is the buzz worthy topic now, what with it being summer and all. Some schools and public libraries have reading lists. Just the other day someone asked me (interesting enough, not a parent or teacher or child) where was my summer reading lists? Don't I have a list of books that summer reading participants have to read?

No. No, I don't. Why, I wonder, do you need the list?

What's wrong with a kid picking their own books? Don't get me wrong; I love doing readers advisory with kids. I love talking with them about books that they love - or hate. I love doing booklists and displays. It is simply my most favorite part of my job.

What I don't love so much? Parents not letting kids pick out their own books. Oh, the reasons may vary. Too busy to come into the library is always a good reason; wanting to make sure the kids read the "good" books; not wanting their child to waste time with a book they find boring or to miss out on a really good book.

But you know what? Just as there is value in learning who you can turn to for getting a good recommendation for a book, there is value in learning how to pick out books for yourself.

To slowly browse the shelves, discovering on your own that your favorite author wrote another book.

To not find anything and have your Mom saying "pick something already" and to grab a book and then be really really bored six days later and find out OMG despite the awful cover it's a great book.

To think you're going to like something, to find out you didn't and realize that you don't have to finish it.

To start forming your own tastes and ways to pick books, rather than always having a parent, teacher or librarian telling you what your tastes should be.

If summer is about freedom --at least, for students if not for the rest of us! -- why not the freedom to pick your own books, including the freedom to fail at picking the right one?

My summer reading post from two years ago is still timely: Play A Half Hour of Baseball Every Day

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Becker said...

I agree! We often have parents (and, less often, kids or teens) asking what they have to read to participate in our summer reading program. It's always the same answer--read what you WANT to read--be that books, comics, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes--just read! Our library has tons of online lists & bookmarks and staff favorites areas, but if someone is insistent, I always like to point to the online reviews by teens (, which I tell them are what other kids their age are reading and liking right now, a great place to start exploring, but not the end!

Anonymous said...

Yay! I love the baseball analogy-- thank you for linking to it again since I wasn't here two years ago!

I've actually got a whole series of rants about required reading up on my own blog. It's not a fancy professional type blog or anything, more an online journal where I occasionally ramble about professional things, but it's at I linked to you to round it out.

Paige Y. said...

I open up my school library four times each summer so that students (and their parents) can come in to check out books. We are out in the country so it's a long drive for many of our parents. Nevertheless, we do get a few students who come in. Fortunately, we do not have a required reading list. The closest we come is our Battle of the Books list but we stress that the program is completely voluntary.=

Michelle said...

This is a great point! Why can't we let kids make their own way? I'm of the mind that it's better to let them read a book they'll enjoy in the hopes of encouraging them to continue reading as compared to forcing something down their throats (I'm envisioning my parents standing over me forcing me to eat salmon until I was sick -- a food I'll never eat again, btw).

I do find myself wondering, though, if many parents look to these lists because they view them as "approved" by educators. Trying to get jump started on the next academic year.

Mary G Librarian said...

Loved your baseball analogy. For 3 years now, I have refused to require my kids to complete the required summer reading list from their school. I tell my kids that if their teachers have a problem with that, they can tell the teacher to talk to me. Nothing like taking something that should be totally enjoyable and turning into *yuk* homework! I have the same problem with the reading logs that are now required in all my kids' LA classes. They have to write down how long they read each day and how many pages. What a way to discourage kids from picking up a book for a few minutes here and there - they feel obligated to write it all down and don't want to go to the bother so they put down the book instead of reading.

Sisa said...

I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one that feels this way. The term "summer reading" to me always meant the books I read during summer vacation, not book picked out by someone else as "you should read this because it's summer now" sort of a thing.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I love this post. I heartily agree! Brings back distant memories of summer reading programs from when I was a kid--I don't remember having to read anything specified on a list, just some sort of library books.

Liz B said...

The salmon is a great example also of the types of books kids like, or don't. I love salmon as a grownup; but never had to eat it as a kid and being a very fussy eater would have probably hated it (and hated it still) if forced.

What gets me is all the conflicting messages about reading that are sent. Summer reading is "for fun." But then "here is the list." So now the message is "no, it's not fun, it's the list". And if the kid doesn't like any of the books on the list? The message to the kid is "you're NOT a "reader" because you didn't like these books." Or, my favorite "what I read isn't good enough".

Carrie K said...

Ooh, summer reading lists! I'm a HS librarian, and our county supervisor made us put together a SRL. Several of us tried to argue against it, but she overruled us all. It was a waste of time - our teachers don't use it or encourage the students to use it, our admin does not think one is needed. But the county supervisor got her way. I feel bad for any student who has a parent who makes them read off the list I put together. I worked hard to pick books across a wide spectrum of levels and interests, but there is SOOOO much else out there. I'd rather our students find their way to something they want.