Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill addresses the importance of summer reading.

Locker Combinations

The days are getting longer, the mercury is climbing and the siren song of beaches, summer camp—or pretty much anything at all that isn’t school—is becoming irresistible. As the school year comes to an end, why should the teens in your life think about picking up a book during summer vacation? Research on summer reading provides some noteworthy answers.

One good reason is that reading over the summer has been shown to reduce “summer slide,” the term educators use to refer to the skills and knowledge that students lose over long summer breaks. A research brief produced by Karen Balsen and Douglas Moore for the New York State Library in 2010/2011 provides an accessible summary of much of this research, especially as it relates to socioeconomic factors. For example, Balsen and Moore cite a 2007 study that found that “two‚Äźthirds of the 9th [sic] grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years.” Having year-round access to a wide range of interesting reading material, this and other studies conclude, helps narrow achievement gaps and prevent summer learning loss.

Reading over the summer has been shown to reduce “summer slide,” the term educators use to refer to the skills and knowledge that students lose over long summer breaks. 

Many schools assign books to be read during vacation months, but why should teens also be given the chance to choose their own summer reading? In his various writings, including the seminal books The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research (Libraries Unlimited, 2nd ed. 2004) and Free Voluntary Reading (Libraries Unlimited, 2011), educational researcher Stephen D. Krashen advocates for free voluntary reading (FVR), “reading because you want to: no book reports, no questions at the end of the chapter.” Citing dozens of research studies, Krashen explains that FVR—“the kind of reading that most of us [especially BookPage readers!] do obsessively all the time”—promotes reading comprehension, acquisition of general knowledge and most of all the positive attitudes toward reading that are all but necessary for achieving reading fluency. Summer is the perfect time for teens to catch up on the FVR that busy school year schedules often preclude.

Finally, in what might possibly be the most unusual piece of research ever produced about summer reading, emergency room doctor Stephen Gwilym and his colleagues noticed in 2005 that traffic in their pediatric trauma center had plummeted on certain July weekends . . . the same weekends that new Harry Potter books were released. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they report “a [statistically] significant decrease in attendances on the intervention weekends . . . At no other point during the three year surveillance period was attendance that low.” Why weren’t kids and teens getting hurt in typical summer accidents on those weekends? Because instead they were sitting still, reading about Harry’s latest adventures.

Why weren’t kids and teens getting hurt in typical summer accidents on those weekends? 

Of course, this doesn’t quite work backwards: Dusting off your old copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince won’t necessarily keep you (or your teen) out of the ER this summer. But since Gwilym et al argue that Harry’s “lack of horizontal velocity, height, wheels, or sharp edges” contributed to low injury numbers, perhaps any book will do just as well.

In the end, teens (in general) don’t read research studies; their own reasons for reading over the summer are more likely to be about good stories than about achievement gaps. What books are your teens especially looking forward to reading this summer? How do you help convince them that, as the weather gets hot, reading is still cool?

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