We can't stop talking about the importance of summer reading, and we're not alone. Katie O'Dell, Youth Servies Director at Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, offers an expert's advice:
"Summer is a time of both risk and opportunity for reading skills. Kids who don’t read during summer break—especially those from low-income families—can lose up to two years of reading skill by the time they reach middle school. Research shows that a strong, supportive Summer Reading program can turn that trend around. Parents are key to their children's reading success. Follow these easy steps to best support your summer reader: Make frequent trips to the public library and check out stacks of books; enthusiastically dig into your own reading and model what you want to see in your children; ask questions about what your child is reading and listen closely, looking for read world opportunities to explore what they are interested in."
For parents and teachers who live in a state that has adopted the Common Core State Standards, you've probably noticed some major changes in what students are encouraged to read, how closely they read a text and what they write after finishing the final page. For example, Common Core encourages kids to pick up nonfiction titles and informational texts. BookPage contributor and children's book author Deborah Hopkinson shares some fun ideas to get kids reading more nonfiction this summer:
Summer is a time when readers of all ages love to dive into a good beach book. But it can also be a chance to expand reading horizons, try out new genres and make reading a family activity.
Especially now that many states are adopting the Common Core Standards, which call for students to be reading more informational texts, parents may be wondering just how to get kids reading nonfiction, especially if it’s outside a child’s usual comfort zone.
But nonfiction doesn’t mean boring. Informational texts can include everything from maps to cookbooks, from newspapers to Internet sites. So here are some ideas for spicing up summer reading for kids by incorporating nonfiction—and other genres—into summer activities.
Planning a vacation, near or far? Well, don’t hog the guidebook. Involve reading-age kids by giving them a research task: learning about the route or your vacation spot by doing some online sleuthing or taking charge of choosing a museum to visit. En route, stop at a historical marker and use it as a launch pad for finding out more. Internet searching is a great activity to do together. While children are often familiar with the basics of Google, information literacy means learning to evaluate the source of information.
Pair these vacation activities with fun books such as Marla Frazee’s wonderful Caldecott Honor book, A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, or the 2014 Caldecott winner, Locomotive by Brian Floca. Thankfully, the classic 1984 favorite by Vera Williams, Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe is still in print.
Along the way
For long car rides, consider sharing a memorable book on audio. Two of our family favorites are Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago and The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. Older readers might enjoy Road Trip (2013) by Gary Paulson and his son, Jim Paulson. The Listening Library website or your own local library will yield a host of other ideas that can turn road trips into lifelong memories. And if your family doesn’t own John Birmingham’s Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car, track down a copy since, as everyone knows, road trips don’t always turn out as planned.
At home: Bees, birds and backyards
Staying home can sometimes be the best vacation of all. Explore your own backyard with nonfiction titles about science and nature. An outstanding title in the National Geographic Scientists in the Field series is The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Disaster, by Loree Griffin Burns. There are also a number of good backyard bird watching guides for children, which can be paired with Dianna Hutts Aston’s lovely nonfiction book, An Egg is Quiet. Her other titles, A Seed is Sleepy and A Butterfly is Patient also combine Sylvia Long’s wonderful artwork with a lyrical text. A fun fiction read-aloud about kids who take on the running of a local apple orchard is The Year Money Grew on Trees by Aaron Hawkins, which incorporates some real-world math problems.
Join your summer reading program (adults, too!)
Whether your summer plans keep you at home or take you around the world, be sure to sign up for the summer reading program at your public library. This year’s national themes are science related. For young readers, it’s Fizz, Boom, Read. The teen program is called Spark a Reaction. And for adults, it’s Literary Elements.
Possibilities abound for incorporating biographies, nonfiction and hands-on activities to create a family theme, which might go down in memory as “the summer we all learned about ____.” (Seriously, our family once spent a summer learning about submarines, reading books and watching every submarine film ever made.)
You might choose sea turtles, dinosaurs, horses or a scientist like Darwin, Einstein or Koch to learn about together. Jennifer Berne’s On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, is a great choice for younger readers, while adults will be fascinated by Thomas Goetz’s highly recommended new book, The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis.
Most of all, keep reading!
Deborah Hopkinson is an award-winning author of historical fiction and nonfiction, including the 2013 Sibert Honor title Titanic, Voices from the Disaster. She got the idea for her new historical fiction novel for kids, The Great Trouble, about Dr. John Snow and the 1854 cholera epidemic, by reading Steven John’s nonfiction book for adults, The Ghost Map. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter.