This is the time of year when a children's librarian's mind lightly-- or not so lightly--turns to thoughts of summer, and, specifically, thoughts of summer reading programs. Summer reading programs have become a staple of public libraries all over the English-speaking world, and maybe beyond. The basics are simple, and don't vary too much from program to program: generally, kids are given a form of some kind with which to keep track of their reading, and then collect rewards from the library--anything from stickers to iPods--when they reach a reading goal.
The specifics vary: Usually there's a theme of some kind, with a catchy slogan, but not always. The reading goal can be expressed in number of books, number of pages, days of reading, minutes of reading, or maybe some other standard that I haven't even thought of. The materials--reading forms, posters, maybe other stuff like bookmarks, postcards or activity booklets--can be simple or elaborate. Often, the libraries incorporate programming--entertainment, visiting authors, completion ceremonies, even sleepover parties--into the summer's plans. Some libraries emphasize completion of the goal, and some focus on participation rather than finishing.
No matter what the details, though, the purpose is the same: to encourage kids to read for pleasure, and to read books of their own choosing; to build connections between families and libraries; and to address the "summer slide"-- the documented drop in reading abilities of the average kid over the long summer vacation.
I've promoted summer reading programs in three different library systems, and ran one at my old school. I even work for a summer reading program; I'm the coordinator for the amazing province-wide British Columbia Summer Reading Club. When I'm on the desk, checking lists and giving out stickers, I love seeing kids get enthusiastic about books over the summer, and I get a big kick out of seeing what they're reading. It's a great time to talk about books, swap recommendations, and just get a chance to revel in the joy of reading.
This year, Scholastic is getting in on the party, with the Scholastic Summer Challenge, a web-based program with booklists, activities, rewards--all designed to encourage kids to "Read 4 or More" books. The program kicks off tomorrow, April 30, at 1 PM Eastern time (10 AM Pacific) with a live webcast game show.
It strikes me that an enterprising kid could sign up for the Scholastic challenge and the program at their local public library--chances are, your library has a Summer Reading Program and is gearing up, even as you read, to put it into action come June. Then kids can have double the incentive, and double the fun. (And you don't even have to tell them it's good for their reading level.)