When I reached middle school age, my parents gave me the freedom to bike the four miles into town to our local library. My previous trips had always been with one of them. But suddenly, I was on my own. And the choices I made within the shelves were mine and mine alone. So, like a fledgling bird, I leapt, feet first with heart fluttering.
My first self-selected stack exceeded the check out limit, and internal negotiations resulted in a reluctantly reduced pile. This only made more library trips necessary. Quickly, my reading ability and interests surpassed my reading “level,” and the librarian questioned whether I had permission to read from the adult section. I lied and told her I did. Guilt was short lived once the journey to book exploration began. And I didn’t want anyone dictating which books I could sample.
Once home, I created my own reading log in a simple spiral bound notebook to keep track of the books, the authors’ names, the dates completed, and a ranking based on a 1-10 scale for favorites. It became a tangible connection to the many authors who crossed through my bedroom door.
As a teacher and parent, I realize I naturally did what we want from our readers. I tried out as many books, authors, and genres as I could. No book was off limits. No genre too unusual. No author unworthy. I read avidly, passing my summers in my upstairs room sprawled out on the bed, among the pages between the hard covers. And I kept a record, assessing books with the seriousness of a publishing agent looking for the next big launch.
None of this would have been possible without the freedom my parents gave me. Freedom to go to the library. Freedom to choose whatever book whispered hello and took me by the hand. Freedom to wallow in reading for hours on end. As adults, we must ultimately allow our students and children to have these choices. They must decide for themselves which book fits and which they want to spend time with. No reading is bad reading.
So how do we plan for a summer of reading? Offer choices. Let them sample. Don’t make it an assignment or another item to check off a list. Lure them in and let the books offer them the whole world.
Book clubs can do wonders for getting teens to read. They love to interact. Both food and company bring seasoned and fledgling readers together. I’ve held a summer book club for the last few years. Students drop in around busy summer sports and vacation schedules. We’ve had sneak peeks of ARCs and yet-to-be-published first chapters, evaluated books with the same intensity as a movie reviewer, and laughed and cried out our despair over plot twists.
Within our middle school, students have participated in a Junior High Book Award the last two years. Students vote on the best cover, the best first chapter read aloud, and the best book. Sharing the list of nominated books would build the book buzz before school even started.
Our school also offers a silent reading time. This reading is self-selected. I believe every student is a reader. Each just needs to find the right book. If students hesitate to make a choice, ask what their last favorite book was and make suggestions from there. Listen to their answers. Really listen. Find a similar story. If they give up after a couple of chapters, that’s ok. Explain that it can take a bit to warm up to a new book just like when they make a new friend, but don’t make them feel bad for stopping a book. Be a partner in the process and suggest a few more. Librarians and book store employees make great suggestions. Choice matters. We have read over 900 books this school year.
Reach out to authors on social media. Our students love this communication. And authors are incredibly generous. They respond. They share. They love their readers.
There’s no magical formula for finding a reading path, but there are magical books waiting. And readers who have the freedom to choose discover the magic.
Here are some tips to strengthen your summer of reading:
Parents: Numerous articles have shown the importance of reading aloud at every age (https:// www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/10-reasons-you-should-read-aloud-to-big-kids-too). There’s nothing more powerful than having authors read from their own novels. Audible is a great source (https://www.audible.com/).
Teachers: Even seasoned readers can use help in the getting-to-know-you first chapter stage of a book. Check out Flipgrid where authors read their first chapters aloud (https://flipgrid.com/ b8b1fd) to help acquaint readers to main characters and an author’s writing style. Also, Corinna Allen creates beautiful podcasts to connect readers with books at Books Between (http:// www.booksbetween.com/).
Book Enthusiasts: Spend some time connecting to authors on social media. Look into local events where authors are presenting. Start a book club. Invite teen readers. They have profound ideas about all kinds of topics. And they love to share.
Jennifer Guyor-Jowett is a 7th/8th grade teacher who enjoys reading, writing, traveling, dogs, and chocolate (in any order). Her classes continue to morph in response to students’ interests and the many new books published.