By Eric Braun
Whether the kids in your life love to read, hate to read, or, most likely, are somewhere in the middle, the answer to the titular question is largely up to us—the grown-ups, the makers and enforcers of the summer reading list.
Probably most of us agree that reading is good, and the summer backslide is bad. Summer reading can help put the brakes on the backslide. Plus, reading is fun.
At least it’s supposed to be. But sometimes summer reading lists miss that part. Sure, we want to challenge students. Sure, you may need to have them working ahead for the fall. That doesn’t mean summer reading has to feel like schoolwork.
To make summer reading more of a score than a bore or a chore, consider these tips:
- Plan a small amount of reading time into each day. That way reading becomes a habit, and the small chunks are less likely to feel like a huge hassle. Plus, you avoid cramming (making up for hours of reading at the end of summer).
- Not too many kids are going to get excited about fighting through King Lear and writing a response paper. For tough books, especially classics, even honors-level high schoolers may need help getting an emotional return on their reading investment without a teacher to guide understanding. If possible, save super-challenging books for the school year.
- Give kids a say in what they read. Instead of assigning X number of required books, provide a list with books of varying difficulty levels, lengths, genres, and subjects, and let kids pick the ones they want to read.
- Offer a choice in how students respond, too. Instead of the old-hat essay, this School Library Journal article suggests giving students the options of making a drawing, writing an imaginary interview with the protagonist, writing a letter to the author, and other great ideas.
- Set an example. Parents can show their kids that reading is important by spending free time reading (books, not Facebook!). Teachers can talk about what they’re reading and what they plan to read over the summer. Love books, and kids are more likely to do the same.
If you’re looking for a few good reading lists, here you go!
- The American Library Association offers extensive lists for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade, with an emphasis on recent titles. (For instance, it includes recent prizewinners and honorees like El Deafo and Brown Girl Dreaming.)
- So does Education World, though these lists skew toward tried-and-true titles like Make Way for Ducklings and The Little Engine that Could for younger readers, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume for middle grade, and Of Mice and Men for older kids. Still worth checking out, if for no other reason than you might be reminded of a beloved book or two.
- Goodreads has all kinds of great lists, all based on tags and ratings by users. Here’s a slew of middle school book lists subcategorized in a terrific variety of ways, from “Best School Assigned Books” to “Bullied Boys” to “Best Feminist Literature for Middle Schoolers.”
- This list of the best books of 2014, from picture book through teen, comes from no less an authority than Horn Book. It includes something for everyone: poetry, nonfiction, and even one awesome retelling of a folklore story.
- Every year the Rainbow Project selects quality books with “significant and authentic GLBTQ content.” The selection highlighted here focuses on books from 2012–2015 appropriate for young readers up to age 18.
- For many readers, fun reading means graphic novels. Here’s YALSA’s list of the best graphic novels of 2015.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to check with your local public library. Most libraries plan some sort of summer reading program, many of which offer rewards, book clubs, online interaction, and more.
Eric Braun is a writer and editor, so he’s kind of biased about reading.
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