A Summer of Reading, a Life of Adventure

A Summer of Reading, a Life of Adventure

I was eleven years old when my mother gave me my first Trixie Belden mystery one summer. That may have been one of the most impactful events in my life, setting the course for my eventual education and career choices and successes. More importantly, the love of reading first inspired by the Trixie Belden series resulted in many opportunities to instill a love of reading in other children, including two daughters (one of whom became an ELA teacher and school media specialist), my grandchildren, and more than a dozen students I’ve worked with through various volunteer mentoring programs over the years.

I currently volunteer at the Center for Success in Detroit, which extended its programming last year to include the summer months. Alana, the 5th grader I currently mentor, improved two grade levels by the start of the new school year, especially impressive considering students typically lose some of the gains made the previous school year over the summer.

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According to Northwest Evaluation Association (NEWA) research scientist Dr. Megan Kuhfeld, a decline in summer reading skills, also known as summer slide, results in a loss of nearly 20 percent of school year reading gains for third-grade students and an average of 36 percent for seventh-grade students.

Fortunately for students and their concerned parents and teachers, librarians have stepped forward to help by offering summer reading programs. In fact, most libraries offer some type of summer reading help.

I discovered some interesting facts while researching summer reading programs for this article. For example, I did not know that:

- The earliest summer reading programs were created in the 1890s.

- Summer reading programs include resources for adults and preschoolers as well as students.

- Programs include more than recommended reading lists and story times; libraries host performances, craft making sessions, traveling farms, puppet shows, and contests.

This year’s summer reading theme, A Universe of Stories, reminds me of the summer I read Madeleine L’Engle’s wondrous Wrinkle In Time series with my daughters. We all have fond memories of sitting outside on warm summer evenings immersed in the fantastic adventures of Meg, Charles Wallace, Calvin, and the Mrs. Who, Which, and Whatsit. This was the first exposure to fantasy fiction for all of us, but it wasn’t the last. By the end of that summer we had started on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which we finished just before the eldest left for college.

Reading over the summer not only helped my girls maintain their reading skills but maybe just as important, helped feed a life-long love of reading which they have shared with their children and students. I’m convinced that it also greatly strengthened our parent/child relationship through their teen years and beyond. For example, as the Harry Potter books were released, my teacher daughter and I chatted long-distance while we waited in line in our respective states to buy the book at midnight. Over the subsequent weekend, we’d take frequent breaks in reading to see what page we were on and compare notes.

I’ve been fortunate to continue bonding over books with my grandchildren. I discovered the timelessness of the Wrinkle In Time series (pun intended), when my 10-year-old granddaughter sped through the series last year in time for us to see the 2018 movie adaptation together in March.

Though the primary purpose of summer reading programs is to prevent summer slide, they also hold great potential for creating or increasing a love of reading, introducing new genres, opening new worlds (or universes), and enhancing personal relationships. I was not aware of summer reading programs when I was raising my girls, therefore missing the variety of support available at our local library that would have greatly enhanced our learning experiences.

If I had a do-over, I would explore the many opportunities offered — from in-person events to online resources. In fact, I would check out the many kids’ programs available not just during the summer, but throughout the year. For example, there are dozens of events offered by my local Southfield Public Library in the coming months. Maybe this is my do-over opportunity, not with my kids, but with my grandkids or as a volunteer for my community.