25 Valuable Summer Reading Tips from Authors, Librarians, and Teachers

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Summer reading is here at last! We all know reading over the summer is vital for kids. Still, it can be challenging to fit reading into busy (dare we say chaotic?) work and family schedules. 

SUMMER READING: Hot Tips & Book Ideas from Authors, Librarians, and Teachers

Never fear: Imagination Soup reached out to librarians, teachers, and some amazing authors to gather suggestions for families with readers of any age. And since this year’s library program theme is All Together Now (developed by CSLP, the Collaborative Summer Library Program), we have ideas for adults too. 

Summer Reading Tips from Authors, Librarians, and Teachers

First, a little background. The first summer reading programs started in the 1890s to encourage school children to make use of public libraries. More recently, researchers documented “The Summer Slide,” a dip in learning achievement over the summer; this can disproportionally impact lower income students who may have less access to books. 

To help all families combat the “slide,” public libraries have expanded outreach efforts. Writing on the history of summer reading programs, Ellie Wilkie notes that “today more than 95% of public libraries in the United States host a summer reading program. These programs encourage reading in an accessible and fun way, aiming to close that literary gap by steering kids into the library and away from The Summer Slide.” 

Reading at Home

Reading, of course, starts at home. But it may—and probably should—have a different feel than during the school year. 

Cindy Schwind, a retired educator and reading interventionist in Rochester, New York who actively promotes new books on Twitter (@CynthiaSchwind), reminds us that in the summer, “Reading should be fun, relaxing, and engaging. The more we help our young readers to see this at home as well as in school, the quicker they will have positive feelings towards books.

Cindy advises parents and guardians to “Make sure your child gets to choose what they are reading. Nobody likes to be told what to read—not even grown-ups. If your child does not know what they like, or how to pick a book, think about their hobbies and things they like to do and find books on that topic.” 

That goes for teens too. 

Throughout the school year, so much of a teen’s reading is prescriptive, so make summer reading about their choice. What teens need from this choice will vary,” explains Danielle Jones, a board member of the American Library Association Service for Children, in addition to her day job as Library Youth Development Manager at Multnomah County Library in Oregon. 

(click image to go to the printable link)

Some will be craving escape and want a thrilling mystery or romantic comedy. Some will be wanting to explore a topic or do some personal reflection through self-help books, and we can encourage reading by supporting them in these choices. This could be in the form of manuals that explore a hobby or to learn more about a favorite video game. Let them read in the formats they enjoy the most, whether it is novels, nonfiction, serial comics or zines, graphic novels, or magazines. Many libraries are able to offer access to magazines digitally allowing entry to a myriad of interests.” 

Cindy Schwind echoes this advice, emphasizing that it’s important not to be critical of what a child chooses.  “Magazines, comic books, easier readers… reading is reading!” 

She also recommends finding a family time to read. Is nighttime best? Or mornings? Whatever time you pick— everyone stops what they are doing and reads. If you are not used to doing this, start with a shorter amount of time—10-15— minutes and allow it to grow as the summer goes on.

Sharing reading helps too. “During dinner or a time when everyone is together, let each person tell a bit about what they are reading,” said Cindy. “It’s fun to share a good book!

Summer Reading at Your Public Library

Of course, the best place to find a wide variety of reading materials is the library. And libraries are a treat to visit in summer when librarians make an all-out effort to enroll kids in reading programs that include fun games, activities, and incentives. Some libraries also offer a free mobile app such as Beanstack so that a whole family of readers can track their progress. 

Along with the regular library weekly schedule, be sure to check local calendars for special events hosted by libraries, parks, and literacy organizations. Who knows? You might get lucky and meet an author or illustrator like Austin-based Don Tate.  

Don tells us, “Last summer, I participated in a storytime reading in the park. It was sponsored by the Texas Book Festival and the Austin Parks Foundation—free and open to the public. Copies of Sherri Duskey Rinker’s (Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site) and my Roto and Roy: Helicopter Heroes were given out to the first 50 kids.

At first, I worried, wondering if folks would support a summer reading event when school was out. But I was pleasantly surprised, Don added. “An army of moms and dads showed up with their toddler readers, and we all had a good time reading. Afterward, I signed books while children listened to music and participated in art activities. I thought it was a great way to keep kids engaged with reading over the summer!

Meeting an author or illustrator in person (or just falling in love with one of their books) can be an impetus to delve into more of their work, exploring the topics they write about. For instance, the Roto and Roy series could be a stepping stone to discover fun nonfiction books about helicopters and airplanes or real-life helicopter rescue pilots.

Don Tate is also the author and illustrator of amazing books about African American heroes, artists, and inventors. And nothing fits summer better than reading Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaking Inventions, written by fellow Texan Chris Barton and illustrated by Don. 

More about Don Tate: Find out more on Don’s website www.dontate.com, and read about the Roto and Roy series at Hachette Book Group.

Consider a Summer Reading Theme

Helicopters, planes, submarines, or ships all make great summer themes. So do sharks, horses, a continent or country, or a favorite sport. You can watch films, find fiction and nonfiction books at a variety of reading levels, and also incorporate art and writing projects. 

Need inspiration? If you’re lucky enough to live near a museum, aquarium, or planetarium or will be visiting one on vacation, check out current exhibitions. Museums often choose high-interest topics for summer exhibitions with families in mind. 

Of course, if you’re headed to New York City, a visit to the American Museum of Natural History is a must. And when we think of that museum, we can’t help but think of dinosaurs!

Dinosaurs make an endlessly entertaining and fascinating summer theme for elementary grade readers and middle schoolers, but the littlest ones don’t have to be left out.  In Penny & Pip, a new book for preschoolers garnering starred reviews, the author-illustrator team of Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann tell the charming story of a little girl and her new friend: a baby dinosaur. 

During a school trip to a natural history museum, Penny — a preschooler — notices that a recently hatched baby brontosaur is following her,” says award-winning author Candy Fleming. “She feeds him cheese crackers from her lunch and names him Pip (after his squeaks).

After visiting the hall of dinosaurs, she realizes Pip is alone in the world. She can’t leave the baby behind, so she devises a plan to take him home. We’re hoping it’s the start of a series.

Candy and Eric are also the creators behind another new book for young readers (and maybe a word you might hear a lot on summer road trips). It’s called Mine! (August 1, 2023)

MINE! is a flouncy-bouncy read-aloud about five woodland animals and each’s desire for the very last apple of the season,” says Candy. “ Each hides and waits for the apple to drop, all the while fantasizing about it being all “mine.” It is a rollicking fun story, but with a bit more: at its core (no pun intended), it’s about what’s”mine” and what’s “ours.” 

Visit these amazing creators online at www.candyfleming.com and www.ericrohmann.com.

Book Tips for Travel

Reading aloud together as a family or listening to audiobooks in the car are both great ways to make reading a family affair, whether it’s a short trip to the grocery store or library or longer excursions.

Reading interventionist Cindy Schwind reminds us that audiobooks “may also help kids who don’t love to read to get engaged in a story. Listen to a few chapters, then stop and talk about what’s going on so far.”  

Linda Sue Park, author of the Newbery Medal-winning A Single Shard and other acclaimed titles, has a travel-related book suggestion. “If your vacation plans include air travel, or if you WISH you could fly somewhere, how about a family read-aloud set in an airport?

“YOU ARE HERE: CONNECTING FLIGHTS is a collection of twelve linked stories written by award-winning authors and featuring a captivating cast of characters–as well as a coffee can containing Grandpa’s ashes, a dramatic thunderstorm, and Garrett’s popcorn!”  

To find out more about You Are Here, check out Linda’s home page. Along with Linda, the anthology features eleven other powerhouse Asian American authors who explore themes of identity and belonging in the entwined experiences of young people whose family roots may extend to East and Southeast Asia, but who are themselves distinctly American.

When we asked award-winning nonfiction author Steve Sheinkin for summer reading ideas, the father of two teens told us, “Well, I could say my family sits around reading my books… but here’s something that’s actually true. 

When my family’s in the car for hours at a time – my wife and I, and our two teenage kids – we have a hard time agreeing on what to listen to. I’ve figured out that our best chance for consensus is with a nonfiction audiobook — an exciting, fast-paced true story.

On our last long drive, we listened to Ben Mezrich’s Bringing Down the House, the thrilling story of MIT students who figured out how to beat casinos at blackjack. I’ve heard from families who’ve listened to my books on road trips, and it always makes me happy!

In fact, Steve’s books fit just that bill. They’re exciting, fast-paced true stories for readers about age eight and up. Check out more of Steve’s books at http://stevesheinkin.com/. Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon won the Robert F. Sibert Award for informational books and was a Newbery Honor, along with multiple other honors. 

Listening to audiobooks doesn’t have to be confined to being in a car, either. Librarian Danielle Jones reminds us that “Listening to audiobooks IS reading and has the same literacy benefits as reading print. Not only are audiobooks more accessible to some reading needs, they are also a great way to read while being active, working on projects, or just relaxing.” 

Another great suggestion from Danielle: “Also let teens know they have permission to not finish something if they aren’t enjoying it. Nothing halts developing a passion for reading more than a sense of obligation to finish something just because you started it.”

More Tips for Teens

While we can check out armfuls of picture books from the library for the youngest readers, encouraging teens to make the most of summer reading involves different strategies. 

Librarian Danielle Jones reminds us that “teens are not too old to be read aloud to. I am the youngest of six kids, and my mother read aloud to us until I was in middle school, and though none of us identified as readers in our youth, three of us now work in libraries. 

Reading is a path to new places, new ideas, new interests, and you never know how the reading patterns of today will manifest in the years to come.

And, like other reading experts, Danielle stresses the importance of adults becoming role models. “As parents and caregivers, we can encourage summer reading by modeling it ourselves, and that should be in the formats that we enjoy the most too. Dinnertime discussions of what we are enjoying reading reinforce the concept that reading continues to be a gratifying activity.

While many teens still enjoy visiting libraries, you can also think outside the box. For example, Danielle recommends “taking teens to literacy-rich environments, whether it is the library, bookstore, or comic shop, helps to spark interests. 

Sometimes teens will need privacy to feel safe exploring issues of identity, so creating opportunities for them to search on their own is important too. Most public libraries will have summer reading and learning programs that offer a way to gamify reading, and many are now offering adult summer reading games too. 

Families can create their own challenges too. Ideas could be to each read a book recommended on TikTok’s #booktok, have a banned book club, or to read something that you pick for each other. Listening to audiobooks together can also create a meaningful shared reading experience whether it is on a long car ride or putting together a puzzle.”

And remember, being read aloud to is something everyone can enjoy. After all, Jane Austen entertained her family—and polished her exquisite novels—by reading them aloud.

All Together Now: It’s Not Just for Kids 

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a local bookstore, but if you do have access to one, be sure to look for summer programs and events—for young readers and adults! 

Rosanne Parry, author of the New York Times Bestselling A Wolf Called Wander and A Whale of the Wild, also wears a bookseller’s hat.  And Annie Blooms Bookstore in Portland, Oregon has definitely embraced #AllTogetherNow, offering a summer bingo card game for adults!

We are fortunate at Annie Blooms Bookstore to have brilliant summer reading programs for kids at the nearby public library. So instead of competing with our libraries, we decided to offer a summer reading program for grownups in the form of our beloved Summer Book Bingo. We make a bingo card with a slightly different mix of tiles each year,” says Rosanne. 

They say things like: Read a poem a day for a month. Pick a book with an orange cover. Read a book from our staff favorites table. Read a book in translation. Our patrons have from June 1st to Labor Day weekend to fill out their bingo cards for a prize—an in store discount on their next book purchase. It is wildly popular! And best of all not difficult or expensive to implement.

(click image to go to the Bingo printable)

Don’t have a bookstore in your neighborhood?  Why not make your own family bingo game inspired by the Annie Blooms program? 

Rosanne explains some of the benefits. “Here’s why I love it for kids. A young reader needs to see the important adults in their life reading for enjoyment. They need to have conversations about books. They need to see the breadth of books available. Parents and grandparents who read avidly for personal enjoyment are modeling and supporting strong reading in the next generation.

Rosanne, of course, is also a renowned author, with several gorgeous middle grade books in her Voices of the Wilderness series. Along with A Wolf Called Wander, she’s written A Whale in the Wild. Be on the watch for her Fall 2023 book, A Horse Called Sky, to learn more about wild mustangs. 

The Bookend Librarians Take it Away!

Sometimes it’s helpful to just have some specific book recommendations from experts. So Imagination Soup is delighted to catch up with a dynamic duo of librarians to conclude this road map for a successful summer of reading.

Librarians Steph McHugh and Mary Hamer are high-energy book ambassadors based in Illinois. (Find them on Twitter as Steph & Mary, the Librarian Bookends: @lbookends). They’re super knowledgeable and shared these recommendations with Imaginations Soup.

“We are *so ready to read* this summer! Recent picture book faves include Simon and the Better Bone by Corey Tabor, Gustav is Missing! by Andrea Zuill, and Sujean Rim’s Take a Chance, a follow-up to the hilarious and heartwarming Take a Breath!  

“As far as middle grade novels, we’re loving Jarrett Lerner’s A Work in Progress and Lasagna Means I Love You by Kate O’Shaughnessy. Next up for us are Barely Floating by Lilliam Rivera and Grounded by Aisha Saeed, S. K. Ali, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, and Huda Al-Marashi!

Steph and Mary are definitely role models for readers of all ages! “We encourage our kids to read like crazy all summer long, but as grown-up readers we also have lots of summer fun!” 

Lying on the beach doesn’t seem to be in the cards for this dynamic duo. They’re heading off to literacy events. “This summer, we can’t wait for LITapalooza in Naperville, IL and ALA in Chicago—- with ReadingCon right in between. We hope to run in lots of fellow librarians, teachers, and readers at these epic events… happy summer!”

Happy Summer, indeed! 

Some final advice from retired educator Cindy Schwind: “Share your reading.  Help your kids to be around books and reading material. Be excited about what you are reading and share that with them

Summer reading, here we come!!

Deborah Hopkinson thanks everyone who took the time to contribute to this piece. Deborah is the author of more than seventy books for young readers. As far as her summer plans, she’ll be reading about World War II for her next book, and will also be in the garden tending her fairytale pumpkin, one of the stars of Cinderella and a Mouse Called Fred, out on August 15, 2023 with marvelous artwork by Caldecott Medalist Paul O. Zelinsky. Because the next best thing to summer reading is being outside!


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