MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL – Learning loss during the summer is a concern for many parents and educators as students finish the school year and spend time away from the classroom.
Lack of access to reading materials and ongoing training are two factors that often contribute to this learning loss, but families can take steps themselves to support reading development.
Lisa Von Drasek, curator of the Kerlan Collection of Children’s Literature at the University of Minnesota, answers questions about how to keep kids reading this summer.
Q: Why is it so important to ensure that children continue to read during the summer?
Teachers and librarians worry about what they call the “summer slide”. This would be defined as the loss of reading and comprehension skills by not reading during the summer months. To slow this learning loss, think outside the box and remember that reading is reading is reading. Any reading improves comprehension, proficiency and fluency. Cookbooks matter. The Guinness Book of World Records matters. Comics matter!
Q: What steps can families take to get children interested in reading?
The most important advice I would give to parents and guardians is to make self-selection easier regardless of the age of the child. Take the time to explore different book options together at the library. Allow children to select three books to take home and give them permission to change their minds if they lose interest.
On a nice summer day, take the books outside. Explore the outdoors and read aloud from science picture books like Phyllis Root’s “Plant a Pocket of Grassland”, a book about the grassland ecosystem and how kids can help restore the landscape. Or be a citizen scientist and read “The Girl Who Drawn Butterflies” by Joyce Sidman, a biography about one of the first female entomologists.
If the weather turns cold and rainy, take the opportunity to stay indoors and read with your family. Read aloud “They Call Me Güero” by David Bowles, a novel about a boy who navigates life growing up on the frontier through poetry. Another great option is Kate DiCamillo’s new book, “The Beatryce Prophecy,” a fantastical story in a magical medieval setting.
Check out the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature Book List and Suggestions, Bank Street College of Education’s Best Books of the Year and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.
Q: What resources are available to help children access reading materials?
Do you know Ebooks Minnesota? It’s a free online ebook collection for everyone in Minnesota. The collection covers a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction topics for readers of all ages. Titles are searchable by author, series or subject. The collection development librarians have focused on providing highly engaging subject matter and formats, from dinosaurs and science to comic books.
Another great resource that can be downloaded for free is Writing Boxes: The Reading/Writing Connection in Libraries, which is packed with literacy activities and includes writing prompts to inspire poems, maps, and recipes. All you need to do is have paper and pencil, markers, and card stock ready to answer the prompts.
Try to find a StoryWalk near you, a movement where counties or libraries deconstruct a storybook and place each page of the story on a poster along an outdoor walking path in an effort to encourage both reading and movement. If there isn’t one near you, consider making your own!
And, of course, get to know the children’s librarian at your local public library and sign up for their summer reading programs.
Q: Are there any specific books or series that you can recommend?
I would select the following series, all of which are great reads that may not already be on your radar!
Kindergarten to 1st grade
- Series of informative science books in comic format by Kevin McCloskey: “We Dig Worms!”, “The Real Poop on Pigeons!”, “Something’s Fishy”, “Snails Are Just My Speed!” and “Ants don’t wear pants!”
- Do you have a child who is young and fluent in reading with a great sense of humor? Andy Griffith’s “The 13-story Treehouse” is just the right series to start with. The book is about two children who live in a giant treehouse filled with magical creatures and amazing rooms. It’s such a good story that it will also be of interest to children who have difficulty reading and children who generally don’t like to read.
- Minnesotan VT Bidania’s “Astrid and Apollo” is a series about 8-year-old twins of Hmong descent trying different activities and learning about their cultural traditions.
4th to 6th grade
- “Lowriders in Space” by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third, is a story in graphic format about a team that enjoys working on cars together and enters a contest to win a cash prize that would allow them to open their own shop.
5th to 7th grade
- “Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword” by Barry Deutsch is a graphic-format story about a brave 11-year-old girl in search of a sword to slay a dragon.
- “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer is a series of essays on indigenous wisdom, nature and the teachings of plants.
Lisa Von Drasek has lectured on the following topics: “Writing Boxes: The Reading/Writing Connection in Libraries”, “Emerging Literacy”, “Diversity in Children’s Literature”, “Comics and Literacy”, “The New Adult”, “What Makes an Award-Winning Book” and “Children’s Choice Awards”. She also leads community workshops on creative writing, reading aloud, and book selection for children and young adults.