Pitching a Perfect Game: In Praise of the Ideal Summer Reading List
When it comes to summer reading lists handed out by figures of authority, I am of two minds. On the one hand I believe that over the summer children should darned well be allowed to read whatever they want. I am haunted by a memory of a summer when a father walked into the Jefferson Market Library Branch when I was but a wee slip of a lass. His reluctant 9-year-old trudged behind and the dad handed him Treasure Island because he wanted his son to be a reader. It was one of those moments when you desperately want to say something but there’s no opening to do so. That poor kid. Reluctant reader-friendly, T.I. is not. And since we all know about the summer slide (when reading abilities slide downward when kids don’t read at all) it makes sense to allow them to read whatever they darn well please.
So there’s that. Then there’s the flip side. All those lovely lovely lists. It’s my favorite part of the job, no question. The careful construction of the perfect summer reading list is both art and science. You’re introducing kids to new concepts, new ideas, new creators, and new books. With a list they have to break out of their comfort zones a little and read beyond their immediate lives. Windows, mirrors, sliding doors, the whole kerschmozzle.
As Long As They’re Reading vs. Guided Reading By Experts. Two halves of the same summer reading coin.
Not that all summer reading lists are made equal. When I worked for New York Public Library I tried to get ahold of the lists as they entered my libraries. I asked the children’s librarians in the branches to photocopy or photograph any list that walked in the door and send it to me. The idea was that I’d see patterns and titles not already in the system. I could bulk up some branches on certain titles and transfer titles from others. It was a good plan, particularly because New York City sort of allows every single teacher the opportunity to make their own summer reading list. That sounds nice, but what you get a lot of the time are teachers that just use the same ones over and over annually. Even if the books are out of print. Even if the public libraries don’t own any copies. You know what book I hate more than any other? The Acorn Eaters by Els Pogrom. It’s from 1997, out of print, and one darned teacher would assign it every dang year.
Instead of kvetching about lists of days of yore (oh, who am I kidding – that teacher is probably STILL assigning that book!) let’s commend the teachers and school librarians that pour their heart and souls into their summer reading lists. For example, please cast thine eyes on this true beauty:
Can you make out the books? My daughter brought this list home from her school librarian, Ms. Martin, and I was just floored. First off, there are 2018 books on this list. 2018! Second of all, check out those stellar choices. Chef Roy Choi. Crown. Not So Different, for crying out loud!! A mix of small publishers and big publishers.
Librarians, let me know if you’ve seen lists of your own this year that made your heart sing. Should kids read what they want? Absolutely. But a little bit of expertise never killed anyone. Raise a glass to the list-makers of the world!
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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