Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Tale of Two Libraries: Differing Summer Reading Programs

Every year since my 1st daughter was born, I have signed up for summer reading at two libraries. It's not so much that I try to be an overacheiver, but that I try to support both city libraries equally. Six summers ago, both libraries had the same simple program -- list the books you read to your child and turn the list in by the end of July for some encouraging little library tchotchkes and a pat on the back from the eager librarians. I was accustomed to this mode of "book listing", as this is how it was done in the summers when I was a little girl.

Somewhere along the way I remember thinking, "Any kid can read books, but would they willingly read a magazine article, an autobiography, or a instruction manual during the summer? These library programs really need to get with a modern program and move beyond just books." At the time I'm sure I thought I was progressive genius, looking down among the others librarygoers who never thought to question these passe summer reading lists.

Ironically, without me ever uttering those elitist words out loud, the next summer the larger library system gave me my wish due to a bold, new administrator (who has also gotten rid of an ungodly number of printed books in her wake, much to the public's consternation). See picture below.

I'm not sure why I took a picture of this 2 summers ago... I may just be that nerdy.
That year I found that it was a lot harder to get that larger library's checklist done instead of cheering my daughter on to read whatever struck her fancy like I did for the smaller library. Maybe it's because she was too young to for some of the tasks, perhaps I was lazier that summer, or that I still didn't care for graphic novels (which are basically novels in comic book form), who knows... I do know that I berated myself that summer for not following through with my own silently requested modifications.    

Since that time, I have taken to heart 3 books about the nature of reading that have completely rid me of that former guilt: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, The Book Whisperer, and The Read Aloud Book. They all have a similar theme which is that if we back off trying to control someone's reading habits and tastes (as us teachers are want to do often) they will flourish as readers in many reading domains because the enjoy the act of reading. According to Jim Trelease in The Read-Aloud Handbook,

"A school's objective should be to create lifetime readers -- graduates who continue to read and educate themselves throughout their adult lives. But the reality is we create schooltime readers -- graduates who know how to read well enough to graduate. And at that point the majority take a silent vow: If I never read another book, it'll be too soon."

So which library is promoting the idea of the lifetime reader? The smaller library that by its program's simplicity beckons us to fall in love with as many different kinds of books as we can get our hands on or the larger library who sets parameters on what kind of reading we must do to be a "successful" reader? This where the mom and the English teacher war within me, but at the end of the day my money's on the smaller library. Why?    

Again, Trelease has this to say:

"It boils down to a simple, two-part formula:
  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow"
The point is that having a more diversified portfolio of reading accomplished during the summer is NOT equal to imbibing a large quantity of books during the summer. Being a good reader doesn't happen overnight because reading is a skill that requires layering (i.e. much like using free weights at the gym, you have to continuously workout your reading muscle in order to strengthen its capacity). 

To my knowledge, the old "list your books" method is abolished at the larger library and while their goals are noble (and I can say that because I have taught students who wouldn't touch a non-fiction book unless someone threatened them), the better choice long-term might be for a parent who signs his/her child up for summer reading to approach the library as a world of infinite whimsy. As for me, I think I'll still do both summer programs but with the knowledge that just checking out the books is a reward unto itself.