I love my reading life over the summer. It's wandering, surprising, whimsical and free. I give myself permission not to have to give myself permission. I read everything from old cookbook recipes to funny celebrity news to binging through a new mystery writer. Yet when I see summer reading lists from schools, my heart sinks. With all we know about reading instruction and what it takes to raise super readers, we have not done the work needed to help our students read for 365 days a year in ways that will truly inspire them.
We have boiled our summer reading advice to our students down to lists that represent what we think they "should" read over the summer. The books tend to be award winners: noble, beautiful books that teach lessons and connect to a social studies curriculum. All safe choices that might be good in certain contexts, but they do not live into the spirit of what we genuinely do as readers with the pleasure of those summer months before us. When we—as lifelong readers—make choices, they are hardly ever the "safe" ones. We go outside the boxes again and again. I want that for our children and young adults, too.
Let's encourage and inspire our students to do this:
1. Read your favorite books again. Rereading is absolutely the most powerful tool that will help readers develop greater stamina, deeper concentration, and abundant joy. My memories of rereading The Chronicles of Narnia, Charlotte's Web, Walk Two Moons, any poem by Langston Hughes, Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Bean Trees— these books meant something different to me at different times of my life and I continue to read and reread them, finding not only their magic and power as they were and are, but also the sense of my own self in its ever-changing, ever-growing journey.
2. Read books (and everything) that make reading feel easy. We spend so much time all year telling our students that reading feels hard, and explaining how they can push through the hard parts. At a certain point, no one, and I mean no one, wants to do something that always feels hard. It's just not possible. As humans, we gravitate to the things that bring us joy and make us feel so good. The same is true about reading. I love reading celebrity magazines. I love reading mysteries. I love reading romantic novels that always work out. So what?! Does that make me less of a reader? No! It makes me a confident, bold, purposeful, happy reader. Let's make the summer about reading that feels good.
3. Read at different times of the day and in a variety of places. We think of and talk to our students about reading as if it's something that generally happens right before bedtime. But, really, that is so limiting! Not every reading experience happens then. I, for example, love watching a Netflix show right before bed. I prefer reading in the early morning and throughout the day. I tell my students this. Encourage them to find ways to tuck reading into other routines, as they travel, sitting on a porch stoop at sunset, as a late afternoon ritual.
4. Put it down. Invite and encourage your students to abandon anything they aren't into. We do that as adults, why do we not tell our kids we do it?! If I don't like a book I'm reading in the summer, I stop reading it! There are thousands more books for me to choose from. I don't have time to waste. And pushing through a book that is boring me to death is not really a good use of my time. Empower your students to have ownership over their decisions and not to feel guilty or less than a reader because they abandon a book. I have a stack of books in my phone and on my nightstand; my guess is I'll enjoy about one out of four of them and those are the ones I'll finish. And I am a super reader!
Let the summer be about choice, agency and identity building for every single one of your students. In this way, one hundred percent of them can truly become lifelong super readers.
Image via Pam Allyn