Summer Reading, Between the Lines

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer reading, I learn, is a very live issue, judging from your responses to my last column about it [Extra Credit, June 7]:

Dear Extra Credit:

I don't see how a school system encourages a love of reading when it doesn't even give kids a list of suggested books with enticing descriptions. Many kids need intensive encouragement to read. We have found reading requirements to be very effective, so long as the child has some latitude in selecting the books.

The Arlington public school system publishes a summer recommended reading list only for middle-schoolers. As a parent, I love and collect such lists. For middle-schoolers, it can be hard to find appropriate literature that is interesting and engaging, and I have trouble keeping up with new books and writers that kids enjoy.

And then I have to think of the appropriate inducements to get my kids to actually read.

What has been truly surprising has been the number of teachers, and even librarians, at all grade levels who really don't seem to be very conversant about children's literature, particularly if you venture beyond the hoary classics and ask about the books the kids are reading or current literature that is marketed to the kids they teach.

Many don't seem to have read anything beyond what they use in class. The few who are enthusiastic readers of current children's literature have an infectious ability to inspire their students to read.

The Arlington middle schools have summer reading homework assignments, typically involving reading a book from the list and creating a "book response," which can be a review, a book jacket, a poster, a reading response, designing a game, etc. I wish the kids did have mandatory summer reading and even more writing assignments, if only keeping a journal of their reading. Their friends in private schools do, and over the many years of middle and high school, it gives them a big edge. The material they are expected to read often is more challenging as well.

Linda Arnsbarger


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