Summer learning loss 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 continued education are two factors that often contribute to this loss of learning, but families can take steps on their own 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.
The Kerlan, an internationally recognized resource in the field of children’s literature, contains six core collections and several smaller collections. Von Drasek has lectured on the topics of "Writing Boxes: The Reading/Writing Connection in Libraries," "Emergent 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 conducts community workshops on creative writing, reading aloud and selecting books for children and young adults.
Q: Why is it so important to make sure kids continue reading over the summer?
Von Drasek: Teachers and librarians are concerned about what they call the “summer slide.” This would be defined as losing reading and comprehension skills by not reading during the summer months. To slow this loss of learning, think outside the box and remember that reading is reading is reading. All reading improves comprehension, competency and fluency. Cookbooks count. Guinness Book of World Records count. Comics count!
Q: What steps can families take to keep kids engaged with reading?
Von Drasek: The most important piece of advice I would give to parents and caregivers is to facilitate self-selection no matter the age of the child. Take time to explore different book options together at the library. Allow kids to select three books to take home and give them permission to change their minds if they lose interest.
On a beautiful summer day, bring the books outside. Explore the outdoors and read aloud science picture books like "Plant a Pocket of Prairie" by Phyllis Root, a book about the prairie ecosystem and how kids can help restore the landscape. Or be a citizen scientist and read "The Girl Who Drew Butterflies" by Joyce Sidman, a biography about one of the first female entomologists.
If the weather turns cold and rainy, take advantage of the opportunity to stay inside and read together as a family. Read aloud "They Call Me Güero" by David Bowles, a novel about a boy who navigates life growing up on the border through poetry. Another great option is Kate DiCamillo’s new book, "The Beatryce Prophecy," a fantasy story in a magical medieval setting.
Families can find more lists and suggestions from the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, 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 kids access reading materials?
Von Drasek: Do you know about Ebooks Minnesota? It’s a free online ebook collection for all Minnesotans. The collection covers a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction subjects for readers of all ages. The titles are searchable by authors, series or topics. The collection development librarians have focused on providing high interest topics and formats from dinosaurs and science to comics.
Another great resource that can be downloaded for free is Writing Boxes: The Reading/Writing Connection in Libraries, which is full of literacy activities and includes writing prompts to inspire poems, maps and recipes. All you need to do is have paper and pencil, markers and cardstock ready to engage with the prompts.
Try to find a StoryWalk near you, a movement where counties or libraries deconstruct a story book 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 aren’t any 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 you can recommend?
Von Drasek: I would select the following series, which are all great reads that may not be on your radar already!
- Grades K-1
Series of informational comic format science books from Kevin McCloskey: "We Dig Worms!," "The Real Poop on Pigeons!," "Something's Fishy," "Snails Are Just My Speed!" and "Ants Don't Wear Pants!"
Got a kid who is young and a fluent reader with a great sense of humor? Andy Griffith’s, "The 13-story Treehouse" is just the right series to start. The book is about two kids who live in a giant treehouse filled with magical creatures and amazing rooms. It’s such a good story that it will also interest kids who are struggling to read and kids who typically dislike reading.
- Grades 2-3
"Astrid and Apollo" by Minnesotan V.T. Bidania is a series about eight-year-old twins of Hmong heritage trying different activities and learning about their cultural traditions.
- Grades 4-6
"Lowriders in Space" by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third, is a graphic format story about a team that loves working on cars together and enters a competition to win a cash prize that would allow them to open their own shop.
- Grade 5-7
"Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword" by Barry Deutsch is a graphic format story about a brave 11-year-old girl searching for a dragon slaying sword.
- High school
"Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer is a series of essays on Indigenous wisdom, nature and the teachings of plants.
Q: How does your work at the Kerlan Collection of Children's Literature intersect with the community?
Von Drasek: The Kerlan Collection is an open access collection of materials related to children's literature. Anyone who makes an appointment for a visit to the Andersen Library may hold the original picture book art of Wanda Gág's "Millions of Cats," or page through the preliminary sketches of James Marshall's "George and Martha," or read Jean Craighead George's field journals containing original sketches that inspired her award-winning novel, "My Side of the Mountain." We have had visits from classes studying "Love that Dog" and writing their own poetry in response, and third-graders reviewing Kate DiCamillo's editor's notes on her first book, "Because of Winn-Dixie." Kerlan staff, volunteers and friends are often invited to present lectures and workshops at public events like the Twin Cities Book Festival and the Children's Literature Festival in Red Wing, Minnesota.