How to Kill a Summer Reading Program in One Step

A few weeks ago, a discussion was held at my high-poverty, Title I public school somewhere in the south. We wanted to create a summer reading program that would have a real impact on our kids’ lives. A small grant was already in place to fund whatever project we decided upon.

We reviewed our options.

Option 1 – A traveling “read-with-kids” program. For several years, a group of teachers visited neighborhoods and trailer parks in our area and “read-with-kids.” Dismissed because not many kids came to our sites, even when our sites were in their backyards – literally.

Option 2 – A weekly program to be held at our school library. Dismissed because our families have difficulty attending events at our school because of transportation issues.

Option 3 – Think of something new.

And we did. A group of teachers and other staff members came up with the idea of visiting neighborhoods and simply giving books to kids. More books in kids’ hands. Books introduced to homes with little, if any, reading material. Brilliant and simple. But simple never is simple. (Note the use of repetition for emphasis).

We targeted particular neighborhoods, listed kids, found discarded books and purchased new ones, created t-shirts for staff, planned a kick-off party, scheduled book delivery dates and commandeered a school bus. The excitement was mounting.

And then… a question at the latest meeting.

“Should we put comprehension questions in each book?”

*What the bloody hell* thought I in my most sanctimonious, Weasley-ian inner voice. And for some reason, I thought every teacher would have the same reaction.

First, there was a pause. Silence. Then I spoke up.

“I think summer reading should be pleasure reading. No book responses. Just reading for enjoyment.”

And then the cacophany began.

“I think that kids SHOULD be held accountable for the books they read.” “We can put in comprehension questions, book response sheets and questions for parents to ask.” “We can give them graphic organizers to fill out!”

These and other comments were all made with as much or MORE enthusiasm as these teachers had expressed when we came up with the idea of giving books to our kids.

Giving books. GIVING BOOKS. Giving the gift of reading. Of reading for pleasure.

I told my 19 year old, avid, voracious reader about this crazy conversation. “When you read me Harry Potter [insert the title of  any of the thousands of books we read together] when I was little, we talked about it. We laughed about it and cried about it. Why didn’t you give me worksheets, mom?” she smirked.

Why indeed?