Finding a Needle in a Haystack

5 Tips for Choosing the Right Summer Books

Last week, we discussed the importance of summer reading and literacy games to keep students from losing reading skills during the summer. But many readers of the B&T blog still had questions about how to choose books for their children, and how to tell if those books were grade-appropriate. You've asked, so we'll answer. Here are five steps parents and educators can take to find the right books for young readers, and help them learn to love literature this summer.

  • Start with the topic. If your child loves the Revolutionary War, or is obsessed with caterpillars, start the summer book hunt by looking for other books that deal with their favorite subject, or exist within the same genre. For children who loved the depiction of colonial New York in Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, you can try to expand their horizons with other pieces of historical fiction, like The Red Badge of Courage. If your child is looking to try something more difficult, a familiar subject with vocabulary they've already mastered will make the reading experience smoother and more pleasant.
  • When in doubt, ask the experts. Teachers and children's librarians are usually the most up to date when it comes to new, exciting and high quality children's literature. Every year, the Association for Library Service to Children creates a list of notable and award-winning children's books for both younger and adolescent readers. Look for the Newbery and Caldecott seals on book covers to ensure your child is reading something stimulating and literary.
  • Make it a game. Maybe you've purchased some books for the summer, but your child hasn't cracked a single cover. Some kids just need the promise of competition to get them going. If your child is the type who has to race you to the corner, or loves to count how long she can hold her breath underwater, you may find success with the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, a free online reading program for children, schools, and parents. Log minutes spent reading in an effort to help your school win big prizes. You can also try Barnes and Noble's Reading Journal program. Just keep track of eight books in your reading journal to get a free book.
  • Try the five finger trick. If you've selected a book with your child, but you're still not sure if it's appropriate, have your child read to themselves with their fist held in the air. For each word they don't know (excluding proper nouns), have them raise a finger. If they've raised five fingers by the end of the first page, the book is probably too difficult to read on their own. Suggest another book closer to their reading level, or read the book aloud with your child, which leads to our final suggestion . . .
  • Read together. Some kids resist reading because they associate it with work. It's crucial for parents and older siblings to model good reading behavior to help children connect reading with fun and leisure. Choose at least one book to read aloud with your child this summer, and talk about it everyday. I could not believe Atticus lost the trial--what do you think will happen next? If your family plans to take a long car trip this summer, bring an audiobook and listen to it on the way. Headed to the beach? Don't forget to pack a book for yourself, and a book for your child. And if you have an older child at sleepaway camp, ask them for details about the books they're supposedly reading. Vague answers will indicate a lack of progress. If your child has finished their stack, send more books in a care package.

Help your children and students improve their literacy skills this summer by putting the right books in their hands. If you've followed the steps above, by next summer, you may start getting reading suggestions from them.

Happy Learning,