Research-Based Summer Reading Guide

For summer 2018, I developed a two-part guide to summer reading.

The part for students and readers in general contained the usual: book suggestions and resources on using public libraries and digital materials.

The part for adults with questions about their children’s reading was as follows. By sharing information on free voluntary reading, I hope to foster positive reading experiences among children as well as their caregivers.

What should my child read?

Whatever they want.

As students, kids spend the school year immersed in priorities and subject preferences that they may not share. Summer provides a much-needed opportunity for them to pursue their own curiosities. Don’t worry about their format choices; for example, comics, manga, and graphic novels/nonfiction are unjustly devalued (see CBLDF for more). Kids deserve the chance to develop their own sensibilities and make their own judgments.

“Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading. Stop them reading what they enjoy or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like – the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature – you’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant.”

Gaiman revealed that he too had been guilty, once telling his 11-year-old daughter that if she loved Stine’s horror books, she would absolutely adore Stephen King’s Carrie: “Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years and still glares at me when Stephen King’s name is mentioned.”
-“Neil Gaiman: Let children read the books they love

How can I help?

You can play a key role by providing time, access, choice, and involvement.

How to encourage reading? Teacher and author Donalyn Miller warns parents and educators away from external rewards (which can damage intrinsic motivation). Instead of “read this many books to get [fun thing],” here are some best practices.

These factors have been proven to engage children with reading at school and at home:

  • Time to read. … Reading is a wonderful way to stave off summer boredom and increase students’ vocabulary acquisition, fluency, and background knowledge. …
  • Access to books. We must ensure that every child has access to engaging reading material over the summer. Many students lose their book access when school and classroom library close for the summer, and lower-income students feel this loss the most. …
  • Choice in reading material. We must provide opportunities and encouragement for students to self-select their summer reading material. Choice is a powerful factor in human motivation. Providing children choice in what they read fosters engagement and increases reading motivation, interest, and effort (Gambrell, Coding, & Palmer, 1996; Worthy & McKool, 1996; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). Children who are given choices for summer reading read more and report higher reading engagement and motivation after summer ends (Kelly & Aligne, 2015; Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2012). … When offering books for summer reading, provide students free choice options. Celebrate children’s book choices. When we value all reading, we value all readers.
  • Family and community involvement. … Parents who read and share reading with their children influence children’s future reading habits. Teachers who are engaged with reading are more successful at engaging students with reading (Nathanson, Pruslow and Levitt, 2008). …
    -“Reading Is Its Own Reward: Summer Reading and the 7th Annual #BookaDay Challenge

Why not set aside time to read at home?

Why not make a standing appointment to visit your nearest public library together and help them carry home an armful of what catches their eyes? And don’t be shy — your public library, like your school library, will have someone on staff who’s delighted to help you or your child find something fascinating.

Why not chat about what you yourself are reading and what you like or dislike about it, without expecting your child to read it? Sharing your identity as a reader can help your child develop their own.


The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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