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Shelf Talk 7: Summer Reading Part 1

Do you remember Summer Reading at the Library? I sure do. As a kid, nothing focused my competitive urges quite like Summer Reading. I was not a particularly athletic child. I enjoyed the experience of playing a game more than beating other players. But reading? Books were my home turf. And in Summer Reading, I could compete against myself: read more hours than I had the previous year, finish more books, complete more activities.

There was nothing quite like the thrill of registering for the Summer Reading Program. The librarian in our town expected kids to complete the forms themselves, to take responsibility for choosing a reading goal and reporting progress. It felt so official! I felt so responsible! I would pile a cloth bag with books and crack the first one in the car on the way home, eager to put a sticker on the reading record.

There was something special about choosing books for Summer Reading. Unlike in school, I could choose anything I wanted. I could try books well above my reading level, or grab an easier favorite to read aloud to my little sister. I could read when and where and what I wanted. For me, Summer Reading was an expression of summer freedom.

As an adult, I see the value of Summer Reading in a different way. Library Summer Reading programs are vital to help bridge an educational gap between school years, to keep kids engaged, reading, and learning during a time when many students actually lose hard-gained knowledge from the previous school year. Studies show that a "summer slide" is real: students' reading levels tend to drop 1-2 grade levels over summer break.

According to composite scores on 3rd grade standardized tests, nearly 65% of students in Mississippi County already read below grade level. For them, summer slide is detrimental. Many of the students who read on the lowest levels also live in poverty (38% of families in Mississippi County), and thus do not have access to summer camps and continuing education resources. These families rely on the library for summer activities and access to reading material and information services. The library's Summer Reading program offers educational programming, a wide selection of reading material, staff ready to model and encourage reading, and an incentive structure in place to squeeze learning out of even the most reluctant reader.

Last year, the Mississippi County Library System (MCLS) Summer Reading Program served nearly 400 children from across the county. These children completed nearly 300 book reviews and reported almost 7,000 hours of reading during the month of June. That's 291 days of reading!

This year, Summer Reading will be different. Current precautions to prevent the spread of COVID19 mean that MCLS will not host any in-person programming or events. The most popular contracted performances – Animal Show, Magician, Puppet Theater – will be postponed until the Fall. We will miss having our buildings filled with kids and their laughter. We will miss the energy of daily programs.

But different can be good. The Summer Reading Program will be virtual this year: participants will register, track their reading, submit reviews, and complete missions via an online app. We’ll be providing weekly Take & Make crafts for kids to complete at home, and will offer online story times, STEM activities, reading lists, literacy games, and more! We are doubling the scope of the program, running June 15-August 15, instead of just June. Instead of a grand prize party, in which prizes were chosen by lottery, participants will be able to earn prizes at different point levels. We can’t wait for the fun to begin!

Stay tuned for registration details and ways to help the kids in your life overcome the “summer slide.” As always, I’m available for questions and assistance; you can reach me at

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