Access to Books and Summer Reading

See what others had to say about summer reading at Lee Ann Spillane's blog.

See what others had to say about summer reading at Lee Ann Spillane’s blog.

As I put my summer reading assignments together, I really thought about the ways in which my students might get books.

I actually sent my assigned books to my ninth graders to read. (I had such a big section that I ran out before everyone got one of each.) My seniors chose authors — and I made sure that the public library had at least one title by each author before sending them off to find them. (I did loan out copies I had if they wanted them.)

But I spend more time thinking about all of my students and their access to books over the summer — not just the honors students who are directed to make notes on how much they read.

The district where I teach is large and rural – 91 square miles that encompasses several small towns and a whole lot of fields in between. There are two public library branches within the boundaries of the district – both with fantastic collections and the ability to get books in from other branches easily – but if you live between towns among the fields and you don’t have a car, you might not be able to get there. They do have e-books and e-audiobooks available, so even if students are stuck at home, they can (if they have internet or mobile services available to use) browse and borrow from virtual bookshelves instead of actual ones.

Sounds like this is all wrapped up, right?

Not exactly.

I have noticed a few things about my students’ reading habits over the years that tells me that this doesn’t quite solve everything.

My students prefer paper books. Yep. I said it. Most of my students have told me that they like the feel of a book in their hands, whether they define themselves as readers or not. They may be glued to their phones and tablets and all that other fun technological paraphernalia, but many don’t prefer to read anything of any length on their devices.   I do have some who prefer their e-readers and phones, but many of them are what Donalyn Miller has called “edge readers” – the kids who will find a few minutes here and a few minutes there to read while standing in line or after they finish answer the questions on page four or in the last few minutes before rehearsal. They like the fact that they don’t have to carry something extra along with them to be able to read whenever they have a spare moment. Every year I have a group of adventurous souls who are interested in trying e-books – and I am happy to help them download their first titles (usually from the library).

The problem with the kids who prefer paper books is that they have a hard time getting them — unless they have stocked up for the summer. I certainly have let students borrow my books for the summer and I have been known to meet up with students at school when we can for them to exchange what they finished for something new, but that’s not always going to be easy for students who don’t live close to the school either. But this hits on another problem as well…

My students prefer to own their books. This doesn’t mean they won’t borrow books from my classroom or the school and public libraries, but they do prefer to have a physical bookshelf filled with what they have read and want to read. I was reminded of this earlier in the week when I met with my book club. We finally settled on a first book to read (The False Prince) and I checked to see how many copies we could borrow. Only two of my fourteen students wanted to borrow a copy from the library. They wanted their own copy, thank you very much.

For some, these books serve as souvenirs of their time visiting their pages. For some, it fills the need that they just want to have their next read nearby. Some of those books are bought with the intention that they can be enjoyed at their leisure and then floated on to my classroom shelves or to friends once they finish.

Where to get books is tricky though.

We don’t have a lot of stores in our area. We have a Wal-Mart, a few pharmacies and grocery stores, hardware stores and jewelry stores — but no bookstores within the school district. Those other stores may sell books, but they are very limited in their selections. In fact, you’d need to drive to Harrisburg or Camp Hill or Selinsgrove (translation: about a 45+ minute drive depending on where you’re driving from and to) to find bookstores. They are not convenient or close. There is always the internet, but you need to have a credit card for that — and some parents are not willing to purchase things online.

This is one of the reasons that I make sure that my students get the Scholastic flyers each month – it’s one more possibility to get books.

My students don’t always know what they want to read next – or at all. I don’t want them to be dependent on me for recommendations, but I know that some of them don’t know where to start. So I wonder how many of them don’t even bother to look for books because they don’t know where to start. I know that some of my honors students – and students from past years – have emailed me over the summer looking for recommendations. I’m happy to oblige. I still worry that I haven’t taught them enough about how to find books to read on their own.

So what does this all mean?

During the school year, I can make sure I’m booktalking and recommending titles and putting books in kids’ hands. I have titles at the ready on my shelves and collections to pull from at the school library and public libraries. I can set a reader up with books enough to last a lifetime (though I have one dear student this year who may give me a run for my money — he’s got a no-kissing-books rule but will read just about anything else…and I have already lost track of how many books he’s read so far…), but having titles and no way to easily (without a driver’s license at least) get them over the summer makes this something I worry about. They lose momentum at a time when they should have more time to read than any other season of the year.

I have some ideas about getting students stocked up with books before summer this year and I’m already writing (in my head) letters to parents stressing the importance of regular trips to the library.

What do you do to make sure your students have access to books over the summer?

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One thought on “Access to Books and Summer Reading

  1. Cindy,

    Access is a complex issue and I like how you show that it goes far beyond giving students books. I think I really wanted to write about that mud race this morning and apathy or resistance more than access. Now you’ve got me thinking about focus and depth and the good writing things you do here. I live in a rural area, but Greater Orlando and my school district is vast. We have more than ten bookstores and fifteen public library branches, two quite close to my school that I know students frequent. I really like how you discuss students’ preferences and reach. I may have more students that prefer e-reading than you do, but I have quite a few that like to own books too.

    Thanks for writing with me and encouraging reflection!

    Lee Ann

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