Reading is a lot like exercise. You need to do it regularly. When you take a vacation from your workouts, it takes some time to get back to where you were before. If I skip exercising for just ten days, I feel like I'm starting over when I get back. The same thing happens on a reading vacation. For kids, that can last three months! Ouch! To help prevent "injury," schools often send home a "reading list" so students can keep "fit" over the summer.
There are lots of opinions about the lists, particularly when the list hasn't changed since you were in school. Just know they are singular in their plea: please keep your child reading this summer. It can be tricky finding books that will keep them reading through the summer, especially with one of those stagnant, age-old lists! So what's a parent to do?
First, introduce yourself to the librarians! Libraries across the country will be launching their summer reading programs over the next few weeks, and these programs are a great way to connect kids with books and keep them in tip-top reading shape. Another option is to seek out some books from ... lists of recommended books.
That's a reading list by another name, right? Yes and no. Yes, it is a list of books, but it isn't a standardized group of books. These are collections of books created by people who have road-tested the books and believe in their value. The recommended lists are often built around a theme. For example, Reading Rockets (and many other websites) have lists of books by theme or by award or recognition. At Reach Out and Read, you'll find books by developmental age. I love Reading Rocket's guide for how to find that 'just right' book. Hint: read page 2!
Yesterday, Susan Kusel took us behind the scenes of creating a book list. She not only shared how book lists are created, but also shows why librarians are the go-to resource for reading ideas. What I love about What's Next, a resource created by the wonderful librarians at the Arlington Public Library, is that it is part reading list, part idea box. I can find suggestions by book format (e.g., picture book), audience (infant through teen), and/or subject (apples to zoos and beyond) Here are two other all-inclusive resources I recommend.
Children's Picture Book Data Base - Miami University (OH) maintains a database is filled with more than 5,000 picture books, complete with abstracts! It is designed for educators who are building their curriculum, but it is a very handy tool when you're a mom looking for books about tractors.
Toddlers Booklist - On this Montgomery County (MD) Public Library list you'll find books that the librarians likely have used at storytime ... with great success. There is a bookcover image and short description with each title listed.
Early and Transitional Literacy - Kindergarten to Second Grade
Info Soup - This is a multifaceted, cooperative website maintained by a group of Wisconsin Public Libraries. You can find books via the page of book lists, or you can start at the InfoSoup.org home page and search any or all collections by title, author, keyword, or topic.
Zuckerman's Barn Kids Lit - This site offers a searchable database of book reviews by students for students. The goal of the site is to "create a community of readers across classrooms and schools, including both students and supportive adults." Search books by title, author, subject, grade level, and more.
Fluent Readers - Third Grade and Beyond
Little Willow's Booklists @ Bildungsroman - Little Willow's lists are my go-to recommendation when someone asks for a list. You'll find recommendations sorted by audience, themes, and topics, as well as her personal recommendations.
Best Books List @ Children's Literature Web Guide - The University of Calgary (Canada) maintains this site (link takes you to the Guide's topical list). What I love is that the topics go beyond the norm and focus on traits or interest for older kids, like books with artistic protagonists.
Many libraries create and maintain their own lists, too, so check out their sites. The Monroe County (IN) Library hosts a Children's Booklists on the Web page, where you can find a bunch of them in one place. Not all lists are created equal, and your librarian can point you toward some great ones or offer some "read alikes" that might work for the list you have.
Now for the Million dollar question: Will my child will like the books on these lists? Odds are they won't like every book on any given list. They may not even like the first book from a list. Don't give up. If you get a couple pages in and the book isn't working, drop that one and find another one. If you've narrowed your options to things your child likes, it doesn't mean the entire list won't work, only that book. Just keep reading ... it's good exercise!
Image credit: Toddler and infant reading - Beach Book Trip by Kristi on Flickr.
Clipart - Open Clip Art Library: card catalog (Steve Lambert); library cart (Steve Lambert); pile of books (J Alves); question mark (Purzen)