Moms Stack Summer Books For Kids
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their comments and some savvy parenting advice.
Summer's here, and while families are looking for ways for their kids to have fun and stay occupied, they along with educators are also increasingly concerned about kids losing ground and learning over the summer.
Now, many schools now provide summer reading lists and the like, but we wondered whether there are other ideas for keeping kids reading over the summer. So who better to call than the experts?
Sari Feldman is the president-elect of the Public Library Association, and TELL ME MORE regular parenting contributor Jolene Ivey is with us. Of course, she's one of the co-founders of the parenting support group, the Mocha Moms, and a mom of five. So welcome ladies, moms.
Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Mocha Moms): Hey, Michel.
Ms. SARI FELDMAN (President-elect, Public Library Association): Thank you so much for having me.
MARTIN: Sari, if you could just start us off by telling us about the Public Library Association. What does it do?
Ms. FELDMAN: The Public Library Association is a division of the American Library Association, and as its name says, it focuses on public libraries, which are, of course, vital to the life of every community in America.
MARTIN: And when did we start to become concerned over kids reading over the summer? I don't remember being sent home with a list of books. I remember just running out the door and trying to get as far away from school as possible for the summer. So when did we start to become concerned that maybe kids are losing ground over the summer? Maybe we should be doing more to encourage kids to read over the summer?
Ms. FELDMAN: Well, believe it or not, libraries started offering summer reading programs in 1897, but it was really in the early 2000s that we became much more focused on whether or not kids were reading over the summer.
The National Endowment for the Arts had published "Reading at Risk." We saw that it was a generational change, that kids weren't reading as much for recreation, and we wanted to make reading fun.
MARTIN: Jolene, what about you? Is this something that you're concerned about?
Ms. IVEY: Oh yeah. I definitely worry about this with my own children. They're boys, and you know, I've just made a standard with them that by the time you're in third grade, you should be reading for pleasure.
So I start indoctrinating them at an early age. Oh well, I know you like to read okay now, but when you get to third grade - and that way, they kind of look forward to it, like when I get to be in third grade, I'm going to be reading all the time, and it's pretty much worked.
MARTIN: I was going to ask you about that. How do you get them excited about reading, and have you noticed that there are - and I know this is a stereotype, so I apologize for that, but have you noticed that boys really need to read about boys?
Ms. IVEY: Well, generally speaking, they prefer the more adventure books and things that are directed towards them, you know, the Harry Potter-type books. They've read all of those. But I have one of my sons, he's very willing to read anything, which I love, and he's read all those Traveling Pants series that teenage girls love. He read them. I read them. We had something to talk about together.
MARTIN: I notice that we're not mentioning any names, however.
Ms. IVEY: No, we're not.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. IVEY: He's got his rep to consider.
MARTIN: Exactly, but with that being said, Sari, you kindly provided us with some books that you recommend that you think would be engaging for kids over the summer, and just for those listening, don't worry if you do not have a pencil or a pen to jot all this down. We will have a list of all of these books on our Web site, the TELL ME MORE page at npr.org. So not to worry. But Sari, start us off. The first book you mentioned to us is called "We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball." It's written by Kadir Nelson. Tell us about it.
Ms. FELDMAN: This is an absolutely exquisite book, and it's really a book that focuses on the story of how the league developed: racial discrimination, international sportsmanship, of fortunes won and lost. It's really a great story of American history, and it's a lost part of American history.
MARTIN: Why do you say it's lost?
Ms. FELDMAN: I don't think that most people are familiar with the Negro baseball leagues and how they were really the forerunner to popular baseball, and I just learned so much myself about who played in the leagues, and you know, I could only have recognized, I think before, one or two names.
You know, I knew that Jackie Robinson had played briefly and crossed over, and I knew about Satchel Paige, but I didn't know how rich the history was and how many games were actually played and how many leagues there were.
MARTIN: And what age group are you recommending this book for?
Ms. FELDMAN: This is a book really for kind of the nine to 12-year-olds, but I think an older reader would enjoy it as well, and a younger reader with a good attention span could be read to. So I think this is a special book for families and for girls as well.
MARTIN: What about the younger readers - say, the beginning readers, those four, five, six - you know, just-starting-out reading?
Ms. FELDMAN: A book that I have for a child who's just starting out is "Are You Ready to Play Outside" by Mo Willems. And he's written the Pigeon books that kids are really familiar with, "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus." And this is a very, very beginning reader. And it's very uncluttered, the words pop out at you. And it's about Elephant and Piggie, who can't wait to go out and play in the sunshine, but then it rains and how they make it fun anyway.
But a book for a child that's either just achieving some fluency in reading, but also a book that could be read to a younger child to inspire them to read is this wonderful, funny book called, "A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever," and the book is written by Marla Frazee. And it's just a very, very funny story that everybody would love in a family. And it's also the kind of story where you could write your own version of the best family summer week ever and create a story that was modeled after this book that could involve the whole family and involve the reader. And I did bring one great read-aloud book for babies…
MARTIN: Oh let's here it.
Ms. FELDMAN: …and preschoolers. It's called "The House in the Night." And it's a repetitive rhyming book by Susan Marie Swanson. And it's - just has brilliant illustrations. It's the perfect book for closing off a long summer evening and helping children to calm down and go to sleep.
MARTIN: If you're just tuning in, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Sari Feldman, the president-elect of the Public Library Association, and our regular TELL ME MORE parenting contributor, Jolene Ivey. And we're talking about books for kids to keep kids reading over the summer.
Let's talk about slightly older teens. Do you still think it's advisable or do you find it helpful to recommend books for this age group? Or do you find at that stage kids are probably already picking their own reading material and just let it go at that?
Ms. FELDMAN: This is Sari, and at the public library we certainly think that people of all ages want readers' advisory and recommendations. You know, we're the experts and so they come to us and ask for advice. And we like to continue those relationships with teenagers. That's one of the things that will keep kids reading, when they can read something, come back and talk about it, get advice on what else to read. We certainly go with their interests and we direct them to things they might already like.
MARTIN: There's one book we had I was curious about that you were telling us a about, the "Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman. Tell us about that?
Ms. FELDMAN: Well, the "Graveyard Book" was the John Newbery Medal winner this year and it's a fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman. The story of a boy, Nobody Owens, whose family is killed by a mysterious man name Jack and then he's subsequently adopted and raised by the occupants of a graveyard, inspired by Highgate Cemetery in England. And it's a tragic, mysterious tale, but it's absolutely fascinating. The language is beautiful and it would be a great family reading book, so that parents could discuss many of the issues and the fears presented in this story.
MARTIN: I'm thinking definitely I would want that for an older child because, you know, losing your parents is like the scariest thing in the world for a young child. I would, I can see that. Jolene, what about you?
Ms. IVEY: Well you know I've seen so many books that my kids love that I think are just too scary, but they love them. So my standard is anything that they will read. Anything they will read is a good book.
MARTIN: And do you still find yourself recommending things to your older…
Ms. IVEY: Sure.
MARTIN: …kids? Or is that the kiss of death to have mom hand it over?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. IVEY: No. I mean I recommend…
MARTIN: I don't want to read that.
Ms. IVEY: …but I don't insist, you know. And right now our 19-year-old is re-reading "The Invisible Man." So that's great. You know, we like them to go to the classics. We like them to learn more than some of the obviously trash that kids are exposed to, but trash to me is better than nothing when it comes to reading.
MARTIN: Sari, I also understand that you've got some tips for encouraging kids to keep reading over the summer.
Ms. FELDMAN: Right. Absolutely. And it sounds like Jolene was really on top of it, to make reading a habit in the home for her children. That's one of the top tips, and to talk about reading and encourage reading. Also, take advantage of waiting time to share books, when you're on trips or at the doctors office, or in line even at the grocery store. Set a good example, have your kids see you reading, allow children to select books, give books as presents. You know, all those things that I think those of us who value reading and value books know instinctively. And, of course, take them to the public library, get them a card, build that relationship with a public librarian.
MARTIN: I'm still trying to figure out how I can have my five and a half year-old watch me read.
Ms. FELDMAN: Yeah…
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: I'd like to know how that works please.
Ms. IVEY: The only thing…
MARTIN: Because I would love nothing more than for them to sit there while I dig through my New Yorkers. So I have not mastered this. Jolene?
Ms. IVEY: The only thing that my kids see me read regularly is the newspaper. I mean every morning pretty much I'm going to read the paper, I'm going to have my coffee, and now they will read the sports section or something while I'm reading. But that's about it. I don't have a lot of time to read. But I do make it a priority for them. If there is any book they want, anything as long as it's an actual book, I will drop everything and take them to the library, to the bookstore, whatever it is, I will make it a real point and they know it. I don't complain about the cost, if it's something I have to pay for. I don't care if I have to drive to another library. I want them to know that books are a priority. Games are not a priority. If there's a game they want. Well, one day I guess they'll get it, maybe. But books, today it will be gotten.
MARTIN: And Sari, you have this other tip I wanted to mention. You said get to know the children's librarian at your local public library. This is important information for me because I think sometimes people hesitate because they don't want to bother the person. You know, they say, oh well, he or she gets busy. I'm sure he or she has other things to do. And what I'm hearing you say is librarians want to recommend. They're eager to help you choose books.
Ms. FELDMAN: That's our favorite part of the job, I mean to build those reading relationships. And a lot of what summer reading programs are about, having kids read for pleasure and then come in and give reports or do some activity related to the books they're reading, to build on that relationship. So librarians absolutely want children and parents to come and ask for advice.
MARTIN: Jolene, is there something you wanted to get to that we didn't ask you about?
Ms. IVEY: Yes. I think that we've spoken a lot about older children…
Ms. IVEY: …and even kids four and five years old. But if you read regularly to your baby who you don't think is paying any attention, if you read to an eight month old regularly, by the time that child is three you've increased that child's vocabulary dramatically and studies support that. And I think it's also important to remember the impact that fathers have on kids academically. If fathers are encouraging the reading, the kids do even better, not just in the reading, but in school generally. So I just want to make sure that we don't forget babies and dads.
MARTIN: And finally Sari, you are also a mom. Although, I understand that your children are grown now. Did they have a favorite book growing up or a couple of books growing up? And did you have a favorite tip for encouraging them to read?
Ms. FELDMAN: Well you know like many parents I started with "Goodnight Moon," and I remember my oldest daughter, her first word, her first clear word was moon. And so we knew it was connecting for her. I think one of the important pieces is that I read to my children till they finally were, you know, demanding privacy and didn't want me to read to them. But a tip that I'll give for older readers, when my children read books that I didn't know or hadn't read myself, I always read them. And then during those years where we found it hard to find common ground or things to talk about, we talked about what we read. And that was one way that I kept communicating with my girls all through their adolescents and into their twenties.
MARTIN: Sari Feldman is the president-elect of the Public Library Association. She joined us from Cleveland. And, of course, we're joined as always by TELL ME MORE regular parenting contributor, Jolene Ivey. She was here with me in our studios in Washington. And as I said, we will have links to all of the titles we talked about at our website, the TELL ME MORE page at NPR.org, as well as other tips for getting your kids to read. Ladies, moms, thank you so much.
Ms. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.
Ms. FELDMAN: Thank you.
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