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End-of-summer reading fun

Pleasure-reading keeps kids sharp for the next school year

Posted: July 25, 2008 1:17 a.m.
Updated: September 25, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Scot Peeples, Borders sales manager, views a reading list for Santa Clarita Valley schools at a display in the Borders bookstore in Valencia. Scot Peeples, Borders sales manager, views a reading list for Santa Clarita Valley schools at a display in the Borders bookstore in Valencia.
Scot Peeples, Borders sales manager, views a reading list for Santa Clarita Valley schools at a display in the Borders bookstore in Valencia.

School is only a couple of weeks away, but that does not mean it’s too late for kids to squeeze in some final summer reading. 

Whether it involves picture books or classics, reading before school starts is a good way to freshen up on comprehension and analytical abilities, according to local librarians.

“Reading is definitely a skill. You need to keep it up,” Valencia Library children’s librarian Darcy Hastings said. “You’re maintaining the skills you’ve worked on all through the school year.”

Sandy Pida, a Santa Clarita resident and parent who recently took her daughters to Barnes and Noble for new books, agrees. She says she has her daughters read for at least an hour every day, even when they are not in school.

“I think it’s good for the language — more grammar and more vocabulary — so they don’t forget,” Pida said, as her 11-year-old and 9-year-old daughter sat beside her, one reading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and the other reading “A Smart Girl’s Guide to Money.”

The time children spend reading for fun lessens after age 8 and continues to lessen throughout the teenage years, according to the a survey of children and parents called 2008 Kids and Family Reading Report. The report was conducted by children’s publishing company Scholastic and consumer trends research group Yankelovich. One of the main reasons for the decrease cited by the study is that children often have trouble finding books that interest them.

However, there are a few ways to help children find books that will not only get them reading, but that will also get them excited about what they are reading, according to Hastings and other librarians in Santa Clarita Valley.

“I usually ask them what the last thing they read was that they really, really liked, and then I ask them what it was about that book that they really, really liked,” said Hastings, who added that she once helped a boy find a story set in Italy after finding out he was fascinated with reading about the country. “When they tell you what they really liked about it, that, as a parent, is like a big clue for you to try to keep them going down that road.”

Hastings recommends looking for something that will really engage the child, even if it is just a book of ghost stories or a book of trivia.

“Some parents don’t want to hear it, but depending on the child’s age, I might want to suggest a book like “Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty,” which is filled with little, short paragraphs, or two to three paragraphs long, of gross things,” she said. “Kids are just sucking that in. They love it. So, if you can find something like that — a book they just cannot put down, they’re reading.” She added that some of the facts might even introduce the child to interesting future reading topics.

As for more traditional books, Hastings said it doesn’t matter whether children read fiction or non-fiction stories. Both types of books offer the same important fundamentals, which help the child build their comprehension and analytical skills.

“A really well written nonfiction book offers you the same things that fiction does—characterization, setting, plot development, story arc,” Hastings said. “I just find that some kids want to find things that are true. Some like the fantasy, fantastical and are truly not interested in what’s true, and some do.”

Kelly Behle, the children’s librarian at Newhall Library, said she has noticed children’s non-fiction becoming more popular lately, especially among elementary school boys, who she said are usually interested in books about science.

Behle said the graphic novel, which includes comic book-style illustrations, is also becoming more popular among children.

“It’s difficult to have enough of those in the library because kids are really interested in them, particularly the boys, who are (usually) reluctant readers, who can see the visual characterization of the people in the book,” she said. “The physical aspect and the movement is right there and appeals to them in a different way.”

According to Behle, some books are even using new visual techniques to draw in children, such as Brian Selznick’s “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” which includes graphics layouts that look like movie frames.

Whatever children read, Hastings said one thing must be true in order to produce and effective reading experience — reading for fun must be about choice.

“They get enough in school about what they have to read,” Hastings said. “So, my personal feeling is summer should be about choosing to read.”

Parental input
Checking out a book at the library or buying one from the bookstore may not be enough to get a child engaged in reading. Behle suggests that parents take active roles in their children’s reading activities.

“It’s really a great idea for parents or older siblings to read aloud to children and to not stop as soon as children can read on their own,” Behle said. “While they might not be practicing the physical aspect of reading the words on the page, they’re still practicing the story structure.”

Hastings provides a similar suggestion — parallel reading. She said this involves the parent and child reading his or her own copies of the same book, and then coming together to discuss the story with questions such as: What is the character doing? What might he do next? Why might he do that? If you were him, what would you do?

“When you ask open-ended questions like that, it really gets the child to think about what they’re reading, and that’s what helps comprehension, it helps retention, and it helps them put themselves in the book,” Hastings said.

She added that parents should especially try parallel reading with their children’s assigned books during the school year.

The 2008 Kids and Family Reading Report also indicates that parents’ own decision to read regularly affect their children’s reading habits. The survey reported that parents who read for pleasure daily are six times more likely than parents who read less to have children who also read for pleasure on a daily basis.

Local libraries and bookstores are also making the effort to get children more interested in summer reading. All three Santa Clarita Valley public libraries, which are located in Valencia, Newhall and Canyon Country, are offering summer reading incentive programs. Children have until the end of August to earn reading points, which they can redeem for prizes.

Barnes and Noble also offers a reading incentive program, which allows each child one free book from a list of top-sellers, such as “Frindle and The Tale of Despereaux,” after a parent or teacher confirms that he or she has read eight other books. The program, which began in late May, ends in early September.

“Kids are excited because they get their own book that their parents didn’t buy for them,” said assistant store manager Paul Kingsbury. “It’s their own. They earned it, and they like doing that.”

Reading for YAs
Reading classic literature is usually the best summer choice for high school students, who are often assigned those types of books during the summer and school year, said Valencia Library young adult librarian Matthew Gill. 

“They’re good for entertainment, and they’re good reading,” Gill said.

Borders bookstore has also made an effort to help teenagers with their summer reading. Managers at the store in have teamed up with parents and teachers at local high schools to make sure required summer reading is in stock.

“Borders creates the summer reading racks, and a lot of those include the classics and the (books from) local school reading lists,” said store sales manager Scot Peeples, who added that the store even has some of the lists available in case students forget what they were assigned.

“We’ve got ‘Moby Dick,’ ‘The Three Musketeers,' ‘Huckleberry Finn’ — that’s definitely one that freshmen in high school read all the time,” Peeples said.

Students can find lists of recommended classics at the library, according to Gill. They can also go to online sources such as, an online book catalog and club, or, an online bookstore that offers referrals to other books of possible interest based on users’ searches, he said.

While the summer is draws to an end, Gill said reading for pleasure should not.

“There’s no need to stop reading for fun, just like you don’t stop watching TV or stop going to movies just because school’s starting up again,” he said. “You should always just make time to read on your own, pursue your own interests and keep time in your day for reading for fun.”


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