Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Value of Summer Reading

   Having taken a break from blogging to concentrate on my work-in-progress, (now out of the way, entered in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s Creative Writing Contest), many bloggable topics are crowding into my brain. One which has grabbed me with great urgency is Summer Reading. We are well into the summer holidays, a time when children can gain an academic advantage simply by immersing themselves in story books. One a week would be a good number for them to read. (See my post on Summer Reading - Some Surprising Findings.) Simply put, children who read for pleasure during the summer do better in school the following year than those who don’t.

   A challenge for many parents is to find suitable books which children will enjoy. The easiest option is to fall back on the books which they read as children - Enid Blyton, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. But what is the effect on Jamaican children of reading nothing but ‘foreign books’? Diane Browne has written extensively on the importance to children of reading about characters like themselves in books. In October 2012, she wrote "Books allow them (young people) to work through their fears, their sources of joy, their experiences, to try on various selves. It would seem a good thing if these selves could be related to their own lives.” On June 17, 2013, she revisited this theme in "Making the case for children's literature - the Doctor Bird Series: Part 3."

    Books about Jamaican children by Jamaican authors are available. In my post on October 18, 2012 ‘Books by Jamaican Authors for children aged 8 - 14’ I listed forty-three books for that age-group. In addition, there are many books by other Caribbean authors for that age group.
Another challenge is to find these books in the bookshops, except for the Sand Pebble Series, available in Sangsters. The ‘foreign book syndrome’ is a system of positive feedback. Foreign books are displayed, therefore sell, therefore the ones which are most stocked. They are also cheaper than Jamaican books, because of their mass-production. The parents’ argument is that they can get two foreign books for the price of one Jamaican. What do they do with these books after their children have read them? Usually, they give them away. I would therefore encourage parents to form book clubs for their children. If each child in a group of three were to buy two Jamaican books, for example from the Sand Pebbles Series, when the children have finished reading one of the books, they can swap.

I will soon prepare a list of books for younger readers for them to read or for someone to read aloud to them. One such book, recently published is “Bolo the Monkey” by Jonathan Burke, published by Blue Moon. I had hoped to have a copy to review, but unfortunately I can’t get it in Montego Bay. This book, like many others is a victim of the ‘foreign book syndrome’.

While I’m currently emphasizing Summer Reading, I’m also questioning how much reading happens in term time in our Primary Schools, especially in the lower grades. A blog I like to read is “A Year of Reading - Two Teachers Who Read. A lot”. Not only do Franki and Mary Lee read a lot, they also write a lot of worthwhile information.

I make no apologies for quoting from Franki’s most recent post. The highlighting is mine.

“I've spent lots of time this summer catching up on series books that I think my new third graders will be reading when school starts next month. Catching up on these transitional books is key to supporting their reading development. I'm also looking for stand-alone books that help readers understand the power of story and that help them build conversation to understand character, see the world differently, and laugh and learn together. 3rd grade is a challenging one when it comes to book choice because it is tempting to choose books that are just beyond what kids are ready for so they don't quite understand them. They are 8 year-olds so their life experiences are not quite ready for the depth of some middle grade novels. And I am a firm believer that if we give kids great books too early, we take away the joy of experiencing an amazing book later, when they are able to fully enjoy and love it. But, I also know that third graders are brilliant people who have lots to say and need books to help them think through life. It's just that finding books that match the stage of life is not as easy as it appears.”

I would love to hear from a Grade 3 teacher who can say the same as Franki. I'm sure she has a much more difficult time accessing books than Franki does.

If you come across a child who appears bored with the summer holidays, suggest to him/her that he/she could read a book. Better still, look in your book collection for titles you could lend to him/her.


Hazel Campbell said...

So many hurdles to overcome the challenges to getting our children reading more books, Helen. Thanks for your efforts and good luck with the new book.

Helen said...

Thank you, Hazel.

Melanie K Wood said...

Great insights, Helen - I really love the idea of a parent book exchange. Children so deserve to have good quality stories with which they can identify and enjoy, instead of having 'classics' thrust in their hands of which they do not have the life or reading experience to actually absorb, let alone take into their hearts as treasures. I wonder if the exchange could be a 'grassroots' type of set up...started in a school, spread to a community...perhaps with a web site posting what is available, who has dibs on the next available copy of ___, and with parent and kid review/recommendations. Getting the love of reading back into learning and families is key to desiring and expecting more out of education and life. It could all start with something like a friendly little book exchange. ;)

Helen said...

Thank you for these suggestions, Melanie. May I quote you?