Summer Reading depresses the bejeezos out of me. While my school librarian friends are looking 10 years younger and more carefree than should be permitted by law, I’ve got the Summer Reading blues real hard. The reference desk lines are non-stop, everyone needs everything right now (stress levels of parents seem to go up to 11 during July and August), we’re running out of titles and our will to live, and the Summer Reading assignment lists from the schools don’t seem to have been written by actual people:
Often, parents hand me lists so outlandish I’ve considered whether I was being featured on a really bad hidden-video reality show. They’re either really poorly organized or they contain titles that I know just by looking at them that we just don’t have. I’ve tried contacting schools and teachers, either by phone, email, or in person, and have had absolutely no luck. We have pre-written form letters that we send home with the parents (we call them “Dear Teacher” letters: Dear Teacher, Name of Child was unable to obtain this book due to 1) lack of copies 2) high demand 3) plague of locusts 4) flood of librarian tears, etc.) so that their children won’t get in trouble for not being able to access the books on the list. The letter has our contact info on the bottom, so the teachers and librarians can talk before the next summer comes around.
(On the rare occasion that I get a really great list, I ask the parents to tell the teacher I said so. I don’t know if that feedback actually goes anywhere, but, girl, I try).
Sending kids home with a Dear Teacher letter instead of a book is not a good moment. The kids feel guilty for not doing their summer homework, I feel bad that they’re not reading, and the parent, child, and school have had a poor library experience. What if this is the only time I interact with this family all year? What if their entire opinion of the library is based on this transaction? This is not literacy positive! This is the opposite of what I hope to accomplish during the summer.
So. Teachers. I love you, but you’re bringing me down (hashtag Not All Teachers hashtag Not All Summer Reading Lists). In response to the bananas lists I’ve seen in my 6 years as a public librarian, here are my tips for writing the perfect Summer Reading list. This will be the list where your local librarians will actually be able to help your students and their families. Don’t be mad. We’re in this together.
♥ Make sure your list is in alphabetical order BY AUTHOR. Not by title. Never by title. Please not ever by title. If there’s a library where books are arranged by title, I don’t know that library but I’d like to smack that library. Most libraries arrange their books by author. No one wants to run in circles looking in the stacks for books. I don’t. I promise your students don’t.
I wrote about it in another post about Summer Reading: Imagine if you listed your books by title instead of author:
And if the Moon Could Talk, by Kate Banks
Buster, by Denise Fleming
Dog and Bear: Two Friends, Three Stories, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Froggy Goes to Camp, by Jonathan London
Previously, by Allan Ahlberg
Do you see what’s happening here? If our books are shelved by author, that means your future student or the nice if not neurotic librarian is running from B to F to S to L to A, instead of just straight through the alphabet. If you make a list alphabetically by author, the student, parent, or I get to walk in a straight line, instead of in circles like a raving lunatic.
Imagine how easy it would be to scan the stacks, list in hand, and actually be able to find the books in a timely manner. What fun!
♥ Offer options. My favorite Summer Reading lists are the ones where the teacher has given the students some choices. If your students have options, there’s a better chance that they’ll actually get the reading done. As far as choices are concerned you can: 1) Offer a large range of titles but state that students need only choose a few. 2) Say that the students can read any title by a certain author. 3) If you’re offering a book in a series, say that any book in the series will suffice.
♥ Make sure the book is in print and that the library has multiple copies. Once, a teacher assigned a book that we only had one copy of in our 60 branches. That copy was in storage. It was also non-circulating. No child was going to get this reading done. They were being set up to fail. You can check the library’s online catalog for how many copies the library owns. When in doubt, contact the library. Call us. Email us. We’ll let you know. It’s our job.
♥ Titles and authors should be spelled correctly and accurately. Sometimes I can make an educated guess as to what the teacher intended to include in their list. Other times, I’m not sure I’m sending the student home with the correct title. If the student is searching for titles without the librarian’s help, including both the title and author is incredibly important. Some titles are very common and have been used by multiple authors. Cutting and pasting from the library’s catalog is a good way to ensure the student brings home the right book.
♥ It’s OK to put the reading level on your Summer Reading list, as long as you make it clear that most public libraries don’t organize their books by reading level. Often, summer is the time of year where students and parents realize that the local library isn’t organized like the school library. It’s OK. If you’re listing authors and titles accurately, it should be fine. If you’re simply sending kids off to the library looking for level L or 9 or Orange, things are going to get hairy.
♥ Don’t include books that have recently been made into movies. I see what you’re doing there and it’s cool to discuss books that have a lot of hype! However, the demand for these books is usually bonkers any time of year. Add Summer Reading madness to the mix, and your students are bound to get a hold of these books on the 13th of Nevermember. Past nightmare assignments have included Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Fault in our Stars. Yes, we can sometimes order additional copies of these books, but not always. And maybe not in enough time to help you and your class.
♥ Encourage families to hit up the library as close to the beginning of the summer as possible. Even if we don’t have the title at the moment, we can usually put it on hold so that the students can get their books in a timely manner. Once August hits, hope is often lost. Early birds, worms, etc. etc.
♥ If the library has its own Summer Reading list of recommended titles, consider using it. Use the whole thing! Use parts of it! Chances are, we’ve ordered extra copies of those books! The library has done the work for you! Sit back and relax! You’ve earned it!
♥ When in doubt, contact the library. I’ve been making myself crazy in the coconut chasing teachers around so that we could work on Summer Reading lists together. I would totally plotz if a teacher actually called me regarding a Summer Reading list. I’d laugh. I’d cry. It’d be better than Cats. Whatever medium-hard work I’d have to put into creating the list with you would pale in comparison to the joy I’d feel in my heart everytime someone handed me an SR list that actually knew how to list! I’m here to help! Let me help!
Teachers? What could librarians do to make Summer Reading easier on you and your students?
Librarians? What did I leave out?
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid