When school's out, it's time for swimming, family vacations and . . . hitting the books. You read that right -- even though kids aren't in class, many school districts require that they read one or two books during July and August.
Some districts give students a limited choice, others have lists 80 books long. Some adopt a topical theme -- in West Islip, for instance, book choices in grades K to 4 all focus on character building, with middle-school choices focusing on bullying. Other districts have opened lists to contemporary works, stories with teenage protagonists and even graphic novels.
Here's how to make the summer reading mandate feel like a day at the beach for the kids (and you):
GRADES K TO 4
"Elementary-level children are still really interested in reading," says David Holmes, librarian at the Bridgehampton School. So some schools merely encourage children to join summer reading clubs at the public libraries. In the Plainview-Old Bethpage district, for instance, the four elementary schools compete for most books read in the community library program. In the fall, the winning school gets bragging rights.
Other schools, such as the Michael F. Stokes Elementary School in Levittown, impose a specific requirement. Children moving into grades 3 and 4 must read two books from a list and complete a project that might be creating a bookmark or writing four key plot events on an index card, says principal Lisa Newman. Books include titles from the Cam Jansen, Magic Tree House and Spiderwick Chronicles series. "We want them to continue reading, so they don't lose what they learned all year," she says.
To make the task easier, Newman suggests picking a comfortable, sunny reading spot in the home, having your child read aloud to you, or reading with your child by alternating paragraphs. Newman has an 8-year-old son in third grade; she will read the book he's chosen so she can ask questions to make sure he's understanding the plot.
GRADES 5 TO 8
Middle school is when some children get bored with reading, Holmes says. It's also the level at which some districts impose more stringent summer requirements. Some, such as Roosevelt, give students a limited choice, books with titles including "Malcolm X" and "Dear Gabe: Advice From an Expert on Dating"; others, such as Plainview-Old Bethpage, have lists of 40 to 80 books. This year, the district added graphic novels, says Jeffrey Yagaloff, English chairman.
In West Islip, middle school choices do double duty -- they focus on bullying. New, for instance, is "Letters to a Bullied Girl." This way, students advance their English language arts and also get a lesson in good citizenship, says Karen Appollo, the district's director of English Language Arts.
To make the assignment less burdensome, students should pace themselves, says Devon Treharne, secondary school English teacher in the Shelter Island School District. "Summer reading shouldn't be left until the last minute," she says. Students should use Post-it notes to mark key areas and points of interest so they can familiarize themselves with the material when they have writing assignments based on the books upon return to school, she says.
In high school, summer reading should instill a love of reading for pleasure, Treharne says. While students may have to read classics such as "A Tale of Two Cities" during the school year, her district's summer lists include contemporary fiction by authors such as Jodi Picoult. "I'm reaching now for more high-interest pieces," she says. "It's less laborious for them; they are more interested."
Shelter Island's list includes action-packed page turners such as the "Hunger Games" trilogy, stories with teenage protagonists such as "Fragile" by Lisa Unger, and "anything that's making it to the movies soon." Treharne also included "The Art of Racing in the Rain," narrated by a dog, hoping that would "hook" readers. And she included recommendations from the previous year's students. "One of the big pushes is about selling what you read to your classmates so other people want to read it, too," she says.
In other districts, such as Half Hollow Hills, the summer books tie more directly into the curriculum. For instance, students entering 10th grade must read two books with the theme of war and peace and consider questions such as, "Should the needs of the group outweigh the needs of the individual?" and "Which is more powerful: Love of country or love of self?" Suggested titles include newer books such as "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier," Ishmael Beah's account of being swept up in Sierra Leone's civil war as a teen, as well as classics such as Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
"The Penderwicks on Gardam Street" features four sisters fixing up their widowed dad with awful women so he won't date.
"If I Stay" is about Mia, who, after a car accident, is in a coma and must decide whether to fight for her life.
"The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates" is about two young men with the same name on different paths.
"The Passage" is a supernatural story about vampires and a virus that nearly destroys the world; it's the first in a trilogy.