In 2012, my wife Barb and I were commiserating about the state of reading in the country—specifically what she, a 4th grade teacher, called ‘the dreaded summer slide’.
Far too many kids, particularly from families that struggle, head back into class every fall, with less opportunity than their peers. They are not as engaged. They struggle with review material. They hold back, as their enthusiastic and engaged classmates wave hands in the air and shout out answers.
This struggle is real. Poor children are historically woefully behind their well-off peers, and every summer, the opportunity gap widens. After failed initiatives, generational disadvantage, and Covid exacerbated opportunity disparities, 75% of poor children are not proficient in reading. Can you imagine not being able to read your textbooks in school?
Our education system is struggling, and with the recent upsets and extended breaks in learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more kids are struggling too.
Ten years ago, Kids Read Now was formed to eradicate the summer slide, which has been shown to cause 2/3 of the achievement gap between kids with opportunities and those who are at-risk and living in poverty. We just knew that a viable, successful, scalable summer literacy program could be developed and would give disadvantaged kids a real opportunity to become great readers and, in turn, give them the means to escape a life of poverty.
We have made tremendous progress. Our program has been refined and scaled. In 2022, we project that over 80,000 students in 31 states will each be gifted 9 books. Our team of educators selects popular and loved books that kids are most likely to want and to read and create a Wish List catalog of over 130 titles to choose from. By partnering with Penguin Random House and other top publishers, Kids Read Now is able to offer the best books for PreK-5 kids.
Whether we are serving a tiny remote community in Alaska or thousands of students in one of America’s largest school districts, Kids Read Now provides a turnkey approach to literacy success. We can’t wait to see what our next ten years can do for America’s future.
“I just wanted to say how much I appreciate you doing this for our kids. Some of the students in my room only read books at school because they have no books at home. So, thank you very much for helping them out… I know how much they love getting a book.” – Annie Groves, WV
The Kids Read Now 2021 summer reading program was our best reading program to date! We mailed over 690,000 books to over 77,000 students all over the country. That’s pretty awesome, right? Here are the top 10 books requested this year.
#10 – Stone Fox
By: John Reynolds Gardiner
Illustrated by Marcia Sewell
Little Willie and his grandfather live on a farm. Grandfather owes back taxes, and becomes ill. Willie is determined to save the farm. Can Willie and his dog, Searchlight, do it?
#9 – Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt (A Narwhal and Jelly Book #2)
By: Ben Clanton
Illustrated by Ben Clanton
Narwhal and Jelly want to become superheroes. Find out what their super powers are.
#8 – Flying High
By: Nick Eliopulos
Illustrated by DC
Something strange is happening. The birds are going crazy! Who can help?
#7 – Big Shark, Little Shark
By: Anna Membrino
Illustrated by Tim Budgen
Are you afraid of sharks? No need to be afraid of these two! They will have you laughing! And smiling. And splashing about!
#6 – DK Readers: Amazing Dogs
By: Laura Buller
Meet the many types of dogs that use their super senses, strength, and friendship to help people!
#5 – The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto
By: Natalie Standiford
Illustrated by Donald Cook
The children of Nome, Alaska are very sick. They need medicine. Balto, and the sled dog team, are their only hope. But will they get there in time?
#4 – National Geographic Kids: Storms
By: Miriam Busch Goin
Thunder and lightning! Monsoons! Hurricanes! Tornadoes! The facts and photos in this book will blow you away!
#3 – National Geographic Kids: Dive Dolphin
By: Shira Evans
Dolphins live in oceans and rivers around the world. Learn more about these fantastic animals.
#2 – National Geographic Kids: Hop, Bunny!
By: Susan B. Neuman
What do bunnies do all day? Where do they go? What do they see? This book will tell you.
#1 – National Geographic Kids: Go, Cub!
By: Susan B. Neuman
Baby cubs like to cuddle and sleep. What do they learn to do? Read this and find out!
How do you get kids excited about books? Over my 25 years of teaching, I’ve discovered many ways to spark excitement. Here are 10 to get you started:
Start an After-School Book Club
Invite a guest reader from the community to kick off the meetings. After the read-aloud, the kids spread out to read independently or with a friend. You can also invite a high school sport team or club to buddy read with the kids.
Be a “Book Fairy”
Use your points from Scholastic book clubs or grants to gift books to kids. Try to give every student a book by the end of the year. Kids love the surprise and owning their own book is more special than borrowing, so they treasure it.
Invite Guest Leaders as Readers
Leaders in schools and the community love to be a part of this and your students will be inspired to see what some of their role models read. Invite the football coach, the mayor, chief of police, a local veterinarian, and others to share a favorite book.
Encourage Kid-Created Contagious Book Reviews
When a student reads a book they love, have them create a book review to share with the class. You can do these live, or have kids create a video. You can even take the videos, create a QR code for them, and adhere the QR code inside the cover of the books!
Hold a Reading Marathon
The day of the “marathon,” have kids wear running gear, create paper running bibs, allow healthy snacks and water bottles, and read all day! Have kids read independently, in pairs, Zoom in guest readers and authors, and YOU should read aloud to them too.
Kick off the Year with a Book Tasting Event
Use tablecloths and place settings and serve a pile of books on plates. Provide wish lists for your students to jot down the books they are interested in reading that year. This is a great way to get kids familiar with your classroom library and excited about what they get to read! (Use their lists to get ideas for book fairy visits too!)
Host Book-Bartering Days
Kids bring in a book that they’re willing to part with in exchange for another book from someone in the classroom. Students give a 30 second pitch on what they loved about the book they’re offering. Arrange the books on tables and allow students to make their selections.
Get Your Own Little Free Library
As a class, write a grant for a Little Free Library for your school. Your class will love this service project and visit it often! To fill the library, send home a request for gently used books as a donation to the Little Free Library. You will be surprised at how many books come in!
Host Chat and Chews
Choose a book you have multiple copies of. You can make book marks with the dates for each meeting and what chapters need to be read each time. On assigned dates, enjoy your lunch and discuss the chapters of the book together!
Have an Author Visit!
I may be biased, since I’m a children’s book author who LOVES to do author visits, but I truly believe in their power. Kids love to meet authors in person and have a renewed passion for reading and writing afterward. From hearing the story behind the stories, or special secrets the author shares, it is a memorable experience.
When kids see you make reading a priority and a treat to be enjoyed, they are on their way to becoming life-long readers.
All children like to read things they can relate to or that make them feel good. And the best children’s stories I “read” were those on the laps of my parents.
In order to write books for children of a different mold than our own, we need to know them. I grew up in a homogeneous environment. When my junior high social studies teacher inadvertently opened my eyes to the fact that youth around the world had many things in common, my interest was sparked.
My first goal achieved was learning the importance of communication. Not only in English, but in Spanish. I lived and studied in Spain, where I achieved fluency. It has served me well!
I taught Spanish and used Spanish language children’s books as motivators for my students.
I worked for the employment/unemployment office in Iowa’s capital. We had many Latino clients. I did much translating and interpreting to help communicate a concept difficult for many people in their native language.
Aside from this, I had many stories in my memory that I wanted to share with children and those reading to them. That is where my dream launched.
I wrote my first picture book, Mommy and Mikel Go for a Walk. It was a memory from the mid-1980s with my son Mikel. After writing it in English, I decided to tell it in Spanish, too. Working with many Latinos in the USA has taught me that Spanish in Spain is not the same as Spanish in the rest of the world. I was glad to know alternative words to use that would be more neutral help me communicate better.
I learned that not only native language readers liked each language, but learners of the other language.
My second book, Surprise in Auntie’s Garden! made me pause. I am blonde, as is most of my family. Many young people would not relate to blonde people in every book. I decided to use different race and ethnic characters in each book to include other young readers and parents. This time I used Latinas as the characters. My messages are universal, so this merely allowed different readers to see themselves in my books.
My first three books were published in pairs. One in English and the other in Spanish. I had requests to try publishing the stories as bilingual stories to include both languages in one book. I did this with Do It Again! and Lexi’s Special Tooth Fairy Pillow. The reception was wonderful.
During this time of writing, I also began working with Royal Promise, a mission that works with underprivileged children in Anun-Asikuma, Ghana, West Africa. This opened the door even wider. My new friends and the students loved my stories because they knew me and were eager for new literature. I feel very connected to them and feel the need to assist with their literacy opportunities.
It is important to include many aspects of childhood in the characters as well as the stories. Literacy is important to all people and gives them the confidence and initiative to seek and achieve new and unforeseen goals in life. Invest in our future and include everyone, at home and abroad.
Using children’s stories to bolster a sense of community connectedness and improve the culture at your school
Imagine this… You are a classroom teacher or a counselor or a principal. You see and feel the culture of your learning community and note the need for a change. It is 2021 and people from all walks of life are facing truly challenging situations in their lives. They haven’t seen family for several months. They have lost jobs and are struggling financially. They’ve spent unparalleled amounts of time at home with their spouses; and some realize that they are not as compatible as they once were.
These are just a few of the real-world situations our families and children are facing. The children who walk into our schools have no control over any of these situations; yet they certainly feel the brunt of them. You, as their sensitive, empathetic teacher, counselor or principal, are put in a position to manage and navigate these overwhelming challenges. What do you do to make a difference? How do you support the children, meeting them where they are; yet still offering assistance to move them forward in their journeys?
As I have in so many times in my life, I have turned to stories; parallel stories which are relevant to the situations we are facing. Let me share a story here… lol. My daughter-in-law is pregnant with twins that are due in June/July. This past weekend, we had her baby shower. One of the “games” we played was taking a word or phrase from a list and sharing tips for the mother-to-be. My daughter, who is not yet a mother, shared her experience as a little girl. She used the words “cuddle” and “bedtime.” She, with so much love in her heart and on her face, shared how much she cherished bedtime cuddles and the stories I used to tell her.
I reminisced right along with her, as her memory took me 18 years back in time; as if we had stepped into a time machine! I shared that the stories I would tell were a mixture of books that I read repeatedly and stories I created which discussed what had happened that day or recently. The stories I would create often highlighted acts she had done which were positive and that we hoped would occur again… things like going potty in the toilet, or playing nicely with her brother. Some of them related to situations which didn’t go so well but in the story the actions were adjusted to elicit more productive endings.
One such story was about when she and a friend were playing, and her friend upset her by selecting her favorite doll to play with for the afternoon; a doll which she, herself, wanted to have with her. My daughter went off to play with a different set of toys and left her friend to play dolls by herself. In the story I created, the girls were able to play with the various dolls and get along by showing off the doll’s various talents.
We talked about how her favorite doll was special and desired, because it was her favorite; and when her friend chose to play with that special doll, it was like sharing a gift which didn’t actually need to be given away. Her special doll was not only special to her, but also special to her friends, which made her that much more special. We didn’t discuss the story as it related to her; it was simply told to her.
The beauty was when my daughter’s friend came over again and a similar situation occurred and played out just as had been shared in my story. My daughter had listened and internalized the actions of the “fictitious” characters and mimicked their behaviors and attitudes and enjoyed her friend’s presence much more. She wasn’t hurt by not being able to play with her favorite toys. She, instead, felt pleasure in sharing her treasured gifts with those whom she loved.
While playing the baby shower game, my daughter didn’t share any of the details I just laid out; but they all came flooding back to my mind when she mentioned her love of those times. I felt that closeness and connection, as well. (Yes, there were tears shed.) I also felt the evening stories were probably one of the best parts of my own parenting. The “aha” moment happened when I realized I had intuitively taken the practice into my work in schools. I had used children’s books with my junior-high and high-school students and with my various staff to share messages. So, when I was named principal at an elementary school, I was excited to expand this work to impact students (and adults) individually and for our school family, as a whole!
The first year in the position, it was clear to me there had been some adversarial relationships created which resulted in a culture of unhealthy competition and some underlying fear and distrust. During an assembly with the students, I mentioned I saw Cookson as the school with a K in the middle of its name and that K stood for Kindness! I read the book The Dot by Peter H Reynolds. The book exemplifies kindness and how it is shared with one another; and the incredibly positive impact it has on the direct recipients and eventually the overall community.
At our school, we created multiple opportunities for our students to share their kindness with one another, with their teachers, with our community members and beyond. (Our teachers also engaged in several appreciation opportunities. Our school counselor and media specialist met together to design and implement a monthly talk with each of our classes where various success attributes and facets of kindness would be discussed and highlighted. We will talk more about these books-stories at a later time). The stories they read, the situations they shared, the questions they asked, and the discussions which ensued have led to a really open and honest community of people who accept where they are, own their actions, work towards growth, and are connected by the focus on being kind to oneself and others.
In January of 2021, when we returned to school after the winter holidays, I anticipated a rejuvenated and refreshed feel. However, after the first day, the look of exhaustion on the faces of staff and students returned. I was thinking, “We have an entire six months of school left, and so much learning to do and the cold, dark winter to somehow endure. The COVID-19 numbers are at an all-time high. How can we possibly do this?” We needed stories; we needed really good children’s literature!
On the announcements, I read The Dot. I asked the students to picture the pages in their minds as I read aloud. I encouraged them to make a movie of the story; especially since many of them have heard it so many times already. We began sharing stories on a weekly basis which had specific messages – kindness, endurance, perseverance, owning your actions, etc. This re-connected our community. We now all had a similar weekly experience to reference in discussions. Just as in other years, teachers were heard referencing the stories in their classrooms; students had characters to relate to and use in discussions with fellow students. We had re-built a very important structure which is critical to our school’s culture.
During the shutdown, we did so many virtual read-alouds. Teachers have been reading in their individual classrooms. However, as a school, it didn’t occur to me that I should be doing this. (Wow, I find I have to learn some of the most basic lessons over and over again!) In a time when we are struggling to connect on so many levels and when we are oftentimes ready to totally cancel out what we don’t like, focusing on the simple messages found in children’s books is exactly the right medicine for what is ailing and alienating us.
For more information about the Kids Read Now Summer Reading Program for K-3, please contact us.
Although we don’t generally think about it, every experience we have adds to a repertoire of events that create “us” – our background. The stories we share with friends, the lessons we teach our kids, and the bank of knowledge we use to make decisions in the moment. Everything we encounter adds to this background, called schema, which we use to put new information into meaningful context.
Schema is added to and shaped by new experiences and lessons. Throughout the school years, teachers and parents expose children to new information, adding their own background information to the lessons. It is in this way that many generations of humans have passed down information that is important; although, how we share these stories has evolved over the centuries.
Schema Theory uses open-ended questions to encourage students to use their backgrounds to dissect and comprehend media or a situation. Since this is a blog about reading, lets focus on using Schema Theory with books. As mentioned, you can help activate and build children’s schema by asking them simple, open-ended questions. Often it is easiest for children to focus on the relationships in a story since the ups and downs of a relationship are familiar to them. For example, if you just finished Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you might discuss with your child the following:
“At the end of the story, Charlie wins. What character in another story has to pass a test to see if they are worthy of winning something?”
This is an example of a “text-to-text” comparison question, where one story is used to put another into context. Kids Read Now uses questions written in Schematic Theory as a ready-made guide for parents and educators to expand comprehension of what is being read. Every Kids Read Now selection has 4 questions written at the reading level of the book, called Discovery Questions. Each question uses a different aspect of schema theory to encourage connections.
The first 3 questions are:
The aforementioned “text-to-text”
A “text-to-self” question where the student is asked to compare the events or themes in the book to his or her own life
A “text-to-world” question in which the student is encouraged to think about the greater world at large and how a story might be thought about from different perspectives. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory you might ask your child to think about how the factory must be passed to a child. What would the adults of the world think of this? The other children?
The final question Kids Read Now adds to a book’s set of Discovery questions is a creative question. As we look back to our example of Roald Dahl’s classic, we might ask readers to invent 5 rooms in the chocolate factory with different candies, and then have them describe how these candies might get naughty children in trouble. Have them draw these rooms and tell you out loud, so you can ask them questions and have fun!
My final tips on building schema are to celebrate discoveries and help them share what they know! The confidence in their new connections will encourage them to continue to expand and grow!
During meetings, are you a notetaker? I often find myself scribbling down notes throughout a meeting only to never refer to them again, simply because I remember what is on them. The act of writing down the information helps my brain convert it to long term memory. The same thing happens when children write. Even more importantly, it helps teach their brains HOW to remember. This is called the “Retrieval Effect” and it’s why practice tests work to help you study for the big test in school.
When you write about a topic, it strengthens your memory and helps you make connections and have deeper thoughts about the subject. As you write, and you think about what you want to write, you begin to weigh the importance of different aspects of the topic. Professor Steven Graham of the Arizona State University Teaching College found—after compiling over 56 studies—that writing “reliably enhanced learning” in science, social studies, and math.
When you ask a student to write about a topic, it helps them demonstrate their comprehension on that topic and reveals gaps in their knowledge. Low stakes writing exercises are a great way to allow free flow thinking and encourage those connections to come to the surface. A low stake writing exercise has no right or wrong answer and is not about spelling or grammar. You are just trying out new ideas. When you remove the pressure of being “right”, you encourage students to find their voice and see the value in their ideas. Ask questions like, “What do you notice?” or, “What’s one thing you know and one question you have?” to help develop an inner dialogue.
MyStories is a writing prompt book developed by Kids Read Now as a fun and engaging set of low stakes writing exercises. Each page has a colorful picture and an area for writing. There’s no right or wrong way for students to use these books. It’s the perfect activity to get students’ creative juices flowing. Visit kidsreadnow.org for more tips on engaging with your children through reading and writing!
Pleasure reading and assigned reading are not mutually-exclusive activities
Have you ever taken pause to consider your personal literary history? I remember back to my senior year, an honors English class where I was asked to do this very exercise. It is remarkable how influential the very first pieces of text you consumed are. They can influence your life and relationship with reading. As a recovering perfectionist, I struggled to find the joy and adventure in reading. The fear of receiving a poor grade due to not recalling a piece of text often overshadowed the book in front of me.
I remember back to second grade and the textbooks that would weigh down my small backpack. I was terrified of the reading tests that would follow each chapter we read. It was at that point I began to associate reading with work or something I had to do. This struggle between associating reading with work or fun would continue throughout most of my K-12 career. Reading textbooks, tests, book reports, and presentations were not things I looked forward to as a child; however, there were several books that would eventually mean the world to me as I yearned to keep reading from being a chore.
The first book was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. In fourth and fifth grade my evenings were filled with reading A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. In sixth grade we were asked to read a particular book that was accompanied by a lime green workbook. This book in particular caused me to resist reading. In high school, books like The Bell Jar and 1984 (though assigned reading) kept alive the joy of reading.
This pattern and struggle between reading for assignment and reading for pleasure persisted until a couple of years into college when I was truly able to let go of the idea that I would be graded or forced to recall the text I just read. I cannot help but think of the couple key books that kept my love for reading alive. The freedom to select books I wanted to read helped me overcome anxieties related to assigned reading.
Research shows, “Students who engage in pleasure reading experienced marginal average increases of .11% in English and 1.71% in science and higher increases of 4.43% in mathematics and 2.05% in history”. It is imperative we teach and model pleasure reading to the children in our lives regardless of our positive or negative past experiences. Recently, I have found a love for reading self and professional development books in addition to assigned readings. I have realized the two activities are not mutually exclusive. It took a while, but I have gotten to the point where assigned reading no longer replaces or interferes with pleasure reading. Have you given yourself the opportunity to read for fun regardless of your past experiences with reading?
It’s not enough to say that home libraries are important. We need to take it a step further and ask why home libraries are important and how we can help build your student’s home library.
Why a home library?
Let’s start with this: “Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class,” 20-year research study in 27 countries. That’s a three-year academic head start! The study also found that the effect is greatest on economically disadvantaged students. The Annie E. Casey foundation reports that 79% of economically disadvantaged kids are below proficient in reading by fourth grade. Compare that to the number of books found in their homes, and we have a pretty good argument for a concerted effort to build home libraries among our most vulnerable population.
Kids love to collect. They collect to own, organize, and prioritize – skills that will pay lifelong benefits. The impact of a home library is far-reaching. In fact, elementary teacher Justin Minkel found through his project called The 1000 Book Project, students who built home libraries actually transformed the family literacy culture.
Summer Slide – “The way we’ve always done it.”
I have had hundreds of discussions with educators on the best way to build a summer reading program. I learned that school districts have employed the same four ideas for many years, yet the results remain the flat 65% of fourth graders are below proficiency. These practices include:
The Book Bus: Seats are removed from a bus to create a mobile library. These are generally short-lived for two reasons: 1) It’s very difficult to sustain the logistics involved and 2) the kids who need it don’t come.
The Bag-O-Books: A bag of books is sent home on the last day of school with instructions to read them. Often there is no follow-up or follow-through and the bag gets set aside and forgotten.
Encouraging Library Visits: Access to transportation and the limited number of libraries is a hurdle for many.
Summer School: Traditional summer intervention is the costliest solution. Summer school can cost up to $3000 per student (Wallace Foundation) and those that need it most often stay home.
Learning loss elimination through home libraries – BEST PRACTICE
Mailing books to kids every 10 to 14 days removes many of the hurdles mentioned above and builds anticipation while also building home libraries. Allowing kids to choose the titles in their library creates ownership. Kids Read Now provides weekly resources to parents; this makes it easy for them to engage with their kids and increase comprehension. It can be as simple as a Discovery Sheet with four questions specific to the book. These best practices are all supported in current research on mitigating learning loss like this one from The University of Wisconsin – Madison. The power of a home library cannot be understated. If you build it, they will read.
As your fairly typical “boy mom”, I can tell you I’ve seen just about every kind of graphic novel for kids. Long before my son discovered Marvel and DC superheroes, he found Captain Underpants, The Adventures of Dogman, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, to name a few. Perhaps at first glance, graphic novels or comic books can appear silly, without substance, or unlikely to help your child read.
Those preconceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. Don’t make the mistake of thinking graphic novels aren’t “real books”. Graphic novels can be the picture book for the middle generation of reader – the platform between easy beginner picture books and long chapter books. If your kids are anything like mine, silliness and goofiness are one surefire way to get and hold their attention. This is one of the most important stages in encouraging reluctant or emerging readers. Let them choose, watch the graphic novel grab their attention, and watch their imaginations soar to new heights!
Graphic novels are an excellent way to inspire your child to get excited about reading. The flow of the graphical storytelling, the fun and quirky characters, and the use of onomatopoeia are sure to form a lasting – KAPOW! – impression on your child’s imagination. If your child struggles with following a printed storyline, the pictures and flow of a graphic novel can help bring the story to life right before his or her eyes.
Graphic novels also help develop analytical readers. Your child will focus on the visual storytelling, looking for graphical plot clues, scenery insight, or to interpret character behavior and body language. Your child may not realize it, but graphic novels get the brain’s neurons firing – ZAP! – forming new creative and analytical pathways to decode the story. Decoding and processing the story through words and visual clues enable children to start thinking abstractly about their reading material.
Graphic novels can also inspire kids to create their own stories through drawing. Use this as an opportunity to encourage your child to recreate his or her own fantastical graphic world where protagonists can wear their underpants on the outside, be empowered by a radioactive spider, or even be a reflection of your child’s inner superhero. Allow your child to imagine a world where anything is possible!
Kids Read Now is proud to offer several graphic novels each year on our Wish List. We want kids to get excited to read, not just because they think the book is cool, but because we’re helping build their superhuman brain power – BOOM! If you have any questions about the Kids Read Now in-home reading programs, please contact us.
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