What are the best strategies to encourage summer reading? A gold star for each book read beside my name on the library wall worked for me one summer a long time ago. But mailing out gold stars this summer could get expensive, and the thrill of seeing your name on the wall in the library would be missing.
What would work today? A web page with students’ names and titles of the books they read might work if privacy regulations would allow this.
Starting with great narratives might also help motivate reading. Our most popular book in terms of downloads to date and sales on Amazon is “Helmet for My Pillow” by Robert Leckie. It was the basis of the HBO series “The Pacific.” It is a page turner about a young Marine who fought in Guadalcanal and in other bloody campaigns in the Pacific during World War II. In this first person account, you will feel you are right beside Robert Leckie as he and his fellow Marines are shelled by Japanese battleships at night, and bombed by Japanese airplanes during the day as they faced a fierce opponent on Guadalcanal.
“Serenade to the Big Bird” is almost as dramatic. In another first person, easy to read account, the war in the air over Europe doesn’t look too horrible to start. The narrator who went to the Air Force out of a journalism program in college is optimistic as his bombing runs over occupied France and over Germany start. But he soon sees the effects of war. This book is at a 6th grade reading level according to the Flesch-Kincaid analysis in Microsoft Word.
Moving away from military history, are titles such as “Sea and Earth: The Life of Rachel Carson” and “Benito Juarez: Builder of a Nation.” In the Carson book, young readers will see the intensity of the scientist and her drive to make the world a better place for all of us. Juarez, the only indigenous president in the history of Mexico modernized his country as he successfully freed it from a foreign invader. His life is inspiring and his story in the Emma Gelders Sterne biography is well-told at an easy to read 6.2 grade level.
The Thurgood Marshall biographies are some of my favorites in our catalogue. Marshall kept pushing and pushing and pushing even when he life was threatened. He just didn’t stop. I taught the books when they were in print and it went well. My immigrant students in New York City said that they liked learning about race in the United States. My African-American students liked seeing the picture of a man who looked like them on the cover of the book. The Marshall biographies are at a 10th grade reading level.
Our web site has many other easy to read titles about Black history. The story of how Mary McLeod Bethune devoted her life to education and founded a college is inspiring. “The Long Black Schooner” tells the story of the successful revolt on the Amistad. These books written by Emma Gelders Sterne are at a 7th grade reading level.
Feel free to take our ebooks and post them on your school’s web sites if you prefer to have control of content on your servers. But please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at (202) 464-9126 if this is your plan so we can track the use of our free ebooks this summer.
And of course, recommendations from your teachers about individual titles might encourage young readers.