Summertime. Sleeping late, popsicles, and shimmering heat. Summer camp and playing mermaids in the swimming pool. Oh wait, I’m an adult and I don’t have my summers free anymore. The days of lounging and reading until sundown are long past, but my childhood summers were dedicated to reading. Sure, a family road trip might have my attention for a few days, but reading as many books as possible was the real summer treat. I relished the possibilities of all the summer reading programs available to me.
Those who grew up homeschooled might remember the oddness of school melting into the summer, while your friends who went to public school were absolutely finished on the last day of school. The homeschool never stops. There might have been a certain number of math lessons to complete before the summer was over. My assigned summer reading list was long. There were historical field trips to museums or science projects to complete. Summer break, whether it started in April, May, or June, belonged to reading for fun. Like a comic supervillain, I’d step into the air-conditioned chill of the library and rub my hands together. The game was on!
Before Goodreads, before Instagram, before having a yearly reading goal, kids’ summer reading programs were my reading competition. I collected and completed these programs like Michael Phelps at the 2016 Olympics. Prizes were unnecessary. If there was a chart or booklet, preferably with stickers or a color code, I was so there. Each book I logged invigorated me to keep reading, keep going. I was unstoppable.
As a non-athletic, non-sporty kid, I had no way of showing to the world that I was good — nay, better — at things than some of my peers. While my peers won swimming medals, soccer trophies, and blue ribbons at the rodeo, I could, potentially out-read them. My desire to read read read was not out of malice or competitiveness, but just to see if I could. A science experiment. How many books can one 10-year-old, with an excess of free time, two brothers, and access to a grandmother’s swimming pool, read in one summer?
I can only estimate my childhood summer reading numbers, since I never saved my completed summer reading programs. Using my current yearly average as a base, which is slower than my adolescent speed reading, and memory, I can estimate that I read about 100 books per summer. What? Who was she? That bookworm child built forts out of sheets in her bedroom and actually read all the books she checked out of the library. I don’t know her. Should I try the fort thing?
The first summer reading program my family would always sign up for was the public library’s. The library was always a summer haven with AC blasting, crafting programs, and special summer events for kids. During several summers, we had access to two different library systems due to our home address. Obviously, I participated in both. Library summer reading programs for kids sometimes have a general theme participants can follow. Program participants are given a booklet or poster to fill in with their books read that summer.
My favorite program, the only year I distinctly remember, the summer program was travel themed. We were given a passport style booklet. To complete the booklet, you needed to read a book set on each continent. The other continents were a breeze, but I had to stretch for Antarctica before finally finding Troubling a Star by Madeline L’Engle. It was a bit out of my reading range, but did that stop me? I was going to get that stamp in my passport!
At the end of the summer, or once participants have completed their first booklet, booklets are turned in for prizes. These prizes ranged from totes to T-shirts to stickers and pencils. Some libraries allowed for multiple entries, while others only allowed one entry per participant. The prizes were not the draw for me. It was the satisfaction of completing the entire booklet, perhaps multiple times without repeating a title. Repeat a book? Scandalous! That was cheating to me. If I was going to participate in multiple summer reading programs, I was going to do it properly. I would complete the big city’s program before working on the smaller city’s program, or switch between them depending on my books checked out from each library. If by July I had completed both summer reading programs, I felt great, but there was more out there for me to conquer.
In addition to our year-round participation in the Book It! program, my family participated in a homeschool summer reading program. The program was organized by a homeschool group/bookstore in my city. For every reading-level appropriate book read and accompanying book report submitted, students would receive one dollar. I don’t know if you know this about homeschool kids, but they can read a library bare in ten seconds flat. How the program didn’t bankrupt the homeschool group, I don’t know. Those crisp little ones were a physical reminder of my reading stamina, until I spent them on ice cream or Buy 2 Get 1 Free earrings at Claire’s.
You know that moment at the end of sports movies, where the clock is counting down the last seconds, the music is at a crescendo, the hero makes that final move, and VICTORY? That’s how kids summer reading programs made me feel. Like I could take on the world, like I was the hero, like I had saved the day. When August came around, classes and activities would start back up. What did you do this summer? Susie went to Disney World. Dan earned his blue belt. Frankie learned to swim underwater. Me? I read 100 books. And I’d do it again.
Kids’ summer reading programs still exist, along with adult summer reading programs! Check for reading programs for kids and adults at your local library, bookstore, or community center. Learn what makes a good summer reading program or check out these All-Ages Summer Reading Programs.