Our Reading Lives

Why You Should Hold a Surprise Summer Reads Program

Everyone loves surprises and summer reads, right? Well, unless the surprise is that the brakes in your car stop working. Or maybe you get so badly sun burnt that you require hospitalization and what you’re currently reading is a restraining order.

Normally though, we all love those three things. That’s why I love the Surprise Summer Reads program. I run it in my high school library at the end of every year. I suggest you try it with your book club. Or maybe your conspiracy theory club. Whatever kind of club you might be into.

I got this idea after meeting fellow super-librarian John Iona. You should follow John immediately for library-related awesomeness.

Why do I love this program? Not only does it let students interact with books in a unique and fun way, it connects me with staff members. Busy, busy staff members that I don’t get to see all that often.

How does it work? Simple. I stand up in our staff meeting at the beginning of July each year and announce that Surprise Summer Reads has officially begun.

Staff members then tell me their favourite kind of book. They can say anything from “Thrillers” to “Romance” to “Lots of explosions”. I don’t care. In fact, that happens to be my favourite part of the whole program.

I then set off into the stacks and see out YA books that match their request. Once I find one, I wrap it in butcher paper and tie a nice string around it. That way, it looks all retro and cool. Plus, everyone likes getting a wrapped gift.

Surprise Summer Reads in full swing!

Inside each book is a blank index card or revision card or whatever you want to call it. It’s one of those cards that your grandmother still keeps recipes on.

The idea is that the staff member will read the book over the summer and write a short review on the card. I always ask that they don’t write the title of the book or give away too many spoilers.

In September, when everyone who works at a school has a look on their face normally reserved for veterans of the Pacific Theatre, I get the books from the staff members.

The books are then re-wrapped and put back on display with with the staff members’ review stuck to it, usually with a couple of large question marks scrawled on the front for a little extra mystery.

If you thought students wouldn’t be excited to unwrap what are essentially Christmas presents in September, you would be wrong.

They love it, and once they’ve read the book, I ask the students to write a review on a recipe card as well. That way, both reviews can be put up side by side.

One of my favourite parts is getting the requests from the staff members. This year I’ve had some great ones, from “Adventure with bicycles involved” to “Lots of pictures but still makes me feel smart” to “Something with at least a pinch of hope”.

Surprise summer reads keep piling up!

It’s a lot of fun, and can be applied to any book club, teen advisory board meeting or student library assistant club. Whatever group you meet with to discuss books, give it a shot. It’ll make your summer that much more fun.