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Summer reading is as beloved a seasonal tradition as splashing in broken fire hydrants, playing on sidewalk slip-and-slides, barbecuing on fire escapes, and watching Fourth of July fireworks from a tenement rooftop. Teachers and librarians say the practice is integral in preventing what’s called “summer slide” — when kids experience educational setbacks because of the three-month break from school.
In New York, summer reading programs have been in place for many years, historically organized by individual library branches. The first centralized book list, however, was released by the city in 1995, H. Jack Martin, New York Public Library’s assistant director for public programs, tells the Voice.
That has since evolved into a website, summerreading.org. There, children can find age level-appropriate book info, as well as sharing reading lists and creating avatars. Today, more than 300,000 city kids have registered.
But what’s the backstory of summer reading, you might ask? Well, here are 10 fast facts.
10. Ohio Is for Book Lovers
The first summer reading program, which dates back to 1895, started in Cleveland. At the time, a woman by the name of Linda Eastman made a “best books in the library suitable for children” list and sent it to schools in June.
9.What a Prize!
The first rewards system in summer reading programs is said to have begun in 1900, when kids’ library clubs in Wisconsin gave kids certificates read all the books on a list.
8. All Paths Lead to Long Island
Looks like New York’s first key summer reading developments took place in Long Island. In 1914, the program featured weekly talks pertaining to the summer reading club’s programming. Then, Binghamton was one of the first library systems to advocate neighborhood outreach. Librarians upstate would visit area playgrounds, telling stories and sharing books.
7. Internal Conflict
Not all librarians were sold on the idea of summer reading. In July 1923, a scathing scholarly article came out against such programs, suggesting they were “schemes” to boost circulation during the summer — and that they didn’t foster a true love of reading.
6. One Too Many
Debate over summer reading continued, and then took a surprising turn: Some librarians, voicing concerns in publications such as Library Journal, worried that kids were reading too many books. Others wondered whether the era’s increasingly popular “contest” format created too much competition between kids, discouraging slow-but-eager readers.
5. Coping With Loss
In 1946, a Kansas librarian by the name of Ruth Gagliardo was the first to ID a key point of summer reading in a Library Journal article — preventing reading ability loss during the summer.
4. Willingness to Commit
Historically, summer reading has been thought of as a means of preventing youth delinquency. But in 1962, librarians were advised that kids had other commitments besides books and to make programs less time consuming.
3. The Death Star’s Reading Life
A not-so-long time ago in a galaxy not-so far away, Star Wars inspired Evansville, Indiana’s summer reading program. If kids read 20 books, they won a lightsaber, bookmark, and fast food coupon.
2. Inking Contracts
Over time, a summer reading program format that became popular featured a contact system — kids identified reading goals and signed contracts. If they fulfilled the agreement, they often would receive a prize.
1. Digital Doings
Computers were first used in summer reading programs in 1983. That year, kids in Lincoln City, Nebraska, would earn computer time for completing five books.
(Info from Stephanie Bertin’s excellent “History of Youth Summer Reading Programs in Public Libraries” and Kathleen McDowell’s “The Cultural Origins of Youth Services Librarianship.”)