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Keep the “Summer Slide” Away with Books

Books not only help fill kids’ time with something productive and calming, they also lessen what’s known as the “summer slide,” a time when kids tend to backslide in terms of knowledge and skills. It’s fine to take a funtime break, but if we as parents can help make that slide less steep each summer, we’ll be helping our kids to better succeed when school starts back up again.

In addition to teachers and librarians, people who interact with kids often – and see the value of reading – are children’s book authors. They often see firsthand how words and pictures can change the life of a child.

“Books and kids are a natural match,” explained south Mississippi indie children’s book author and storyteller, Mary Beth Magee. “Summer reading offers the perfect time to implement a program of fun and reinforcement of the previous school year’s learning. Whether the students read on their own or in conjunction with a local library program, a reading plan offers opportunities for students to maintain and improve their reading skills while investigating topics which interest them.”

“Without summer reading,” she added, “skills can stagnate at best, and regress at worst. The returning student will be at a disadvantage when school reopens in the fall.”

Her words echo what we learned in a 2019 Parents & Kids article about the summer slide. Back then, the coast’s Hancock High School Counselor Tammy Ladner suggested “reading for enjoyment” helps kids greatly in not losing knowledge over the summer break. 

Authors who are out there in the trenches, participating at library summer reading events and story hours, help parents to light that reading fire in children. Magee engages with kids in book reading, puppetry, storytelling, and everything in-between. All of these fun, creative interactions have an educational payoff.

“I love doing children’s book readings,” Magee said. “When I can capture children’s attention with my story and draw them into the world, I feel younger and one of them! My favorite episode came when a mother approached me about my first Pearl the Turtle book, ‘Pearl’s Pool.’ Her elementary school daughter liked the story so much, she chose it for her topic in a statewide book review contest. Her display included a story board with drawings of Pearl and the other characters, and a summary of the action. She even made a costume of Pearl for herself. Her entry took her all the way to the state level in the contest.”

Magee ended up doing a reading session for the child’s class.

“I had the joy of hearing her introduce me to the class as ‘my author,’ and see her pride in sharing a story she loved with others. Not all of them were particularly interested in a turtle story at first, but one by one I was able to pull them into Pearl’s adventure and the lesson of thinking situations through for themselves rather than doing things just because someone else said they should.”

“I left the class with a warm heart and new friends,” she added.

Native Mississippian Melissa Smith Turner – independently-published author of the “Alma Louise” children’s book series – said she also derives joy from seeing kids changed by books.

“When I do school visits,” she said, “I always read ‘Alma Louise Wears a Cape.’ There is a grouchy character in that book named Div Neelton. I always love to hear the kids giggle when I read about his ‘frowny mustache.’ It’s cool when they laugh at the parts that I hoped would be funny while writing the book.”

“Summer reading is so important, and such a fun way to spend those summer days,” Turner said. “I remember setting summer reading goals for myself as a kid. Our local library even gave prizes for reading a certain number of books. Reading is a perfect summer activity because you can read anywhere! Inside, outside, in the car, by the pool, in a fort on a rainy afternoon…the possibilities are endless!”

It sounds as if the kids inspire Turner as much as she influences them.

“I’ve got a few more Alma Louise books in my head that will complete the series,” Turner said. “I started a series for boys called ‘Hurley McCoy.’ I’m currently working on the second book in that series.”

Books stimulate thinking related to “real life,” and that’s as important for kids’ growth as expanding literacy. 

“Children’s books can share a lesson without a lecture, by letting the readers walk through decision making with the protagonist and see the results of those decisions,” Magee explained. “The very best children’s books leave the child richer for the time spent reading.”

Leave your child richer by encouraging books, books, and more books.

Kara Martinez Bachman is an author, editor, and mom to two almost-grown kids.

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