The Art of Summer Reading

Cynthia Compton - August 8, 2018

By this time in August, our store’s walls, doors, and cabinet faces are covered with book reviews, pictures, and artwork produced by the participants in our summer reading program. We started on Memorial Day weekend, and will end officially on Labor Day, but as schools are back in session here this week and next, most of our summer reading friends will move their attention to classroom reading challenges and the intricacies of new locker combinations by this weekend. That’s probably a good thing, because we have covered every available square inch of the shop with their contributions, and we’re running out of both space and Scotch tape.

Our friend Pete makes dozens of appearances each year.

Our summer reading program is fairly simple, and works for all ages, including adults. Anyone can register, beginning on May 1st, and participants jump in all summer long as they have time and interest. We do require the purchase of ONE BOOK (any book, any price point) to sign up, but after that, it’s all free and fun. The program is open to everyone. For those too young to read by themselves, we offer Reading Buddies, who are invited to produce some kind of project for each book that they hear over the summer and would like to share. Projects come in crayon, in marker, in Legos and in Play Dough – and they come in by the hundreds. Those projects that can be taped to the walls are attached to the available space in the shop, and those that are three dimensional (or edible) are photographed for sharing, and then sent home (or eaten by a grateful staff).

Multimedia projects abound, some including the artist’s likeness.

Of course, most of the youngest readers produce projects that show a lot of adult help – and actually, I think this is a huge benefit. Look at what’s happening here – a parent or caregiver is using our reading program to select a story, plan a project, and engage with a child about a book! After all that, I really don’t care who colored the hard parts. Some parents, of course, take the child’s work very seriously, and allow the child to dictate their book review. Check out this lovely illustration and report from Annabelle, age 3:

A full plot review from our young friend who enjoyed “Minnie Mouse’s Boutique.”

Cynthia “might” have dibs on this one after the display is done.

After the read aloud set, we offer a Chapter 4 Kids division of our summer program, for independent readers of picture books, early chapters, and middle grade titles. This is the largest group, by far, and produces the most varied projects. We are always amazed at the time and attention to detail applied by our young readers, as shown by some of these contributions:

Note the carefully lettered ship name in yellow – M.P.O. always inspires her fans

Acrostic character description for Rob Buyea’s protagonist.

And a more traditional approach to book reporting.

The rewards for participating in the program are the same for all ages, and do not take quantity (or quality) of reading into account. Frankly, we just want everyone to have fun. So each Wednesday, anyone who has registered for our summer program can come in to the store and collect a prize. Ideally, that’s the day they also drop off their book reviews/projects, but we’ll accept those any time. Rewards, however, are only available on Wednesdays – which during the school year is our slowest day of the week. (We fixed that for the summer, by gosh.) Rewards are all donated by fellow independent business owners in our community, and range from gift card for a free ice cream cone from Scoops to a slice of pizza at our local Hot Box. The local aquatic center donates a huge amount of swimming toys – weighted diving sharks and rockets – and the local hardware store gives us glow necklaces and coupons for sparklers or other fireworks on the 4th of July. We get baseball caps and popcorn from the minor league baseball franchise in town, and even businesses that don’t have kids’ products for sale join in the fun – we have contributions from our bank to provide gift cards for each child to pick out at paperback book at our store. Since we only give out prizes one day each week, the stacks are manageable, and the surprises are fresh and new every year.
Our program for teens is slightly different, and involves reviews of ARCs from our perpetual stack of “to be read” in the stockroom. Several hundred kids (and their parents) participate in our Teen Book Review, and I’ll tell you all about that group next week. For now, I’ll leave you to enjoy a little more bookish art, and the invitation to join us next year (hint: the cupcake shop prize is always in August…..).

Paint, tissue paper, and a lot of teeth on this monster!

The good Captain U is always a favorite.


Let it go? Not likely.

I would love to hear about your store’s summer reading adventures!

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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

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