Summer Reading Programs That Work

Josie Leavitt - April 7, 2010

Yesterday the NECBA (New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council) group met in Portland, Maine, and one of our main discussions focused on how to have summer reading programs that work. A successful summer reading program is one that drives business to your store while helping the children fulfill their requirement for summer reading. The strength of your program seems to be directly proportional to the relationships stores have built with schools. Below are some guidelines.
* Now is the time of year for bookstores to send letters to all their local schools inquiring about their summer reading lists. Often schools won’t have their lists finished yet, and this is a great opportunity to help out with a myriad of great ideas.
* Talk to the librarians and the English department about their summer reading lists. Assistance in building a list is usually welcome. Often, especially with public schools, the lists contain out-of-print books that just frustrate everyone because they’re so hard to get. Troubleshoot with them what currently available books can fill the OP gap. If a store can be helpful with building a list, the school might be more likely to send kids to your stores. Invite teachers, librarians and members of the selection committee to the store for a tour of some of the best selections for summer reading.
* Alison Morris, whose store, Wellesley Booksmith, has an extraordinarily good summer reading program, helps teachers by sending out a PDF file of all the books that are, or will be new, in paperback by the summer. We sometimes forget that not everyone is in publishing and knows when paperbacks are due to be released, so having this information readily available makes it easier for schools to choose books the students will be excited about reading. It also helps build loyalty among schools for helping them.
* Every bookstore should download all its local schools’ summer reading lists and print them out. Nothing is more frustrating to a forgetful customer seeking a stack of summer reading books than when the bookstore doesn’t have their reading list. The lists should be readily accessible for customers and easy for staffers to find.
* Some bookstores have a small selection of summer reading books on audio. This is very smart, especially around the middle of August, when there are deadlines to be met.
* Having a dedicated section just for summer reading makes for easy, stress-free shopping, especially if there are copies of all the schools’ summer reading lists right there.
* Don’t forget to talk to the AP teachers about their required reading. There are often a lot of books, especially if a student is taking more than one class, and it’s great to provide all the books in one shopping trip.
* Several stores offer an affiliate program on their websites, so books bought as part of Main City school will then benefit the school. The percentage varies depending on how the program is set up. If you don’t have an affiliate program, your store can run an in-store book fair for the summer reading books: for every summer reading book purchased, the school gets 10% back in store credit to buy books for the school. This is a win-win for all parties. Business comes to your store, and the school benefits.
All schools have summer reading lists, and if bookstores work together with them, we can play a vital part in helping to create and sell the list to kids. The other thing all the booksellers said at yesterday’s meeting was it was important to know the lengths of all the books on the lists, to better help kids choose books they stand the best chance of finishing.

4 thoughts on “Summer Reading Programs That Work

  1. melB

    It seems like the public schools in this area, NE Wisconsin, have given up on summer reading programs. Teachers would need to read book reports in the Fall.Too bad The public libraries run programs with small, low cost prizes and then our B&N has the Free Book incentive too

  2. Linda

    Are summer reading programs falling by the wayside? Our school district has suggested readings that the kids ignore, but each grade is assigned a particular book to read over the summer. The library has a program, but it just counts the number of books read, no specific list.

  3. Julianne Daggett

    Most of the time when a kid doesn’t read a book on his or her summer reading list the book is uninteresting and boring to the kid and they stop reading it, like any normal person does when the read a book they don’t like. Teachers and booksellers should really talk to students about their likes and dislikes so the books are correctly chossen on the list.


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