Nurturing reading over the summer break

posted in: Donalyn Miller, Susan Kelley | 13

The end of this month sees the start of my kids’ summer break and just like some people plan holidays in the sun, we’ve been planning our holiday in books.

51j+yxrO5IL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been greatly inspired by Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) with Susan Kelley, a book about instilling genuine lifelong reading habits in children. It’s written from a teacher’s perspective, but includes much that any adult interested in supporting children’s reading would be inspired by.

Miller describes a host of strategies for engaging children with books and, in particular, for giving them the tools to find and devour books themselves – for becoming self-motivated, enthusiastic readers who don’t rely on prescriptions by adults to ensure that that books get picked up with excitement and read with curiosity and delight.

Fun, inspiring and innovative, I wanted to try some of Miller’s suggestions in our family during our six week break from school.

Reading Graffiti

Miller describes how she has created a wall in her classroom where students are encouraged to share any line(s) they love from the books they are reading, lines which have stood out to them for one reason or another. Over the year, the wall has filled up with graffiti and has become a focal point, with every line “an endorsement – for the book and for the reader who selected and drew it.

As a family we’re often telling each other words or phrases we’ve come across that have tickled our fancy, brightened our day or simply tasted delicious as we’ve read them, and thus a Reading Graffiti Wall struck me as something that would be right up our street. But we haven’t got any spare walls (all being covered either in bookshelves or artwork created by the kids), so what we’re doing is turning our patio doors into our graffiti wall, using pens which write on glass (we happen to use these).


I know the slightly illicit act of drawing on windows will add to the thrill of writing our graffiti. And yes! All of us, adults included, are going to be making use of the graffiti window…


Indeed, the allure has already worked its magic, with first bits of graffiti from us all: from Sarah Crossan’s Breathe (M’s choice), from Katherine Woodfine’s The Clockwork Sparrow (J’s choice) and Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome (my first addition).


It’s going to be such fun seeing the window fill up with a record of reading we’ve really enjoyed over the summer break I’m already looking forward to sharing a picture of our window in September.

Reading Plans

One of the lovely things about planning holidays is the anticipation. And it’s no different when it comes to a holiday in books.

Miller dedicates a whole chapter in her book to exploring the importance of reading plans, or rather the importance of making it so that children have the tools to – and are excited by – making reading plans. Planning for future reading is a key characteristic of what Miller calls Wild Readers, i.e. lifelong, avid readers. Such planning helps us sustain and expand our reading lives; we always have a next book (or more) to read and we positively seek out the excitement and anticipation that comes from building a TBR (To Be Read) pile.

To this end, over the past few weeks I’ve been encouraging my kids to think about books they’d love to read over the holidays – with a promise from me that I will do my best to find copies one way or the other. Here are some of the ways you can help your kids make their own TBR piles:

  • Make it possible for your kids to browse books like The Ultimate Book Guide, 1001: Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up , and A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics using post-it notes to mark the pages with books which have caught their eye. Not all of these titles are actually marketed as books for children themselves to read, but don’t let that put you or your children off. They generally include images of book covers (and sometimes also interiors) and short reviews which are very easy to browse, whatever your age.
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  • Leave review round-ups from newspapers and magazines lying around and encourage your kids to mark anything they think sounds interesting. A favourite thing of mine to do is to print out the review round-ups from Books for Keeps (a free monthly online magazine dedicated to reviewing books for children and young people) and leave them in the bathroom for perusing when “otherwise engaged”.


    Books for Keeps is high quality, and always includes interesting interviews and opinion pieces in addition to review round-ups. There are a few tricks for getting nice printable versions of the reviews – basically you want to make sure you’re viewing the pdf version of the magazine:

  • Point your kids to online sources for book recommendations. You and I might ask Twitter buddies (personally my favourite and most reliable source of book recommendations) or look at Amazon or Good Read reviews, but here are some others which are more kid-friendly:
      The Phoenix Comic monthly book club – this appears in print once a month in the comic, but can also be found online here (though you may need to scroll down to find it)
      The Booktrust best book guide. This is written for adults, but older children (confident readers) can also use it to browse.

    The Who Next Guide might be useful if you want some help with finding authors similar to those your children enjoy reading. The site (free for the first two weeks) doesn’t include reviews, and doesn’t have a visual appeal that will grab children, but I’ve found it useful as an adult to find names to look up next time we are in a library or a bookshop.

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  • Take your children into bookshops and libraries and asked them to find just one title – a book, an audio book or even a magazine – that looks intriguing. In my experience sometimes limiting what they can pick up makes them think a little more deeply about what they choose. You’ve got to play ball though, and agree they can take whatever they choose, even if it surprises you. Don’t forget charity shops and second-hand bookshops when looking for new-to-your-family books. If you can visit a bookshop or a library you’ve never visited before, then you can turn the outing into even more of an adventure!
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  • Ask your children to get a recommendation from a friend, teacher or another adult such as a grandparent or a club leader. Personal recommendation from someone you trust and who knows you is always a good way to find something new to read. If you’re lucky enough to know any booksellers or librarians who specialise in children’s literature, don’t forget to ask them for their recommendations. Both my my kids are going to ask their school teachers what their favourite children’s books were/are and we’ll add them to our summer TBR library.

    If you’re a teacher, parent or simply an adult who’s looking for some inspiration to support children’s love of reading, these are my personal recommendations:


  • Summer holiday reading plans aren’t just for the kids! I’ve also been making mine, using the reading challenge issued by Gene Luen Yang, the US’s National Ambassador for Young Peopleโ€™s Literature, as a guide.


    Other challenges you and your children might enjoy taking part in include the Summer Reading Challenge in the UK, #BookaDay, or the Read the World Book Club (Thanks, Se7en, for the tip off).

  • We’re already well on our way to curating a tantalising a pile of books to read over the summer. This (a mixture of reads selected by M, J and me) is what’s just about to go under lock and key so there are no sneaky reads before school’s out!


    What are you and your family looking forward to reading in the coming weeks?

    13 Responses

    1. Jayne

      Lovely blog and will be ordering Reading in the Wild today! Years ago St Albans CBG had a collection of books around the world. In the summer your child got a reading passport and chose books set in various countries. They could borrow them for the holidays
      The whole process was held in one of our members magical garden adding to the excitement
      st Albans CBG have since donated the vast collection to Seven Stories for safe keeping.

    2. Library Mice

      The Week Junior also has a weekly book page which might be useful for book recs ๐Ÿ™‚
      Lots of great ideas. I have huge panes of glass in the library separating the main library and the reading room, so I shall be equipping myself with those pens ๐Ÿ™‚
      Library Mice recently posted..Booked

    3. Rosemary Dunstan

      The Summer Reading Challenge, which you mention above, is run in public libraries all round the country to encourage children to keep reading through the summer holidays. The theme this year, the centenary of the birth of Roald Dahl, is ‘The Big Friendly Read’. There are collector cards, and a medal and certificate for those who complete the 6-book challenge. You’ll be encouraging reading – and supporting your local library at the same time!

    4. Rebecca Stonehill

      Graffiti wall – LOVE it! You must post a pic of your patio doors at the end of your holidays ๐Ÿ™‚ My kids and I are looking forward to the simple act of visiting a library over the summer (living in Nairobi but spending summers in the UK) as there are so few libraries here in Nairobi. It makes me realise what an incredible gift we have in the UK of having public libraries.
      Rebecca Stonehill recently posted..Lena, Me and The Artist

    5. Susan

      Although I am finally reading your post at the end of our summer holiday I’m inspired to take this on now. Thank you for culling the sources and distilling the information so clearly. Your voice is encouraging to a presently overwhelmed mom.

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