The Free Press, Mankato, MN


June 17, 2013

Our View: Summer books shouldn't be all light fare

Why it matters: Challenging reading during the summer can help bring students up to the level they should be.

About this time of year, mysteries, thrillers, romances, and short-story collections are among the books being packed into bags and backpacks to take to the cabin or the park or the beach. Light reading for the summer.

Summer reading often means choosing selections that can be interrupted easily — after all we’ve been waiting months to get outside and do things and go places without checking on road conditions beforehand. Picking up a book and putting it down easily becomes the rhythm of warm days.

In the same vein, many kids are relieved to put down the textbooks (and shut down the online textbooks) and pick up books (and eBooks) that become their escape from the school year’s routine. Area libraries, including the North Mankato Taylor Library and Blue Earth County Library, have started their summer reading programs already with prizes as incentives for kids to keep reading during summer break. (Participants may still sign up.)

The programs are an important part of helping stop kids’ reading skills from regressing during vacation. But here’s a challenge to kids and parents for the summer: Make this a time to explore reading beyond the normal comfort zone. Yes, “The Hunger Game” series is popular and compelling to all ages from pre-teens to adults. But consider this: The series is assessed to be at the fifth-grade reading level.

Apparently, that’s not an isolated case of kids generally reading below level. The educational research director for Renaissance Learning, Eric Stickney, told NPR that almost all of the top 40 books read in grades nine through 12 were well below grade level.

When Renaissance studied which books are were being assigned to high school students, they found that the complexity of assigned texts declined by about three grade levels during the past 100 years. A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. Even in 1989, high school students were being assigned works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Emily Bronte and Edith Wharton. But by 2012, the average reading level has dropped to around sixth grade.

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