New York City libraries trying to keep kids engaged with reading all summer

Librarian Sue Yee holds story time for toddlers at the New York Public Library, on July 18, 2019, as part of the library's annual Summer Reading Challenge.
Librarian Sue Yee holds story time for toddlers at the New York Public Library, on July 18, 2019, as part of the library’s annual Summer Reading Challenge. Photo Credit: 92nd Street Y/Jaqlin Medlock

Getting kids to crack open a book in the lazy, hazy summer months isn’t always easy.

The city’s three library systems are taking on that challenge. Staffers hope to lure children, teens and their families in with numerous events, contests and other activities to keep them flexing their reading skills.

And city libraries all have something that is very in demand these days – air-conditioned spaces where you can sit and relax.

“It’s very loose,” said Louise Lareau, managing librarian for the New York Public Library’s children center at 42nd Street, of the summer reading program.

“We want them to get excited about reading, that it’s fun and not work,” she said. “We have a recommended reading list, but it’s just a jumping-off point. Kids can read whatever they want.”

This year’s summer reading theme is focused on space, a nod to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Space-themed books and crafts are displayed in many of the libraries, and youngsters have a wide array of books, magazines, graphic novels and audiobooks at their disposal.

Librarians are ready to help them find the perfect summer reads.

Lareau lamented that some mandatory summer reading lists distributed by schools are outdated.

“Some of these lists are awful,” she said. “I wish the teachers would ask librarians for their advice.”

Toddlers are in rapt attention during storytime at the New York Public Library, on July 18, 2019.
Toddlers are in rapt attention during storytime at the New York Public Library, on July 18, 2019. Photo Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Getting kids to read between the last day of school and the first day of the new school year is vital to making sure they retain much of what they have learned.

“The summer slide is real,” said Melissa Malanuk, coordinator of Teen Services at the Queens Public Library. “It has been proven that children who do not read over the summer lose learning and it takes them longer to catch up when school starts.”

Magic shows, live animal demonstrations and other events are designed to attract families, said Mary Smith, program assistant for children, youth and family services at the Queens Public Library. Free breakfast and lunch for anyone 18 years old and younger is available nearby through the city’s summer meals initiative. There’s also a free, six-week STEM boot camp.

“A lot of our families don’t have resources to take their kids to camp or cultural events around the city,” said Malanuk.

The Brooklyn Public Library offers reading coaches in group and individual sessions to give youngsters some extra help.

“We have programs for all ages, from storytime to creative programs, where kids can work on art,” said Kimberly Grad, coordinator of school age services at the Brooklyn Public Library. “In the summer we really work on engaging the community.”

Each library system has an incentive project that rewards kids who meet their individual summer reading goals. There are free books and other prizes.

Participants in the Brooklyn reading challenge can make a comic strip about living in space or build a model of their own space vehicle and enter a drawing to win an Apple iPad.

The annual summer reading effort is cobbled together with funds from a variety of sources, including donations. Its largest corporate funder is the New York Life Foundation, which pledged $1 million for summer reading in all three library systems over a three-year period, starting in 2018.

Lareau said families can also take their summer reading on the road with them.

“We have a lot of e-books if you are travelling,” she said. “And there are audio books that are really fun to listen to as a family.”

What to read this summer

Each of the city’s three library systems creates its own suggested summer reading list for all ages. These are some of the summer reading recommendations from the New York Public Library for tots, kids and teens. (Lisa L. Colangelo)

  • ‘What Do I Feel? / ¿Qué siento?’ by Annie Kubler: Follow a group of babies as they have fun feeling things that are soft, warm, wet, smooth, and crunchy.
  • ‘Dinosaur Dance!’ by Sandra Boynton: Velociraptor twins and an unidentified tiny little cha-cha-ing dino are featured in a dinosaur dance.
  • ‘Leo Can Swim’ written by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Ruth Hearson: Baby Leo loves the water, so his father takes him to swim class with the other toddlers.
  • ‘Max and the Tag-Along Moon’ by Floyd Cooper: When Max leaves his grandfather’s house, the moon follows him all the way home, just as Grandpa promised it would.
  • ‘Life on Mars’ by Jon Agee: A young astronaut is trying to find life on Mars, but he’s made a very big oversight.
  • ‘Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows’ written by Asia Citro, illustrated by Marion Lindsay: A girl, Zoey, and her cat, Sassafras, use science experiments to help a dragon with a problem.
  • ‘Amulet #1: The Stonekeeper’ by Kazu Kibuishi: In their new house, Emily and Navin discover an underground world inhabited by demons, robots, and talking animals.
  • ‘See You in the Cosmos’ by Jack Cheng: Eleven-year-old Alex Petroski, along with his dog Carl Sagan, makes big discoveries about his family on a road trip and he records it all on an iPod he intends to launch into space.
  • ‘Pashmina’ by Nidhi Chanani: Indian-American teen, Priyanka “Pri” Das, attempts to reconnect with her mother’s homeland through a magical pashmina shawl in this graphic novel.
  • ‘The Poet X’ by Elizabeth Acevedo: Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. She pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook. When she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.