When I describe my personality as a parent, I like to say I'm half hippie, half Type-A. The way I approach summer is a prime example. I want my kids at one with nature, bare feet in the dirt and a Hudson River breeze in their hair, while organic popsicles melt on their faces. But, school is never far from my mind. I want my boys to have fun, but I don't want two months of unabashed play to undo all the hard work they accomplished this past year. During the course of 1st grade, Noodle jumped nine reading levels. Studies show that many kids regress over the summer if they don't read. My Type-A side cannot bear the thought.
In June, when Noodle's teacher mentioned the New York Public Library's superhero-themed Summer Reading Challenge, I thought it sounded too good to be true, better suited for a docile child who likes to sit and color all day. "He'll never do it," I thought of my strong-willed, soccer-obsessed kid. Still, I decided to give it a shot. Turns out it was the best decision I ever made (in June, at least).
After a puppet show kick-off party at our local branch, Noodle and I registered with the librarian and received an official "Every Hero Has a Story" calendar and list of suggested books. (Attn parents: If you can't go in person, you can also register online.) After dinner, I surreptitiously spread out a few books and kids' magazines on the couch so they are in Noodle's line of vision. Every day that he reads for 20 minutes (give or take—I don't use a timer) he can make a check on his calendar, and at the end of the week, we head in to the library for a sticker and a prize.
A paper Batman mask and a shiny blue star was all it took to get my kid going—and, of course, interesting, fun books; thus far, The World's Most Dangerous Animals and a graphic novel version of Jack and the Beanstalk have topped the list. He's also reading his first chapter book from the My Weird School series, Miss Daisy is Crazy. At first I had to plead with him to "just try it" and read one page. A couple minutes later when he asked, "Mom, can I read another page?" I knew I'd struck gold.
The program even has special booklets and parent reading suggestions for the little ones, like my 4-year-old, who may not be reading yet on their own. Teens, don't hide: There's something for you too.
While the Summer Reading Challenge is a must in my opinion, that's not all the NYPL has to offer: End-of-summer reading celebrations, author visits, writing workshops and a baseball-themed book review contest with a chance to win Yankees tickets are some of the highlights.
For more information about the NYPL's summer programs covering Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, visit the NYPL's summer reading page. The Queens and Brooklyn library systems also have lively summer reading programs.
In the meantime, happy reading—here, there and everywhere.
*This blog post was updated on July 30, 2015.