For many youth, summer is synonymous with swimming, summer camp and slacking off. But summer has also traditionally been a time when kids lounge around with a good book.
Many may ask, does this generation still care about reading?
While youth may be more likely to fulfill their daily word count on a screen, today’s kids, tweens and teens acknowledge that reading matters. Not all kids have been bitten by the bookworm, but many still revel in getting the latest edition of their favorite series, and some of the most recent pop culture icons of the last decade have come, first, from books that the 6-18 set learned to love. Harry Potter and Twilight’s latest movie installments may have temporarily taken youth’s focus off of these properties’ pages, but there’s no questions that youth have made these tomes their generation’s own.
So what’s the state of summer reading right now?
First, we know that storefronts (virtual and actual) have replaced the local library in many communities when it comes to curating the tastes of summer readers. Moms and dads are as likely, if not more, to look to Amazon.com for ideas on what the young readers (enthusiastic and reluctant alike) might absorb on the beach or in the late summer light of their bedrooms this season. Book clubs have become commercial, with the reward of reading a set number yielding a free book at Barnes and Noble – not the potential to win a trophy for reading the most books in your town, or more modestly, a sticker and the approving smile of your librarian for meeting a literary quota.
Second, we know that more and more youth have hefty homework assignments over the summer. Teens take home Spanish primers, history assignments and math packets, along with reading lists that require reports and other forms of comprehension proof. Younger and younger, youth find that their summer selections are not their own, and teachers’ picks might not provide youth with the energizing effects they desire.
Finally, we know that more and more youth are taking hold of Kindles over crinkled pages, and Nooks over traditional novels. But it’s unlikely that paper will fade away for a while. The numbers are worth considering, but they’re still small. And with more youth titles being made available as downloads, we expect that more adults will buy these digital books to promote a love of reading in their homes.
It might be easy to assume that reading today is more commercial, obligatory and digitally disconnected from the past. And it might lead us to ask, is that such a bad thing? We can wax on poetic about the way summer reading used to look, but reading today looks like many other aspects of youth’s lives…It’s on demand. It’s an act of leisure that has been loaded with educational expectations (remember when TV was just entertainment?). And it’s in formats that are native to this cohort of kids, tweens and teens. We can continue to look for signs from the past that our kids and the kids in our lives are learning to love books, but to truly give them the credit they deserve, we may need to look (and listen) a bit differently than in the past.