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Published: Sunday, 7/15/2001

Children should indulge in some light reading during vacation

BY KAREN MACPHERSON
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU
Children's librarian Sue Schaefer reads Casey and the Bath as part of the Reynolds Corners branch library's Bubble Odyssey. Children's librarian Sue Schaefer reads Casey and the Bath as part of the Reynolds Corners branch library's Bubble Odyssey.
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WASHINGTON - In summertime, a child's reading should be fun. That's the word from children's librarians and other reading experts who say that kids should have the same freedom as their parents to use the summer break as an excuse for reading for pleasure alone.

Just as parents look forward to entertaining “beach'' reading, the consensus is that their offspring also need a chance to kick back and read just for the fun of it.

Dedicated young readers revel in the license to indulge their own literary tastes instead of reading required texts.

Novels, series books, non-fiction volumes, books on tape, magazines, and comic books should all be considered fine for children, experts say.

Laura Smolkin, a children's literature professor at the University of Virginia, said that the most important thing is to have children read something during the summer.

“As teachers and parents, we have a two-fold task. The first task is to ensure that children read. The more they read, the greater their fluency will be,'' Ms. Smolkin said. “So it's better for them to read comic books all summer than to read nothing.

“But our second task is to enable our children to read as many different kinds of materials as possible. We want to make sure that they have choices, so they can be exposed to all the different pleasurable possibilities of reading.''

Freedom to choose may be particularly important for boys, the experts add. Many parents seem to think that their sons aren't reading unless they're devouring a novel. Like their fathers, however, boys often prefer non-fiction. Sports magazines and the sports section of the newspaper should be considered reading.

“We need to supply them with choices they want to read, and support them with role models showing them that men do read,'' said Jon Scieszka, author of numerous books popular with children, and creator of a new national literary initiative aimed at boys called GuysRead.

“Dads need to get into the act. Other entertaining ways to do this are to read to your boy, listen to books on tape, read the same book and ask his opinion, and read any book he chooses,'' Mr. Scieszka added.

Connecting kids with books in the summer can be as easy as going to the local library. Most libraries have summer reading programs that offer activities, and sometimes prizes, for reading a certain number of books.

Many libraries also offer teen reading clubs, and some have summer reading clubs for adults.

In Toledo, this summer's reading program for kids is titled “2001: A Reading Odyssey.'' Children can sign up at their local library for the program, which offers suggested booklists each week. Much of the information, spiced up with some jazzy computer graphics, also is available on the library's Web site at www.toledolibrary.org. Click on the “summer reading club'' icon to get to the kids' site.

Marilyn Zielinski, head of youth services for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, suggests that VJ Block Fits: Block Depth: 4.88i Expansion .07i ###### Flowing Text Overset #######

parents use the library collections to link children's summer reading with their summer activities. For example, kids could check out books about a city or state that the family will be visiting on vacation, or books about animals they saw on a trip to the local zoo.

“I also think it's a great idea to have a family reading time. Even older children like to be read to,'' Ms. Zielinski said. “Just pick out a book that the whole family can enjoy reading together.''

Young readers also may join a free online book club at www.bookadventure.org.

This site, initially developed and funded by the Sylvan Learning Centers, now is sponsored by a nonprofit organization called the Book Adventure Foundation and is endorsed by the International Reading Association and other educational groups.

To participate in this cyberspace club, readers log on and create their own book list from over 5,000 recommended titles. After they log off and read one of their books, they then log back on and take a multiple choice quiz on it.

The quizzes are good for earning points to be applied toward various prizes, including six issues of Highlights magazine and a Blurt card game.

Here are other suggestions for keeping those pages turning:

w Let them read current bestsellers for children.

To figure out what's popular, ask the local librarian or bookstore owner, or check out the New York Times' weekly list of best-selling children's books around the country. It can be found in the Times' weekly book section or on its Web site: www.nytimes.com. (Go to “Books,'' then “Expanded Bestseller Lists'').

A panel of local educators writes a monthly column about children's books for The Blade. It appears on the Book page on the last Sunday of each month.

Of course, the Harry Potter books are staples on the bestseller lists. But there are other novels there as well, including Holes by Louis Sachar; the various books in the Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket; When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt; Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, and popular author Lloyd Alexander's newest book, The Gawgon and the Boy.

Like the adult bestseller list, there also are a few schlock books on the children's bestseller lists, including a couple of paperbacks featuring the popular movie and TV characters, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

w Don't discourage children from reading genre books such as mysteries, science fiction, comics, and fantasy.

If your kids seem stuck on one series, see if you can introduce them to another series in the same genre. For example, Magic Tree House fans might enjoy the books of Edward Eager (Half Magic and others), while Saddle Club fans might like the books of Marguerite Henry (Misty, etc.)

Also, ask your local librarian for ways to extend a child's interest in a particular genre.

w Let children “read'' books on tape or a CD.

Dallas DiLeo, director of the children's division of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh notes that many books on tape are unabridged versions of the printed volume. That means children are merely hearing the same thing they would be reading, she said.

“It's a great way to read, and it's not cheating at all. By and large, the tapes have wonderful actors and readers who do the narration. It's also a wonderful way for families to share a book together.''

Some families check out the audio and printed version of a book at the same time. That way, reluctant young readers or those who find it difficult to read can follow the book with help from the tape.

Most libraries have books on tape and CDs that can be checked out. Parents can also purchase them from bookstores or rent them through a Web site: www.booksontape.com.

One new book on tape for school-aged children that's certain to be popular is the first volume in the best-selling series, A Series of Unfortunate Events. The tape, published by Listening Library, costs $18 and is narrated by actor Tim Curry.

w Let them use book lists.

There are many lists of good books to read, and many children like the thrill of discovering their own books. Start with lists at the local library.

Other library systems also maintain good book lists. For example, check the lists published annually by the Montgomery County, Md., library system. The lists are arranged by grade and then type of book and are easy to use. The Web site is: www.mont.lib.md.us. Click on “summer reading 2001'' and then “reading lists.''

The Boston Public Library offers book lists organized by subject, such as Good Books for Older Boys and Multicultural Picture Books for Children. Go to www.bpl.org. Click on “BPL Kids' Page.'' On the left side of the page there is a list of items. Click on “Booklists for Kids.''

Finally, the American Library Association annually lists what it considers the best books of the year for children, grouping the books by age. The 2001 Notables' list can be found at www.ala.org/parents. Click on “Notable Books.'' There are also lists of the Newbery and Caldecott medal winners available at the same place on the Web site.



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