Happy family members clutch new books selected from a display at the Housing Authority of Kansas City, one of the Kansas City Public Library’s partners in summer reading. (Kansas City Public Library photo)
Summer reading programs have been around since the late 19th century, launched by libraries — and endorsed by teachers — to encourage kids to continue to read while school was out.
This is summer reading today…
Revolving around the theme Art Starts at Your Library, the Kansas City Public Library is offering comics-drawing classes and a community art project, puppet making and Lego block building, cosplay and anime, CD scratch art and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities. Books and reading still are central, with individuals rewarded for reading five titles over a nearly 11-week period ending August 15. The annual initiative remains an antidote to the summer learning slide.
But adults, happily, now make up a third or more of the Library’s summer reading participants. Parents and caregivers make it a full-family experience, and they serve as models reading for the sheer fun of it.
The emphasis in today’s summer reading is on staying engaged and stimulated. On fostering creativity. On…having fun.
“It’s twofold,” says Crystal Faris, the Library’s director of youth and family engagement. “There’s the self-directed reading part of it that’s meant to reinforce that reading is fun, and you can engage in reading over the summer whether you’re 3 or 53. Then there are the other opportunities, particularly for kids, to engage with the Library and stay busy over the summer with a variety of learning opportunities.”
Samantha Edwards, a youth and family engagement librarian at KCPL’s North-East Branch, holds a degree in drawing and regularly applies her artistic talents to her work at the Library. She’s predictably thrilled with this year’s focus on art, she says, and is overseeing a menu of activities at the branch.
“Art is language in its own way; it’s visual storytelling. Books are textual storytelling,” Edwards says. “I think they’re really similar, and it’s fun to be able to create connections between the two.”
Many of the summer reading activities move back inside this year after being forced outdoors by COVID-19 in 2021 and offered only digitally in the early months of the pandemic in 2020. The Library incorporates its Pop in at the Park program for signups at four sites across the city — Seven Oaks, Gillham and Concourse
parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Square Park — also offering Kids Café meals in partnership with Harvesters.
Those meals are also available at the L.H. Bluford, North-East, Southeast, Trails West and Waldo branches. A year ago, nearly 2,500 were handed out to kids and young adults up to age 18.
Children are at the center of summer reading activities, starting with storytime sessions at seven of the Library’s 10 locations. Take-and-make activity kits vary by age range and month, from puppet making for preschoolers in July to Lego creating for tweens and fidget toy design for teens in August.
Fortifying the lineup are offerings from a range of local organizations: Mad Science (STEM activities) and Scraps KC (activities using reused materials), Theatre of the Imagination (drama training) and Urban Tec (digital literacy), the Kansas City Zoomobile and the Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center.
Kids from ages 3 to 17 can learn improv in a Young Actors Workshop at the Plaza Branch. Art in the Air employs kites, drones and rockets at the Southeast Branch. Kids get to Read to a Dog, not only boosting reading skills but also helping with emotional and social development, at the Waldo Branch.
Teens participating in the Kansas City Digital Media Lab’s summer program, operating out of the Library’s Southeast Branch, are producing their own music albums, creating cover art and marketing the releases.
Across the Library system, Faris says, “It’ll be very busy.
“I think parents of younger children are anxious to have them experience these things again,” she says. “One thing we hadn’t thought about when we started up storytime (sessions) again is that 2- and 3-year-olds didn’t know what it was like to be around other people. They’ve learned how to be with each other — for the first time ever.”
Edwards helps anchor the art activities. She’s the author and illustrator of A Tale as Tall as Jacob, a graphic novel geared to juvenile readers that was released by Andrews McMeel in December. Featuring a chaos-creating young boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it’s essentially the story of Edwards’ younger brother, herself and their family.
Edwards also created a series of comics creation tutorials for the Library’s Youth and Family Engagement YouTube page a couple of years ago and is modeling that in her Tuesday night summer reading drawing classes at North-East. Another summer project is the creation of a stained-glass effect on the windows of North-East’s Children’s Studio, using tissue paper with a mixture of corn starch and water. And she’s overseeing create-what-you-want open studio time — “a maker space kind of thing” — for kids and accompanying adults.
“I know we talk a lot about (alleviating) summer slide with summer reading,” Edwards says, “but I’m excited that we’re focusing on engagement and creativity. Preventing learning loss is really important; everyone cares about that. But I also want to have a lot of fun. I want to engage kids. I want them to feel creative.”
And yes, she and the Library want them to enjoy a good summer read — five of them if possible. Last year’s summer reading program drew 7,445 participants. Some 20,000 books were distributed to children, teens and adults.
“It’s a reinforcement that there is personal pleasure in reading and in sharing stories with one another,” Faris says. “So now, I don’t think there’s a public library in the country that doesn’t do a summer reading program. It’s a standard thing that people expect from their public libraries.”
This year, with art as a co-star.
For more details on the Kansas City Public Library’s 2022 summer reading program, go to kclibrary.org/summerreading.