July 29, 2016

Summertime, and the Reading is Easy

An Oakland librarian’s secret to keeping kids reading

By Amy Billstrom, OMCA Associate Director, Learning Initiatives

With contributions from Claudia Leung

Museums and Libraries have a lot in common—they’re both cultural centers that serve broad swaths of the public, expanding learning through access to meaningful experiences and materials. There’s a special synergy between the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) and the Oakland Public Library (OPL) with a more-than-decade-old partnership on the Summer Reading Program and Celebration, and a newer partnership called Books & Blankets, which offers families a free way to read together in the Museum gardens. We spoke to Oakland librarian Amy Martin, Children’s Collection Management Librarian for the Oakland Public Library, about these programs and her suggestions for the best way to keep kids engaged in books over the summer.

Amy Billstrom: Why is it important to keep kids engaged in reading during the months they have off from school?

Amy Martin: There are many studies about what is called the “summer slip” or the “summer slide.” Students actually lose months of learning over the summertime if they’re not reading. Kids who read consistently during the summer are not going to have to spend as much time reviewing old material.

AB: What factors contribute to readership over the summer?  

AM: The strongest factor is if there’s an adult involved in getting those kids to read. If parents make an example of reading themselves, and make it a point to read with their families every night, then those kids tend to struggle less with staying engaged in reading.

Poverty and food security are factors that affect kids’ ability to concentrate and focus in general. A big part of reading is unhinging your attention from the world around you. If you’re hungry, you can’t stay with a story, which is one of the reasons why we’ve started offering a summer meal program at the library too.

AB: What are some of the easiest resources to help young people stay engaged in summertime reading?

AM: Take advantage of your local Children’s librarian—they’re highly trained, free, and they’re right there. Go into your local branch and ask for their recommendations. They will probably turn to your child and say, “What do you like to read?” and base their guidance around your child’s interests.

It’s important that young people are able to choose their own books. A lot of kids grow up saying, “I don’t like to read,” but their choices have really never been honored in reading. Maybe they want to read books about Barbie or LEGOs, and someone has told them that those books don’t have enough “value” and that they need to read good books. The secret to staying engaged in reading over the summer time is that it doesn’t matter what you read. In terms of brain function, the material you are reading is not as significant as the fact that you read consistently. I know I am much more likely to stick with something if I find it fun. Don’t run away from fun, popular stuff. Go with what’s exciting.

AB: With Books & Blankets, families can check out a cozy blanket and a bag of books selected by the Library for free to enjoy in the Museum gardens. Tell us a little bit about the books you selected that are in this particular bag.

AM: Star Wars: Epic Yarns is a board book with felted depictions of characters in scenes from the movies. It’s popular with every age group, and adults find it charming because the illustrations are unusual.

I am Sausal Creek/Soy El Arroyo Sausal is in Spanish and English. It just came out last year. It has beautiful watercolor illustrations and talks about the history of the local environment around Sausal Creek right here in Oakland.

AB: It’s great that you included books with a connection to Oakland. OMCA also has an exhibition opening in October on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party, which ties into your selection for Books & Blankets. Can you talk a bit about that?

AM: One Crazy Summer is about three girls from Brooklyn who are sent to Oakland to live with their mother for the summer. They discover that she has some mental health issues, but also that she is working for the Black Panther Party. Through her, they are able to access the Black Panther Party’s free education and food programs, which become a source of power for them.

There’s actually been a lot released in the last couple years about the civil rights era. Everything is hitting its 50-year anniversary. Freedom Summer is about volunteers who went to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to build libraries and freedom schools. It’s got great historic photos and talks about community empowerment.

AB: The Summer Reading Program caps off with a big party at the Museum for families on August 7. OPL has partnered with OMCA on this celebration for 12 years now. What do you see as the strengths of this partnership?

AM: It’s a really strong part of our community engagement. When I was a branch librarian in East Oakland, I worked with families living in poverty, who were avid participants in summer reading. It was great to tell them that at the end of the summer, there was a free party with ice cream, face painting, and games, and they could take their whole family. It’s a wonderful opportunity for families who have never visited OMCA to spend a day at the celebration and experience the Museum for the first time. We also have people coming to the party who don’t come to the branch libraries, so it shows people that the library is a part of their world and it’s not just that one building. We’re out at the Museum and having fun. 

The Summer Reading Celebration with the Oakland Public Library takes place on August 7, 2016 as a part of First Sundays @ OMCA. Books & Blankets are available during regular Museum hours at the ticketing desk on Level 2.

The opinions expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of the Oakland Museum of California, its staff, Board of Directors, or other affiliated parties.