Literacy

A Magical Summer Reading List

With familiar themes, language, and narrative structures, fairy tales have built-in scaffolds to preserve reader confidence over the summer.

May 17, 2018
Young girl in a red velvet hooded cape, picking flower petals off the ground
©Twenty20/@IsiRose

The phenomenon of the summer slide is well established. It relates to a number of factors that aren’t always simple, though for families and communities with resources it’s a fairly straightforward matter of being aware and finding easy ways to keep kids reading. But regardless of resources, using fairy tales in summer is one great solution with younger kids.

Why Fairy Tales?

Classroom teachers are accustomed to providing students with units of study. Walk into a fall classroom and you might see a unit on harvest or community. Winter might feature tales and explorations of the Arctic or snow. Spring brings themes of birth, energy, or planting.

Then summer comes and students aren’t in school working through units. The reading log, a popular strategy, usually lacks a theme and can feel like one long summer test if a child isn’t motivated by progress indicators or contests. And at-risk students and their parents can easily lose sight of a tracking approach like the reading log.

That’s where making it a fairy tale summer can come in.

Besides setting up a unit approach via genre, fairy tales match the summer mood, the feeling that the days with no school are magical. This can help keep kids engaged, and engagement helps ensure that more independent and shared reading will occur.

Shared reading is critical for a child’s skill development, and it’s especially fitting in summer, when families want to renew their sense of togetherness and be free of evaluations and tallies. Fairy tales are the perfect genre to connect the generations, through texts that are familiar in structure and content—often even across cultures. This creates an easy way in for parents and grandparents to read and discuss and extend the stories—and the easier the in, the more likely it is that shared reading will occur.

When it comes to independent reading, confidence is vital. Without the clear aids of school, children can feel like they’re out in the big, bad reading world without an academic godmother. The familiar themes and language conventions of fairy tales can create a dependable scaffold that will help preserve their confidence.

Another aspect of reader confidence noted by Donalyn Miller, author of Reading in the Wild, is having a strong sense of narrative structure. Miller finds that kids without this sense give up too quickly when facing longer texts. Fairy tales, with their consistent structures, can be an invaluable way to help students continue to develop their sense of narrative structure over the summer.

With a dependable narrative scaffold in place, the fairy tale presents a great opportunity for new learning to occur. The teacher can select works for a Suggested Reading list that add a narrative twist or intriguing vocabulary.

Prepare for When You’re Not There

While some families are happy to invite school into their summer life, others feel it doesn’t fit with summer’s freedom, fun, and family togetherness. There are several strategies that can work to keep kids and families reading.

Enlist your local library: When I was gathering ideas for this article, I dropped by the Ossining Public Library. Librarian Trish Sabini was already preparing for the library’s summer reading program, and she happened to have a collection of variations on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood on her desk—the books use different cultures, settings, and tones.

Many librarians are looking for ideas that will serve their communities and draw a summer crowd. Why not propose a fairy tale summer?

Explore before summer arrives: The last weeks of school can be hard to manage, as kids start looking toward summer freedom. You can take this time to explore popular fairy tales as a short, magical unit before summer begins, setting the groundwork for suggesting that they continue to read fairy tales throughout their vacation.

Teach the game Same or Different: During that final unit, teach a simple game called Same or Different. Have kids draw comparisons across variations of the same fairy tale or between different ones—this will give them a way to keep connecting tales all summer long.

For instance, comparisons can be made of opening and closing lines, like these openers from a few Red Riding Hood tales: “Once upon a time” versus “Once upon a Ninja-filled time” and “Once upon a ranch.” Kids can also look for character name differences like “Little Red” versus “Ninja Red Riding Hood” and “Little Red Hot.” More complex comparisons can also be made regarding settings, plot points, and story tone.

Using such a game makes reading an adventure in discovery. Kids can choose to be “same detectives” or “different detectives” and then share their clues. Consider sending a detective’s magnifying glass home for break, so they can keep being fairy tale detectives all summer long. Or just teach them to look through a pretend magnifying glass while playing the game in class—it’s certainly harder to lose a pretend prop (and it’s free!).

Plan a school-wide fairy tale fall celebration: Let kids and their families know there will be a fairy tale celebration in the fall that they can look forward to as a capstone to their summer fairy tale journey. Ask them to dream up plans for the celebration, which could include bringing their favorite fairy tale from the summer to read aloud, act out, or use as the basis for decorations.