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Storybook Summers

Local library and bookstore programs encourage readers of all ages to keep turning the pages, even during vacation season.

Written by Leslie Criss

Summertime in the South often finds families spending time at the beach, in the mountains or poolside at home or beyond. There’s an educational and engaging activity that can be done no matter where kids spend the summer. It can also be done from a favorite comfortable chair in their temperature-controlled home. It’s something for participants of all ages and sizes. The necessary equipment for the activity is relatively light, depending on the size and number used.

If you’ve not yet guessed the activity, it’s reading. And along with reading lists sent home with students for the summer, there are summer reading programs, hosted by libraries and some local bookstores.

Summer reading programs are nothing new. In fact, they’ve been around for more than 100 years — since 1896, to be exact. A woman named Linda Eastman, who was the head librarian at The Cleveland Library in Ohio, is credited with creating the first summer reading program. Eastman, a fierce proponent of literature for children, developed a list of recommended books and got local schools to pass these lists along to their young students with a challenge to read as many of the listed books as possible during summer vacation.

That long-ago summer, Eastman recognized a dramatic increase in children’s visits to the library, which led the library board to create the Cleveland Library League. League membership continued to rise into the thousands, and book clubs of a limited number of members were started. It was within these book clubs that young readers logged the books they read and began to tell other members about the books they loved.

Later, a librarian in Connecticut shared her thoughts publicly that children logging the books read was good, but they needed more interaction with the books. The summer reading program she started included prizes for reading goals met, gatherings where readers met to discuss books and a fun puzzle club. It was Caroline Hewins’ version of a summer reading program that remains most like today’s summer reading programs.

According to, summer reading programs saw a huge bump in popularity in the early 1900s. Here are some of the recorded programs:

- The Madison New Jersey Public Library Vacation Reading Club gave out certificates of completion for books read.

- The state library in Georgia had children write opinion pieces about the books they read during the summer program.

- The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh hosted readings at local playgrounds.

In the ’60s and ’70s, most libraries offered some form of a summer reading program that involved visits to the library to hear a librarian or volunteer read a book to participants to encourage them to check out books to read during summer vacation.

Summer reading programs continue today, but certainly with more bells and whistles to entice children to read. Here are a few examples of what area libraries and even independent bookstores are offering this summer.

Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library

The Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library is part of the First Regional Library. Youth librarian Ally Watkins and youth specialist Sami Thomason-Fyke are excited this summer’s reading program will offer in-person programs after a long period of online programming and make-and-take kits during COVID.

The theme this summer is “Reading is for Everyone.”

“Our goal at the library is to encourage everyone to read every day this summer — alone, with a child, to a pet, in a book club or whichever way a reader prefers,” Watkins said.

All a person needs to do to participate in the program is to tell a library staff member the challenge to read every day has been accepted. And the challenge is issued to readers of all ages. In addition to the reading challenge, the First Regional Libraries, in the counties of DeSoto, Panola, Tate, Tunica and Lafayette, will have live animals, magic shows, family events, live-music programs and lots more.

Lee County Library

The Lee County Library will have as its theme Oceans of Possibilities. It’s part of CSLP, Collaborative Summer Library Programs, which began in 1987 when 10 regional Minnesota regional library systems developed a summer library program for children, with a theme, artwork and goals, which public libraries could purchase for their summer programs. Today, the CSLP continues to produce summer reading programs to be used by member libraries.

The summer program is for all youth to age 18; it began June 1 and ends July 28.

Main events on Thursday mornings in June include the Dinosaur Crew along with their 10-foot velociraptor named Spike, storytellers, live animals and musicians. There’ll be Movie Matinee Mondays, Family Storytimes on Tuesdays and much more.

“The summer reading program provides a free, exciting and educational program that helps kids set and meet goals, discover new favorite books and be better prepared for the next school year,” said Lee County Library’s youth services librarian Grace Guntharp.

Corinth Public Library

Corinth Public Library, following Northeast Regional Library policies, will continue to exercise COVID caution this summer with no in-person summer program. However, the pandemic has not stopped the library from reaching out to young readers. The library staff has and will continue to prepare activity packets for area readers to pick up.

“The packets include coloring pages, games, craft projects, fun things for kids to do,” said Cody Daniel, head librarian since 2016. “The activity packets came about strictly because of COVID, but they have become so popular.”

Before the pandemic, the summer program included visits from people with interesting stories to share, like master storyteller Autry Davis or the presenter of an educational snake show. These visits continue but are now virtual.

This summer’s theme will be Oceans of Possibilities.

Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore

Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore in Tupelo is bringing back its bingo card from last summer. Reed’s partnered with a business that helped provide a prize for last summer’s winning reader.

“The beauty of our bingo card is that we have made the categories general enough so that kids of any age can complete them,” said Lori Jones, bookstore manager. “Last year we had ages 2-11 turning in cards, and it was so fun to see kids get excited about reading books of their choice and doing so in fun ways.”

Some of the fun ways to read in the 2021 Reed’s Summer Reading Bingo Challenge included read a book with a red cover, read to a pet, read to someone who can’t read, read while you eat lunch and many more.

Pizza vs. Tacos partnered with Reed’s last summer, and each reader who brought a completed bingo card back to the bookstore received a coupon for a free pizza. This year’s partner is Funky Cones.

“As we did last year, we will partner with a local business to give kids who complete their cards a fun treat,” Jones said.

Square Books Jr.

Oxford’s Square Books Jr. will be bringing back its Where’s Waldo? summer program after a two-year, COVID-caused hiatus. The books, illustrated by Martin Handford and now published by Candlewick Press, have been around since 1987. They depict the wandering Waldo in all manner of densely descriptive scenes and the reader must find him. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Square Books Jr. has done the Where’s Waldo program for more than a decade, and a large part of the business community around the Square eagerly participates.

“More than 20 businesses around the Square are on board,” said Paul Thomasson-Fyke, the Children’s Book and Toy Buyer at Square Books Jr. “Each of them get a little Waldo figure they hide in a new place each day.”

The young people who participate get a bingo card they take around with them to the businesses and keep a log of finding Waldo.

“They get a small, simple prize when they turn in their finished bingo cards,” Thomasson-Fyke said. “And at the end of the month, we have a big party; the kids come, bring their parents and we have a big drawing for prizes donated by the participating businesses and the grand prize of a boxed set of all the Waldo books.”

All ages may participate, from as young as 2 or 3 up to young adults. The Where’s Waldo event takes place the month of July.

Did you know?

According to experts, young people who read four to five books during the summer retain on average more than two-thirds of what they learned during the school year, and many retained all, and strengthened their skills.

Today, more than 95 percent of public libraries in the U.S. host a summer reading program.

Summer Reading Recommendations

Ages 3-6

“Anita and the Dragons,” Hannah Carmona

“Best Day Ever!” Marilyn Singer

“Bubbles … Up!” Jacqueline Davies

“Eyes that Kiss in the Corners,” Joanna Ho

“Grandfather Bowhead, Tell Me a Story,” Aviaq Johnston


Ages 6-9

“Beak & Ally: Unlikely Friends,” Norm Beuti

“Billy Miller Makes a Wish,” Kevin Henkes

“Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey,” Erin Entrada Kelly

“The Gravity Tree: The True Story of a Tree That Inspired the World,” Anna Crowley Redding


Ages 9-12

“Katie the Catsitter,” Colleen AF Venable

“Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls,” Kaela Rivera

“Measuring Up,” Lily LaMotte

“Take Back the Block,” Chrystal D. Giles


Ages 12-13

“Freewater,” Amina Luqman-Dawson

“Loyalty,” Avi

“The Chance to Fly,” Ali Stroker

“Red, White, and Whole,” Rajani LaRocca

Source: imaginationsoup

Ages 13-18 (YA)

“Monday’s Not Coming,” Tiffany D. Jackson

“The Hazel Wood,” Melissa Albert

“Firekeeper’s Daughter,” Angeline Boulley

“The Court of Miracles,” Kester Grant

“Turtles All the Way Down,” John Green

Source: imaginationsoup

Adult reads

“All of you Every Single One,” Beatrice Hitchman

“Loss of Memory Is Only Temporary,” Johanna Kaplan

“The School for Good Mothers,” Jessamine Chan

“Lost and Found,” Kathryn Schulz (winner of the Pulitzer Prize)


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