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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Books in Summer: Rocket Ships, Life Rafts, and Superfood

by Ginger Young, Executive Director, Book Harvest

Originally printed in the Durham Herald-Sun, May 18, 2015

“That’s IT! The book I’ve always wanted!”

James practically dove across the table to snatch a copy of the graphic novel Bone, peeking out from a sea of books in his school’s library. He hugged it for a split second, then tucked it victoriously into his string backpack. It and nine other books that James had chosen would go home with him, to keep forever and to help him through the precarious long weeks of summer.


Earlier this month, James and 447 other students at Y.E. Smith Elementary School in East Durham participated in Books on Break, a program of the Durham-based nonprofit Book Harvest which responds to the threat of summer learning loss with books – lots and lots of them.

Books on Break is evidence-based, and it works.  Motivated by the finding that summer learning loss accounts for a whopping 80% of the income-based achievement gap, Book Harvest kicked off Books on Break in 2012 and has grown it every year since.  This month and next, Books on Break will reach 1,975 students, 97% of whom are on free or reduced lunch, at four elementary schools in Durham with a new string backpack and 10 books each.  These books will help them stay of track over the summer and hold onto all those skills they worked so hard to gain all year long.

For James, Bone and the other books he chose are a rocket ship, propelling him to blast off into reading with vigor and enthusiasm and to help him retain his academic skills.  For a fourth grade girl who selected books at another school, the books are a life raft.  She arrived at Book on Break on a quest to find books about wolves; her teacher told us that her mother, who loved wolves, had recently passed away. Finding books to connect her to her mom was a comfort and a solace for her.  And yes, Book Harvest volunteers searched hard and found her a book about wolves. Her smile was incandescent.

Whether a life raft or a rocket ship, books are superfood for the brains for all students.  Providing a child with a dozen self-selected books at the start of summer for three years in a row has been demonstrated  to confer the same benefit  as attending summer school for each of the three years – at a fraction of the cost ($50 vs. $3,000 per child per summer).  The impact?  An increase in students’ reading achievement by 35 – 40% of a grade level .

It is essential that all students have access to books in summer. They may need a vacation from the demands of school, but we cannot afford for their brains and their imaginations to take a break – and they don’t want that either. Sharing Bone, wolves, Wimpy Kids, Elephant and Piggy, dinosaurs, soccer, world records, extreme weather, and Jack and Annie with our young readers helps them nourish their brains and return to school in the fall ready to learn and to thrive.  It also helps spark within them a lifelong love of reading.  Fueled by book donors and volunteers, it’s high-impact and low-cost.

Book Harvest, in partnership with the Downtown Durham Rotary Club, has just wrapped up Books on Break at Y.E. Smith Elementary School.  Over three days, 53 volunteers provided 145 hours of service and helped 448 students select 4,480 books to take home and keep. Next up?  Books on Break at Forest View, Lakewood, and Glenn Elementary Schools in Durham.

On a quiet evening this summer, listen closely.  You just might hear the sound of a rocket ship’s engines revving, or a life raft pushing off from shore – all triggered by the turning of pages and the thrill of a good book.



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