Recreational reading and the Summer Reading Club

Hello. My name is Natasha Ratajczek and I am the Reading Program Coordinator for the Literacy and Young Peoples Service at the State Library of Queensland.

Natasha SRC Coordinator

Natasha SRC Coordinator

In a former life, I was once an English/History teacher working at a small middle-school/high school, Learning with a Purpose, in the rural community of El Dorado in Northern California (2002-2007); which boasted an enrollment of 65 students. The school program was unique in that it offered academically struggling students the opportunity to pursue a vocational career path while fulfilling required middle or high school requirements. The school was also different in that it was actually built by the students! I began teaching in the Community Hall, just up the path across the street from the school site, in a portion of the hall segmented by a tarp. My desk/office was the boot of my car. The students in the Construction vocational course enabled the small site’s expansion to include 3 portable units, a refit of the school office, a new set of bathrooms and an additional classroom space – built from the concrete foundation up!

El Dorado Trade School

El Dorado Trade School

As a new educator, learning to tailor and adapt my instruction to a diverse group, many with learning issues and in need of individualized learning instruction; developing my own curriculum for multiple subjects, across multiple grades, years 7-11 (a different class grade each hour!); and spending bi-annual week long camping expeditions with students to provide opportunities for experiential learning, taught me many things. At times I often felt like Anne of Green Gables’ Anne Shirley meets Dangerous Minds’ Michele Pfeiffer as I worked hard in a school with limited resources; reliant on donated books and materials, classroom helpers and amazing aides, to help my students achieve academically, socially and across other areas of their lives.

Working closely and collaboratively with a team of five, student literacy and helping them be job ready was at the forefront of our minds.  With such a small student group it was easier to identify gaps that were impeding their success. And though delivery of curriculum and meeting state standards were important drivers in my practice, the school program provided me the opportunity to focus on the relationship between academic success, work readiness, functional literacy and the practice of recreational reading.

As I worked with my students, it became very real to me that reading for pleasure is an important aspect of our social development, but it is not always naturally inherent. Learning to read for pleasure and fun is a skill that often requires support, modeling and encouragement. Reading for recreational pleasure can be transformative. The more one reads the more one is exposed to language, thoughts, social conventions and ideas. In the literary canon of our society are endless worlds, dialogue and ideas waiting to be discovered. Recreational reading also helps to develop our imagination, our capacity to be vulnerable, and provides opportunities to explore friendships and relationships, to escape our day-to-day routines, to travel, to venture into the past, to explore the future, and to be the hero or the villain in the stories that we read.

Author, Neil Gaiman said:

“Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end… that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key… The simplest way to make sure we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.”

Neil Gaiman, Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming. Retrieved 2017 from

Reading for fun, particularly throughout the summer holidays is also of benefit for children and young people, as it helps to combat the loss of learning and achievement gains that research has demonstrated often occurs during the summer months as students disengage from school and formal educational activities.  This learning loss is often referred to as the “Summer Slide” and can put children at risk upon their return to school.

Research also continues to substantiate that access to books; involvement in fun recreational reading programs and extending connections to literature through arts and multi-media activities combats the Summer Slide. Libraries are best situated to help children and families support continued development of multi-literacy skills in children throughout the summer by actively working to connect them to programs and resources which encourage reading for fun and enjoyment.

This is where my work comes in!  As the Reading Program Coordinator, it is my awesome responsibility and great privilege to coordinate the National Summer Reading Club (SRC) program, delivered annually in public libraries and online, in partnership the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), the Australian Public Library Alliance (APLA), Libraries ACT, LINC Tasmania, Northern Territory Library, NSW Public Libraries Association, Public Libraries Australia, Public Libraries South Australia, Public Libraries Victoria Network and Public Libraries Western Australia.

Data collected from libraries demonstrates they are identifying the SRC as an effective tool for combatting the Summer Slide by sustaining and encouraging reading and learning during the summer holidays. Children, young people, and their families express their enjoyment of reading and writing as a direct result of their participation in the SRC. Parents and caregivers also report an increase in recreational reading by their children during the summer months as they participate in the SRC.

Thank you so much SRC. Louis has only just joined for the first time and it has taken the school holidays to another level, for both of us! I wish his school’s approach to literacy made reading this much fun.

Christina, parent of SRC participant Louis, 6 NSW

In addition to sustaining literacy, participation in the SRC encourages children, young people and their families to:

  • ENGAGE with libraries and library collections,
  • DISCOVER and develop knowledge, understanding and skills related to the annual SRC theme, and
  • ENJOY reading books and participating in activities that inspire a love of reading, literature and the library habit.

State Library of Queensland and APLA’s continued commitment to the delivery of this national, highly successful literacy campaign encourages libraries to use their library spaces, resources and collections to enrich the lives of children, young people and families; engage, connect, inform and inspire a love of recreational reading and the library habit; and places libraries as ‘active connectors’ in building literacy, language and learning in their communities.

The 2016 Summer Reading Club: Heroes and Villains program marked my fifth year as the SRC program coordinator, and the sixth year the program has been delivered by State Library of Queensland as a national program. The SRC was delivered from 1 December 2016 to 31 January 2017, both online and in 1,066 (74%) public library branches (includes mobile libraries and Indigenous Knowledge Centres) across Australia. Through my involvement I have the opportunity to network, learn from, and work with fantastic and enthusiastic library workers, libraries, library managers, APLA representatives, authors, illustrators and publishers, and our incredible behind-the-scenes team here at the State Library.

The 2016 Summer Reading Club evaluation report is now available for review, and we are excited to share the outcomes from program with you. Among the program highlights, the report demonstrates that in addition to sustaining literacy in children and young people during the summer holidays through the SRC libraries are demonstrating themselves as vital spaces and partners in communities, connectors within their communities, and achieving strategic community focus, service offering and service delivery outcomes in alignment with APLA’s Guidelines, Standards and Outcome Measures for Australian Public Libraries, 2016

Here are some of the highlights from 2016:

  • 82,507 children and young people participated in library summer holiday programs
  • 55,874 in children and young people formally
    registered in the Summer Reading Club (15% increase)
  • 456,187 books read (37% increase)
  • 8 million estimated audience media reach
  • 22,674 visits to the Summer Reading Club website
  • 32 collaborative partnerships and sponsors including:
    • Public Library Associations
    • Australian Children’s Literature Association (ACLA)
    • Australian Children’s Laureate 2016-2017, Leigh Hobbs
    • Australian publishers

 I thoroughly enjoyed my first blogging experience, thanks to the Summer Reading Club team and the many kids who so enthusiastically took part-what great questions they posed! Some were quite challenging in fact, but all were spirited and thoughtful, and furthered my rich experience as The Australian Children’s Laureate. Thank you kids and SRC!

Leigh Hobbs

It is very rewarding at the conclusion of each year to see the realisation of collective goals and program aspirations, reflected in the feedback from participants, parents and library staff. The Summer Reading Club is an amazing opportunity for libraries, families and communities to assist children and young people to embrace reading and reading for fun, not only through the summer, but all year long.

Their insights, excitement and success stories never fail to warm my heart, just as it did when I would see my students, after much effort, walk proudly across the stage to receive their diplomas at graduation. Many of my students began their journey with very little interest in education, reading or even graduating, but once their learning gaps were filled in, and a vocational pathway was presented to them learning suddenly had a purpose. The Summer Reading Club is a tool that can assist libraries and families help to foster a love for reading for fun in children and young people not only through the summer, but all year long.

If your library is not involved at present and would like more information, please contact me! I am only too happy to chat.

Now on to Summer Reading Club 2017…