Summer Reading Programs at Jewish Libraries and Day Schools Encourage Learning


School may be out for the summer, but that’s no excuse to fall behind on reading.

Books (Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay)

This is an especially important habit to keep for children. The American Library Association states that summer reading programs can help encourage a love of literature in younger readers, giving them more freedom over what they read than books assigned in class would.

Many local Jewish day schools, such as Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Krieger Schechter Day School and Ohr Chadash Academy, offer summer reading programs to keep their students engaged and learning even while school is no longer in session. Many of these schools work with the Jewish Library of Baltimore, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, which stocks books for the summer based on reading lists put out by local schools.

The Jewish Library also has a summer reading program of its own, which started on June 9 and will run until Sept. 1. Aimed at children of all ages, the program encourages them to read at least five books during the summer to claim a prize. Jessica Fink, the library’s executive director, said their summer program is meant to encourage literacy among all younger demographics, from children who have to be read to because they cannot read yet to older high schoolers.

“We’ve heard from teachers that students have opportunities to read over the summer that they might not have had access to before,” Fink said.

The Jewish Library’s summer reading program has been running for more than 10 years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the library was closed, prompting a switch to a virtual program that incorporated e-books. Fink noted that the forced switch to e-books actually helped the program, as e-books make the library’s offerings more accessible to children who may not be able to come to the library itself.

“More kids are reading now,” Fink said. “They have access to our library and are happy with the resources we have.”

While most summer reading programs give children freedom in what they want to read, the Jewish Library and many day schools with their own summer reading programs offer material with a more Jewish slant. Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, for example, has assigned “Night” by Elie Wiesel to its ninth graders for the summer.

Rebecca Levitan, a librarian who works at the Pikesville branch of Baltimore County Public Library, said that it is important for Jewish children to see themselves represented in the books they read.

“Jewish kids look for books in the same way that every other kid does. They’re looking to see themselves in them,” she said. “When you find those books that reflect your culture, your heritage, your family and your food back at them, it’s like finding a treasure. It’s such a delight to see kids connect to books in that way.”

The Baltimore County Public Library system and the Jewish Library are unaffiliated and have different summer reading programs, but Levitan and Fink often collaborate due to their shared love of Jewish children’s books.

Levitan added that she has a six-year-old daughter, and as she enters grade school, she wants to help her foster a love of reading by encouraging her to continue reading books over the summer.

“She’s been plodding through, carefully reading books for school,” she said. “I don’t want her to lose that momentum over the summer. She already loves reading, so being able to incentivize her with a summer reading program is a fun way to keep that momentum going.”

Summer reading offers opportunities for children to stay mentally stimulated when not at school and for them to learn new things about the world on their own time. Libraries, such as the Jewish Library and the wider Baltimore County Public Library system, give children a free, accessible place to read all kinds of books and find new stories they enjoy.

“The more you read, the more you know,” Fink said. “That’s my philosophy on life. Reading brings education, enjoyment and curiosity.”

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