This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Free Library of Philadelphia kicked off its summer reading program, called “Summer of Wonder,” on Thursday, June 7, at its Parkway Central branch.
Third graders from Mead and Bache-Martin Elementary Schools attended the event, which included book readings by Mayor Kenney and Wells Fargo sponsor Joseph Kirk, art projects sponsored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a tour of the library, and a surprise dance party with the Philly Phanatic.
Summer of Wonder is a series of free programs held at all Free Library branches throughout the summer meant to encourage reading for pleasure.
Valerie Samuels, the assistant chief of youth services and programs at the library, said that giving students opportunities to learn in a fun setting over the summer can help prevent the loss of education that they gained during the school year.
“Studies show that reading six books over the summer can prevent reading loss and maintain students reading levels when they return to school in the fall,” Samuels wrote in an email. “Summer of Wonder embraces a summer learning model which retains the important element of reading, but includes activities and technology that support the different learning styles of youth.”
Kenney spoke at the start of the event and explained to students that the library is more than a place to check out books.
“There are thousands of books at the library to read,” Kenney said. “But it’s also a wonderful opportunity to discover, create and play.”
Summer of Wonder also aims to promote a safe learning environment in the libraries that is accessible to all students.
“Libraries during the summer provide the opportunity for youth to be a part of a community where they can gather, converse about any topic, and make new friends,” Samuels wrote. “Library staff are committed to encouraging the growth and success of youth, taking an interest in what youth are interested in and creating a space where interests can be explored and opening the door to new experiences.”
Tanisha Davis, a member of Mead Elementary’s therapeutic support staff, attended and said that events like these are important for all Philadelphia children.
“I think this is a great resource for children to stay mentally active,” Davis said. “The events are free, which is great for families with low socio-economic status. This helps keep all kids educated and definitely helps with their literacy.”
Philadelphia has the highest adult illiteracy rate in Pennsylvania, with 22 percent of adults lacking basic literacy skills. Less than 40 percent of kids in 3rd grade can read at grade level. Summer of Wonder is part of the Read by 4th campaign, which is working to have 97 percent of Philadelphia 4th graders reading at grade level by 2020.
Skye Davis, a 3rd grader at Mead Elementary, said that she doesn’t really like to read, but that she does like the book Descendants, based on the Disney Channel movie.
“I like doing the crafts,” she said. “This is fun. I might want to read more if I get to go to more stuff like this.”
The mayor told the students that they should look for books that appeal to their individual interests, as Skye did with Descendants.
“You can develop a love for reading by choosing the books that are most exciting to you,” Kenney said. “I just finished a book called Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, and it was very interesting. I would recommend taking a look.”
Summer of Wonder runs from now until Aug. 31 at all Free Library of Philadelphia branches.