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This is a brief excerpt from
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
(Penguin, 2013, 7th edition)

Now available as both a paperback and e-book.

See also Handbook FAQs.

Handbook cover 2013 edition




Chapter 5: SSR—sustained silent reading,
reading aloud's silent partner

What about summer school reading programs?

Further proof of SSR’s benefits is found in the research on “summer setback.” Many parents, especially those whose children are having difficulty with school, see summertime as a vacation from school and take it literally: “Everyone needs a vacation, for goodness’ sake. He needs to get away from school and relax. Next year will be a new start.”

That attitude can be extremely detrimental, especially to a poor reader, because the better readers don’t take the summer off and thus the gap widens.

There is an axiom in education that goes, “You get dumber in the summer.” A two-year study of three thousand students in Atlanta attempted to see if it was true. They found that everyone— top students and poor students— learns more slowly in the summer. Some, though, do worse than slow down; they actually go into reverse, as you can see in the chart below.8

chart showing widening skills gap beween low-income students and high-income students due to lack of reading during summer vacationchart showing widening skills gap beween low-income students and high-income students due to lack of reading during summer vacation Top students’ scores rise slightly between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. Conversely, the bottom 25 percent (largely urban poor) lose most of what they gained the previous school year. Average students (the middle 50 percent) make no gains during the summer but lose nothing either— except in the widening gap between themselves and the top students. Projected across the first four years of school, the “rich-poor” reading gap that was present at the start of kindergarten has actually widened.

Many factors cause the loss. The affluent child’s summer includes a family of readers who model that behavior and offer quiet spaces conducive to reading; a home that is print-rich with books, magazines, and newspapers; visits to the mall with stops at the bookstore or library; a family vacation or summer camp out of town in which new people, places, and experiences extend background knowledge and offer new vocabulary; and a high probability that educational or informational TV and radio will be seen and heard.

student rushing to school bus School's out but if reading is out also, he's in big trouble.

Conversely, the at-risk child’s summer includes a home without books, magazines, or newspapers, and without adults who read avidly; no car by which to leave a dangerous neighborhood; no bookstores or convenient library; a daily routine in which the child seldom encounters new people, new experiences, or new vocabulary, thus there is no growth in background knowledge; and little likelihood that educational or informational TV or radio will be seen or heard.

How can you prevent the traditional summer reading gap? Research gives little support to traditional summer school but a great deal to summer reading—reading to the child and reading by the child. Jimmy Kim’s study of 1,600 sixth-graders in eighteen schools showed that the reading of four to six books during the summer was enough to alleviate summer loss. He further noted that when schools required either a report or essay to be written about a book read during the summer or that parents verify the student had read one summer book, this greatly increased the chances of its being read.9

Most libraries have summer reading incentive programs, so make sure your child is enrolled and participates. And take your child on field trips— even if you just visit local places like a fire station, the museum, or the zoo— and talk and listen.


Trying to reach parents with this message?
Jim Trelease offers his take on the importance of summer reading in his free downloadable brochure, found at:


Chapter Five — p.1   p.2   p.3   Footnotes

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