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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

A Summer Reading Theory: A Cockeyed Query for the Edu-ma-cation Types

Yesterday I spent the bulk of my working day engaged in an activity that I suspect many of my fellow librarians deal with each and every summer.  As the summer reading lists start walking into my branches I’ve been encouraging my librarians and information specialists to copy these little beauties and send me copies of what they list.  And I am happy to report that my librarians have been particularly good at forwarding on the requests this year.  Many is the librarian who will understand why this can be essential.  Schools vary widely in New York City, and whether you’re a charter school, a private school, or a public school, you’re going to have books that need to be read over the summer months so as to avoid the dreaded summer slide.

Now some teachers do a stand up and cheer job selecting just the right books for their students to read.  They’ll comb through the reviews and awards and produce a mix of titles both old and new for the kids to pick and choose.  Other teachers strictly adhere to the same old classics, and that’s okay too.  Then there are the teachers that get excited about a few titles but fail to check and see whether or not the public library system owns any copies of those books at all.

Hence my job.  I seek.  I find.  I add.

I also stumble across a lot of out-of-print titles that seem very odd.  These are good books and the demand for them is high.  Why are they out-of-print?  Here are two recent and particularly baffling titles that would fall into this category:

  • I Hate English by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Steve Björkman – Great book.  I believe it was PW that said of it, “Differentiating carefully between the Asian and Caucasian characters, the breezy humor of the pictures alleviates what otherwise would have been a burdensome bibliotherapeutic message.”
  • Bears on Wheels by Stan & Jan Berenstain – Yeah, an easy Berenstain Bears book is out of print.  Say what now?

But the phenomena that I would like to address is something I’ve recently deemed The Five Year Rule.  This rule only applies to certain reading lists.  Whether or not it is found in other parts of the country I cannot say.  All that I know is that I came across this occurrence last year and 2013 has confirmed my suspicions.

Last year I was collecting my summer reading lists as per usual when I came across something strange.  The books appearing on a lot of lists had something in common.  They were good books but often titles that had been weeded from my system for lack of use.  Now suddenly they were all the rage, five years after publication.  Thus the Five Year Rule.  In New York City, it often takes five years for a book to start consistently showing up on summer reading lists.  This year my theory was backed up by the appearance of books like Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse on the lists.  Originally published in 2008, some folks can’t get enough of it right now.

So my question to you today, folks, is whether or not this is a pure NYC phenomenon or if summer reading lists nationwide do something similar.

What say you?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I think it applies nationwide. Due to time constraints, teachers have a difficult time keeping up with the latest titles. For example, I would guess that most teachers are not familiar with titles such as When You Reach Me and One Crazy Summer. I only know about these because I read blogs such as Fuse 8. It takes a few years for enough teachers to learn about these books and spread the word. It’s easier to stick with titles such as Charlotte’s Web where we can find copies at the used book store and lesson ideas on the Internet. Just my experience.

  2. It’s definitely the case in my town. I help with booksale set up for my town’s Friends of the Library booksale, and we always do a table that is dedicated to summer reading list.books. We collect the lists from all the area schools, 1st grade through high school, and every one is consistantly behind the times. I think part of the reason is also that teachers don’t put books on the list that aren’t available in paperback, as it is too expensive for the school or town library to buy multiple hardcover copies or to ask students to purchase.

  3. Mother Lydia says:

    Bears on wheels out of print? That was one of my son’s favorites a year or two again!

    Talking about my son, I am pleased at punch with him. this is the first year we’ve signed him up for summer library programs. So far he’s read 1300 pages through the Austin library system! He’s aiming at 41 books (enough to fill every line on the page) And reading books all over the map from picture books with a couple of lines per page to Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever (~240 pages long, read over 3 days!) I am SO thankful to the library. We couldn’t afford to buy that many books every month or 6 weeks!


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