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Thinking beyond the (summer) list

I hadn’t thought about it till today, but our summer reading list is a snooze. A dinosaur.

A relic of a time when reading lists looked like, well, reading lists.

Today, two things woke me up.

1. Finished with her AP exam, Sierra asked me for a book recommendation.  I excitedly booktalked Libba Bray’s The Diviners.  Without responding to my jumping-up-and-down excitement, Sierra whipped out her mobile.  She calmly scanned the barcode of the book I held in my hands to see if the GoodReads community agreed with my assessment.  They did.  And after examining ratings, reviews, images and quotes, Sierra decided to take the book.

2. I happened upon the media-rich, interactive Choices Summer Reading list created by Elissa Malespina, the teacher librarian at South Orange (NJ) Middle School. It offers the usual–suggestions for fiction, nonfiction, classics, graphic novels along with her students’ summer reading assignments.

But developed on Apple’s iBooks Authors,  and hosted on the Bookry platform, Choices feels more like one of those cool magazine apps I read on my iPad than a list.

It was definitely nonsnooze.  And it was far more suited to a student like Sierra, than what I called a reading list.

I got over my jealousy, contacted Elissa and chatted with her about how she moved her summer reading list beyond listiness.

She shared her goal:

I wanted students and parents to realize just how great these books are.  It is my one of my primary jobs as a librarian to make reading fun and exciting for my students.  My hope was that this interactive summer reading would help to make that happen.

The early history of the list, formerly a Word Doc, is familiar.

Every year the public and school librarians from South Orange and Maplewood, NJ sit down to come up with a list of suggested books for our students to read during the summer. In the middle grades they get to choose two books from the list and have to do an assignment.
Every year we go back to the list and revise it and add and delete items from it. We then print it out and give it to our students and post a PDF version on line.
This year, after examining a number of other lists, Elissa decided to rethink the PDF.
I wanted to have book trailers built into it.  I wanted to have links to the suggested authors websites. I wanted to have author interviews and video footage from some of the historical events talked about in some of the books.
But I also needed it to be able be made into a PDF that could be downloaded by people. 
Elissa chose iBooks Authors as her platform. It offers a variety of templates, design features, and widgets in a drag and drop composition environment.  She chose Bookry as her hosting platform. Created to work with iBooks Author, Bookry presents an array of additional interactive widgets, analytics and the ability to download iBook publications as PDFs.

I’ll bet there are hundreds of new ways to build it, to connect it, to make it live.  I picture posters with QR codes on bulletin boards all over our communities leading parents and kids to our recommended reads.

So, are you proud of your list?   Do you have new summer strategies?  Does your list speak to readers like Sierra?

Please lead us to more new models of effective practice.  And please share how you are reinventing the summer reading list in Comments!

From South Orange Middle School’s Choices Summer Reading

From South Orange Middle School’s Choices Summer Reading

Choices Summer Reading on Bookry


Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. We have a great team of ninth grade teachers that want students reading (and it’s not just the English teachers). Current ninth grade students provide feedback and help us select a list of books. The students then go to the middle school and booktalk the books and everyone walks away really excited. 8th graders choose a book, we give them a copy to keep or they can swap it for another on the list at the public library over the summer. In our first year last year we had several that read all of the books on the list!

  2. Elissa Malespina says

    Thank you so much Joyce for putting my list out there for the world to see. I am so honored and humbled by this!

    Rachel I love love love you idea of having your high schoolers talk to the younger students. I am now thinking about ways that I can do that with our students! Thanks for the idea!

    I am also “borrowing” Joyces QR code idea! I put it on a Smore that has all the info on it.

    Thanks you again Joyce and I can’t wait to hear what other cool ways librarians are promoting reading.

  3. Oh Joyce, why are you so right?

    I just finished my print summer e-book list. I was going to post it on our site as a PDF for our students with iPads, but wow, how much interactive could it be!!

    I was going to start on my teacher summer reading list–so maybe both of them will get a tremendous face lift!

    Inspired! Thank you, thank you!

  4. Lindsay Cesari says

    Great inspiration! Totally overhauled my PDF reading list as a result. I’ve been using Bookry for other purposes, and although I love it, I decided I wanted something that didn’t require the kids to download anything. So I’m using Weebly instead, as it automatically coverts your site to a mobile version, which is how most of my kids will probably access the info.

    The kids will still get a paper list included with their report card, but I’m just going to put a big QR code on it along with a note about participating in social media conversations about these titles. It’s still a work in progress (does anyone else struggle with books to include on summer reading list? I feel extra pressure to walk that fine line between high-interest, quality lit and age appropriateness/non-controversial). I have to have it done by 5/25, so pressure is on! 🙂

    • Kathy L. says


      I love your weebly! I see that it’s free to set one up. Is there a cost to set up a multi-page site, like yours? If yes, what is the cost?

      Thanks so much for the inspiration!

      Kathy L./Gananda MS LMS

  5. Deb Danen says

    I absolutely love this. Does anyone know of a platform that would allow you to create something like this for computer? Some of our students have access to ithings, but the rest of them would only be able to view the PDF format. It seems a shame to create something so awesome and have only a few students get the full use of it.

  6. Joyce Valenza Joyce Valenza says

    I can see we need to collect a few ideas for best new, interactive and attractive practice in presenting documents like reading lists and annual reports. Please share and I will gather and post.

  7. Elissa Malespina says

    Lindsay your website is amazing! I love it! I am seeing so many great ways to promote reading! Very impressive! If anyone has any questions about what I did please feel free to email me

  8. Randie Groden says

    I work in a K-1 school and decided to make a Pinterest Summer Reading board. It’s accessible on all devices, it’s visual for the young students with links to author’s websites, a few book trailers, and to other relevant websites. It was just posted it this week and I’ve been getting great feedback from parents and now I have a bunch following me.

    • Joyce Valenza Joyce Valenza says

      It’s so beautiful, Randie! How about we do a separate post about it? May I share it at my ISTE presentation?

      • Randie Groden says

        Sorry if this is a 2nd reply – not sure if my 1st reply worked through my work email. I would be so honored for you to share my pinterest board – I am a huge admirer!


  9. I am trying something different this year in my 4-6 school. I do create a “suggested” summer reading list but I am having students leave school with at least two books from my library to kick off summer reading. I am a big believer is reading choice and that reading is it’s own reward. It was great to see kids race around the library looking at and discussing books they wanted to read this summer. I could not have planned the conversations better if I had tried! I overheard students discussing books they had read and then listened as they tried to convince another student to read the book. Each class made a list of times when they could call a “Reading Emergency” The lists were different for each and class and then could be modified by each student. The lists included such “emergencies” as; when my sister is annoying me to reading in a tree house on a beautiful day. We had a lot of fun creating them. I am crossing my fingers that leaving with a book helps to jump start the reading process and also make it easier on the parents. Perhaps families will want to read together.

  10. Joyce Valenza Joyce Valenza says

    I love the idea of student involvement too! I am going to suggest that to our team and I am also going to get my interns started on a major redesign on Monday. I’ll keep you posted.

  11. Amy Hodges says

    This post, like so many others, has really woken us up, too! We’ve been blogging all year with our 8th grade students. We are going to have our 8th grade students be part of the selection process and create a blog with the summer reading list- encouraging multimedia features, selecting cool widgets, and allowing all students to contribute to the blog. We want to give some of our passionate readers and tech students administrative privileges to the blog account so that they can play a leadership role. Most importantly, we don’t want our list to become irrelevant when school starts again- we want to continue to promote the blog and make it a place for our students to write book reviews and look for their next read. Our Tech Specialist and are other 8th grade teachers are still brainstorming- but I think we’re ready to jump in and see where we go! We are all very excited. Thank you all for the ideas.

  12. Kelly Racca says

    Thanks for sharing this idea! I look forward to tweaking it to work in my elementary school library! Any other elementary school librarians out there have tips for making this work for younger readers? Thanks!


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  2. […] I did a Summer Reading LibGuide (sadly now no longer available) – Joyce rightly raves about this Summer Reading List.  […]

  3. […] school librarian and NeverEnding Search blogger Joyce Valenza recently discovered a teacher librarian who is just as determined to help make summer reading a hit […]

  4. […] 2013, NeverEnding Search blogger Joyce Valenza discovered Elissa Malespina, a teacher librarian who was as determined to help make summer reading […]

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