E-books help keep students’ minds sharp over the summer

By Rob Klindt

It’s an annual ritual: Summer break arrives and students toss aside books and put learning on hold in favor of family activities, sports and outdoor fun. For some students, lessons just learned in school are quickly forgotten.

It’s called the “summer slide,” and it’s a term most K-12 educators know well.

A study by the National Summer Learning Association suggests that some students can forget up to three months of learning during the summer break. When that happens, teachers must spend the first weeks of the new school year helping these students “catch up” on material they’ve previously learned.

One of the best ways to combat the “summer slide” is to have students participate in a summer reading program. The California Library Association (CLA) says children who participate in summer reading programs reap many benefits, including:

  • Enhanced reading and vocabulary skills.
  • Higher reading test scores.
  • Lower stress levels.
  • Better comprehension.

The CLA says that reading just five books over the summer break can eliminate summer learning loss in K-12 students. One of the best ways to engage students in summer reading programs is to combine it with technology such as digital reading tablets.

Reading ebooks can help students preserve the knowledge they earned during the school year

A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project report revealed that 29 percent of Americans own a digital reading device such as an Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle or Google Chromebook. Moreover, during the previous 12 months, 28 percent of tablet owners read an e-book and 14 percent listened to an audiobook.

Digital download options

There are many ways to find free and low-cost reading material that can be downloaded onto a tablet. The first stop for most students should be their local public library. Most libraries offer dedicated summer reading programs tailored to students in all grade levels.

To borrow digital materials from most public libraries, students must download an app called OverDrive onto their tablet. They also must have a library card.

OverDrive offers a searchable database to more than 18,000 libraries nationwide. More than a million titles are available for download as e-books or audiobooks The app is free; e-book borrowing terms are set by each library.

Popular options for downloading free digital content

  • Project Gutenberg.This site has 42,000 e-books in open formats that can be read on most computers, e-book readers and smartphones.
    Visit the site
  • Free Kindle Books. Lovers of classic literature will find thousands of e-books for Kindle and Nook readers.  Apps are available for users with other devices including iPad, Chromebook and various smartphones. Books are offered under the same terms used by Project Gutenberg.
    Visit the site
  • Bookyards. Billing itself as “The Library to the World,” this site provides access to more than 800,000 free titles. If a work by a specific author isn’t available on its site, Bookyards offers links to sites that have it.
    Visit the site

In addition to the free-download sites, numerous online retailers offer digital downloads for a fee. These commercial sites are usually the place to go to find new titles and top-sellers. Among the most popular commercial sites are Amazon Kindle Store, Apple’s iTunes Store, Barnes & Noble Nook Store and Google eBooks.

Summer reading suggestions

According to the California Library Association, a good summer reading list includes a mix of new and classic titles. Popular genres among students are adventure, fantasy, history and science. These titles are worthy of consideration:

Elementary school

Picture books with interactive features are good for beginning and younger readers.

  • “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson. This novel for readers in grades 3-7 focuses on friendship and loss. A boy and girl build their friendship by creating an enchanted land called Terabithia. When tragedy separates the pair, the love and strength of family come into play. This book supports Common Core State Standards.
  • “Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1” by Jeff Kinney. Kids in grades 2-7 will enjoy the words and drawings in the diary of middle school student Greg Heffley, who shares his thoughts about popularity, friendship and the uncertainty of growing up too quickly.
  • “Three Bears in a Boat” by David Soman. This engaging picture book for K-2 readers follows the adventures of three bears sailing the high seas. The story offers subtle nods to the classic adventure tales of “Moby Dick” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Middle school

Adventure stories, science fiction and contemporary fiction titles are popular with readers 12 and older.

  • “Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart” by Candace Fleming. This story traces the life of the famous female aviator from her childhood to her final flight, and examines the extensive search for her and her missing plane.
  • “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. In a future totalitarian state, an official bans books only to learn later that books are a vital part of culture that he never knew. Soon he clandestinely pursues reading until he is betrayed.
  • “Godless” by Pete Hautman. When 16-year-old Jason Bock and his friends create their own religion to worship their town’s water tower, what started out as a joke begins to take on a power of its own.

High school

More sophisticated titles focusing on classic literature, philosophy and history engage high school students.

  • “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking. Using simple language, the renowned theoretical physicist explores age-old questions about how the universe began, the possibility of black holes in space, time travel and antimatter.
  • “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. Two teenagers in a dystopian future must represent their home district in a deadly competition that eliminates players one-by-one.
  • “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen. This classic coming-of-age novel tells the story of a young woman dealing with societal pressures of manners, upbringing, morality, education and marriage in 19th-century England.
  • “Friday Night Lights” by H.G. Bissinger. This 1990 novel takes a look at a year in the life of the Permian Panthers high school football team through the eyes of the residents of a small football-obsessed Texas town.

A word about audiobooks

For students who have special needs or learning styles, many e-books are available with audio tracks. Students can listen or read along while the text of the book is read aloud on their tablet. The Gutenberg Project offers one of the largest free collections of audiobooks. The collection, which emphasizes classic literature, is searchable by author, category and language. While many of the audio tracks are computer generated, a growing number of them are recorded by human volunteers. Popular downloads include:

  • “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen
  • “Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson”
  • “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
  • “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens