Summer Reading Quest Hits The Avenue

Christopher Peak PhotoAt Orlando’s Barber Shop on Grand Avenue, a hairdresser with a tattooed electrical plug snaking down his arm chatted with a school district employee about his love of books, then agreed to accept a bag of summer reads for the kids who stop in his shop and may otherwise fall behind this summer.

“Not everything is about games and television,” Juan Albino said. “Since I was young, I was told that books are knowledge.”

His barber shop is one of the first businesses to join in the school district’s new summer reading push this year — an effort to make books widely available throughout New Haven.

Last week, 9,540 elementary school students each received a bag packed with several books, and this week, the Reading Department began approaching barbershops and restaurants with stacks of titles, in English and Spanish, to put out for the youngsters who frequent their business.

The new initiative is an attempt to prevent the learning loss, known as the “summer slide,” that can set students back several months of reading skills while they’re on break, city school system literacy supervisor Lynn Brantley explained.

Researchers have concluded that, nationally, students from low-income families lose an average of two months of reading skills during summer vacation. That gap compounds each school year: According to a longitudinal study of Baltimore schoolchildren published by three Johns Hopkins sociologists in 2007, disadvantaged students fell three grades behind their more affluent peers by fifth grade. Some experts believe the summer slide explains half of the difference in academic success between rich and poor students.

“We have to hammer home that this does affect children,” Brantley said. “We can’t keep saying it doesn’t.”

In New Haven, according to the mayor’s Reading Commission report, public school children scored 2.2 points above the state average in English language arts. Yet certain groups fell far behind: African-American students performed 14.2 points below the average, Latino students, 11.8; “English Learners,” 17.9 points; and students with disabilities, 26.2. (The district was unable to provide data it collects on the summer slide on Monday.)

Over summer, “the difference of outcomes in kids seems to be around resources,” Brantley noted. “In a home where both parents work and have a Ph.D., then they’re going out to museums. Maybe with the nanny, but still they’re going out there and have the resources to afford summer programs that are geared to [the child’s] liking.” By contrast, she added, “In the lowest levels [of income and educational level], parents still engaged with their child, but they just didn’t have the resources to back that up and create a rich experience for the kids.”

In years past, the New Haven Free Public Library has shouldered the burden of running summer reading programs for younger students, and this year, they’re expanding their offerings to include coding and cooking classes. But Brantley stressed that a trip to the library might be out of reach. “For the kid that’s not engaged, they’re not saying, ‘Gee, I’ll stop by the library,’” she explains. “That’s why we’re putting the book in your hands. It might be the book that finally interests you.”

“It’s just so tough, especially in districts where there’s poverty,” Brantley said. “I’ll try anything at this point. It’s one other way in which we can reach out and engage kids.”

Passing out approximately 38,160 books directly to kindergartners through fifth graders is part of the district’s attempt to balance the divide in resources. The massive library was purchased from companies like Scholastic, who offered a deal on prices, and 5,000 hardcover books were donated by Read to Grow. (New Haven Reads donated chapter books to older students, who largely coordinate their own summer reading programs.) Ten New Haven Promise students and three other interns helped sort the titles, by grade level, into backpacks last week.

Then, these scholars brainstormed where kids might pick up a copy, if they saw one lying around: courthouses, health centers, laundromats, delis and ice cream stores. Next month, once summer school is underway, Brantley plans to stop by these locations, with a focus on Fair Haven, Newhallville and the Hill, and make her pitch.

Hosting books at stores all around New Haven would be a great first step in becoming a city that reads, Brantley said. And for those who want to take it step further, businesses could offer an incentive to diligent readers, like a free snack or dessert to those who read for 30 minutes or could discuss the last book they read.

“We have to talk about [reading] publicly. We talk about it internally a lot. That’s what we do in the education field,” Brantley said. “Everybody owns these kids’ results.”

At her last canvassing stop on Monday, Brantley convinced Rubiel Rodriguez, a barber at 360 Degrees Salon, to put the books out on a table by the front window, beside a pile of magazines and a Nintendo system.

“So, these are free for the kids, right?” Rodriguez asked.

“Yup, they’re in English and Spanish,” she said. “If they take them home, it’s no problem. You can always contact us if you need more books.”

Brantley laughed as she left Rodriguez with one other suggestion: Maybe tell the kids that the videogames broke today and see if they’ll pick up a book instead.

Business-owners who would like to participate in becoming a city that reads can email Lynn Brantley at to arrange a delivery of books.

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posted by: HewNaven on June 20, 2017  3:49pm

Brantley laughed as she left Rodriguez with one other suggestion: Maybe tell the kids that the videogames broke today and see if they’ll pick up a book instead.

Good idea! If you want children to read you need adults around them who already recognize the value of reading. If you have to explain that to adults it will be more difficult. I’m glad to see these business owners accepting the responsibility. It takes a village!

posted by: jepadilla on June 21, 2017  7:53am

Fabulous effort and these businesses should be applauded for helping with this important effort.  I am a workforce development consultant who has worked with different types of adult and youth populations across the country to help connect them to work.  Almost all share one characteristic: low levels of functional literacy – even when they have a high school diploma.  I have concluded – with no scientific basis to support my opinion – that one of the reasons adults and youth have such literacy problems today can be traced back to when they stopped reading comic books and traded those for video games!  When I have expressed this thought, I often get an immediate chuckle.  Then people start to think about it and a certain logic begins to reveal itself.  Think about it for a minute, when we read comic books, we gained certain skills: we read fairly quickly (because we wanted to trade Captain America for the latest Spiderman, etc.) and you could read the entire comic book in less than one hour.  We read with retention and comprehension because there was a story line you were following and had to remember from the previous issue.  And your vocabulary grew because you always found words that were new to you.  The advent of video games obliterated this.  We need to encourage our kids to read –whether its books, comic books or anything else.  They’ll be better off in the long run.  Like I said, there is no scientific basis that I know of for this conclusion I’ve come to, but it makes some sense to me.

posted by: Josiah Brown on June 21, 2017  5:14pm

It’s good to see this initiative happening, reflecting efforts among Lynn Brantley and the NHPS, NH Promise, NH Reads, Read to Grow and others.  Compliments to all!

How about grocery, pharmacy, and convenience stores, coffee/doughnut shops, etc. as additional venues for distributing books?

Here’s information on the New Haven Public Library’s Summer Learning Challenge:

A decade ago the Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven collaborated with a pizza delivery shop(s) to give out free books (via New Haven Reads) as a way of raising awareness and distributing resources.  Perhaps businesses would be interested, on a broader and more sustained scale, in trying something like this?

Years ago, this “Pizza by the Book” arrangement invited customers with children up to age 12 to request a free book and receive it with their in-store or delivery orders. 

Appropriately, a city of pizza is also aiming to be more of a city that reads.

posted by: cupojoe on June 21, 2017  8:32pm

It’s too bad that Brantley isn’t working more closely with our public library in the summer where our tax dollars are also spent buying books. A place that will be open more now when the kids slide into summer - thanks to Mayor Harp’s commitment to creating a city of readers. 

Still books beat worksheets! If we all worried more about the value of a story we’d be better off. I daresay that no child cares 2 snaps to be tested to read “Bob has a red ball.” Just like adults they want to know who is Bob, why does he have a red ball, what will he do now that he has a red ball. They care about the story. Teach story and the reading will come!

Stories at the dinner table, stories in the car, stories from grandma, stories in the park. Give kids this and they will find your words and learn your sentences and pass your stupid tests. 

Where is America in the literary business these days? Grab the list of nations and start moving down the list. Keep moving down the list…keep going…

Brantley: “Maybe tell the kids that the videogames broke today and see if they’ll pick up a book instead.”  Ha. Maybe make reading fun again? 

Thank God for Mo Willems and Jeff Kinney and Patricia Polacco and Sharon Draper, Dr. Seuss, Sandra Boynton, Ted Arnold etc, etc!

posted by: MLBrogan on June 24, 2017  9:59am

Far from a burden to shoulder, it gives the New Haven Free Public Library great joy and a sense of fulfillment to offer a rich array of summer learning opportunities!  Continuing a proud tradition among public libraries for more than a century, this summer, NHFPL joins together with public libraries across the country to celebrate the theme, “Build a Better World/Construye un Mundo Mejor!”  Learn more about NHFPL’s summer reading offerings for kids ages 12 and under as well as teens:  Programs extend across all 5 NHFPL locations as well as our Readmobile, which will visit 20 sites and make popular appearances at community events, such as LEAP’s Annual Read-in on the New Haven Green on July 14th.  And yes, with outstanding support from the Mayor, Board of Alders, and New Haven taxpayers, all NHFPL locations are open throughout the summer months during our regular hours,

Thanks to the NewAlliance Foundation, with support from an anonymous foundation, and friends like you, NHFPL is offering its nationally recognized, “READy for the Grade” program to prevent summer reading loss.  With group and individual tutoring as well as family nights, this program is hosted at Wilson Branch Library.  To register, please call Wilson Branch Library 203-946-2228 right away.  The program launches this week!  Read more about this signature program in the Urban Libraries Council, “Libraries at the Center of Summer Learning and Fun,”

Once kids have enjoyed the books in their backpacks and the totes are depleted, continue your passion for learning by stopping in at one of our friendly locations to get your NHFPL library card or pre-register online and start enjoying our e-books immediately by clicking here,

Together, we will “Build a Better World!”

Martha Brogan, City Librarian