Want to make sure your kids will spend time reading this summer? Kick off the summer with a homemade neighborhood book festival! This is a great way to get your children involved in their book choices and to encourage talking about books with friends.

Finding the right books for your kids to read can be challenging. What topics will grab their attention? What books are at their appropriate reading level? How can you convince your children to read?

Like it or not, children are very much influenced by their peers. While you may not be able to convince your child to read a particular book, the kid with the cool scooter down the street just might be able to. A neighborhood book festival encourages friends to share and borrow favorite books. (Imagine the skill-building opportunities—summarizing plots, describing characters, asking questions!) And with a little help from mom and dad, kids can take pride in planning, organizing, and putting together this neighborhood event.

Perhaps most importantly, a book festival supports independence because children are positioned to choose their own reading material. Gabrielle Miller, vice president of education and literacy programs at Reading Is Fundamental, says, “Research validates that when children choose a book themselves they are more likely to read it. Children who select their own book tend to be more engaged and invested in reading the book, and often motivated to learn more about the topic.” Miller goes on to say that “children should have a variety of books about different topics and at different reading levels from which to select.”

A neighborhood book festival provides just that—a large selection of books about topics of interest. This event also offers parents and children experience working together and planning for a common goal. Joseph Buckhalt, professor of counseling psychology at Auburn University, says summer is a great opportunity for families to spend time together. “And with very little effort,” he says, “summer activities can also be the basis for shared learning that strengthens academic skills.”

Homemade book festivals accomplish two important goals: building family and community bonds and fostering in children a love for reading and a passion for learning about subjects that interest them.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Talk to parents in your neighborhood to generate enthusiasm.
  2. Write down names and phone numbers of interested parents and children.
  3. Have your child call the neighborhood children to schedule an initial planning meeting (just for kids) at your house.
  4. Host the planning meeting and help children divide up responsibilities. Decide who will make flyers, who will bake cookies, etc.
  5. Set a date for the festival and enlist the support of other interested parents.

If possible, offer to host the festival in your backyard. Or, call the local recreation department and find out about hosting the festival at a neighborhood park. The idea is to get the children involved in planning this exciting event. Books, food, drinks, sunshine—who could ask for anything more?

Books at Appropriate Reading Levels

Concerned about your children self-selecting books at inappropriate reading levels? Reading Is Fundamental provides the following pointers:

  • Have children choose their own books as soon as possible—even if the preference relates to the look of the characters or the texture of the book.
  • Find the children’s section of your local library. Get to know the librarian, who can be a great resource.
  • Find out what your child is interested in, and help choose books that are related to his or her interests.
  • Ask friends, family, and teachers what books their children have enjoyed; try a book swap.
  • Try out different kinds of books to see what appeals to your children.

Visit Reading Is Fundamental to find more tips for choosing books for your children.