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Text sets for summer reading

A few weeks ago, literacy coaches and librarians in my district gathered to plan for summer reading. We are well aware of the research that cites summer reading as critical for maintaining reading muscle and avoiding the slide that can harm our most vulnerable readers. Book-loving adults in our district care deeply about setting kids up for successful summer reading opportunities, so we are always looking for new ways to engage them.

This summer our public libraries are supporting a focus on reading in science. To complement that effort, our team decided to assemble text sets on science topics that would appeal to kids and connect to content highlighted in the Common Core.

To launch our collaboration, some of us created sample text sets designed to model different ways to put books together. Fun! For my text set, I chose to focus on bird-watching. Despite my family’s long-held superstition about birds, I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what I could find.

Summer seems like the perfect time to explore the birds in our neighborhoods. Then, thinking about connecting that easily accessible, real-life experience to well-written and beautifully illustrated texts convinced me that bird-watching was the set for me (and hopefully for some of our kids!). I aimed my set at 4th-7th grade readers, but I believe the inclusion or exclusion of certain texts could nudge it higher or lower.

The set includes a range of genres, from biography to journals to humorous field guides. I also kept an eye out for a range of text complexity levels. No reader should be dissuaded from exploring a topic because the text is too much of a stretch. Kids may linger in one or two of these books or zoom through the set. In either case, here are some I am excited about.

birdbooks_550x172 As an avid follower of children’s book awards, I was excited to start my text set with this Sibert Honor awardee. Look-Up: Bird-Watching in Your Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate is a delightful guide to bird-watching for anyone.  With incredible details on color, shape, feathers and beaks, Cate makes her readers want to rush out the door with a sketchbook.

Next I included two journals.

One, The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal by Sallie Wolf is an artful compilation of bird-watcher’s notes, poetry and drawings. The second, Looking for Seabirds: Journal from an Alaskan Voyage by Sophie Webb, takes a scientist’s point of view.  Webb charts her observations and drawings from a lengthy research voyage.

Then, I added a biography that I have enjoyed reading aloud over the years, The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies. This text does a wonderful job of humanizing Audubon, the original bird-watcher. A French adolescent who came to America alone, Audubon discovered a kinship with les oiseaux. The illustrations, from watercolor to collage, add vibrancy and beauty to the tale.

The last book is Hatch! by Roxie Munroe. Hatch! is a nonfiction text written as a mystery! The book is printed with a larger font and follows a predictable, supportive pattern. First, an enlarged illustration of a particular set of eggs appears with the text, “Can you guess whose eggs these are?” On the next page there is a paragraph of clues about the eggs. Finally, the reader turns the page and sees a beautiful 2-page spread of the “answer” — the bird in its habitat.

I thoroughly enjoyed creating this text set, considering genre, text complexity and student interest. I’m wondering if anyone else is using text sets, scientific or otherwise, to get students ready for summer reading? How are you thinking about it?

Joanna Lieberman About Joanna Lieberman

Joanna Lieberman is a district literacy coach in the Cambridge Public Schools in Cambridge, MA. She also works as a literacy consultant. Joanna has taught elementary, middle and high school during her 20-year career. She recently co-authored a book chapter entitled “Multiple Texts in Practice: Fostering Accessibility, Engagement and Comprehension.”



  1. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Some of these I know and some I don’t. I’ve recently become a big bird fan, thanks to the nest cams on Cornell’s Ornithology lab website. I know a lot of teachers who incorporate those cams into their lessons — and one class who was lucky enough to catch a great blue heron emerging from its shell during their weekly 20 minutes on the cam. I think this set would be great to pair with nest cam watching.

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