Reading is its own Reward...or Is It?

There has been a rockin' and rollin', no-holds-barred discussion on the ALSC (American Library Association -Association for Library Service to Children) listserv over the past couple of weeks.  The subject:  the worth -or lack thereof - of incentive prizes given out in public library summer reading programs around the country. Quite a few firebombs were lobbed and depending on where you came down on the issue, each day brought glee or outrage. There were many peacemakers as well who appreciated the discussion and gently made observations and contributions. 

People made suggestions that included making sure books were part of the incentives if possible; having kids work together towards a reward or creating larger social rewards like adding shapes with the child's name to a wall display.  There was grumping about the lack of research proving that incentives worked to encourage kids to read and anecdotal evidence from frontline librarians who said that each child responds to reading and rewards differently and that incentives have worked.

What do I think?  I say give the kids what they want and need to be enthusiastic about reading!  Encouragement - you bet.  Doo-dads - I'm your gal!  A free book reward -absolutely!  A place for kids to have their name displayed - but of course, my dears.  Working together to pool number of minutes and books to reach a goal that includes adopting an wild critter or donating to a pet shelter - I am all over it.  Asking kids to give a little more of themselves by bringing in items for our food pantry -yah baby!  Nothing - including not wanting to join a summer reading program because they already love reading and because there are kids who will read anything (including the dog's collar) anytime all the time - okie dokie!

One size does not fit with all kids.  We have used all these little strategies combined over the years.  As we say, the point of what we do is to be the cheerleaders for kids to continue their intellectual engagement over the summer months when schools are not in session.  Of course we do it year round in any number of ways. But it is summer when we ramp up the power and do the backflips and amazing presdigitation. Trying to pound all kids into one peggy little hole is silly when kids are as individual in their wants, needs, feelings, level of reading comfort and need for reward as snowflakes in a storm.

So, my friends, I say do what works best for you in your situation - experiment, play and work with the kids who come in. Don't be bothered by the "You better do this", or "You better do that", or worst of all the "I know better than you".  As long as you see the kids responding and reading, whatever path you are on will always be right!


  1. Go, Marge! You've said everything that needed saying.

  2. You are always so practical and encouraging! I'm actually cutting down on prizes this year, sort of. After last year, I swore I'd never do drawing prizes for the under 12 group again...it's not the kids it's the parents! I'm getting used to changing things each year, hopefully always for the better!