Summer Reading Ramped Up with Scratch-off Contests, a 24-hour Readathon

Here are smart ideas for starting your summer reading program off with a bang—and keeping interest strong.
Waltham (MA) High School students chose a summer reading title during a 24-hour readathon.

Waltham (MA) High School students chose a
summer reading title during a 24-hour readathon.

Like taxes, the question of what to do with summer reading programs—how to make them fun and fresh?—comes around each spring. Here are four ideas to boost yours this year.

Scratch-off fun

You want to start off with a bang—and keep the interest high. Often, though, summer reading incentives, like prizes awarded for pages read, come at the end of the summer—too long for some to wait.

One innovative solution: Scratch tickets, which provide instant gratification. Here’s how they work: When teens comes to the library, they receive a ticket relating to items they’re checking out. They scratch off a ticket, and if they win, they get a prize—immediately. If they lose, they can fill out their information on the same ticket to be entered into a grand prize raffle. There’s no waiting or sign up. Allowing teens one ticket per day, and their choice of tickets and prizes, encourages them to keep visiting the library.

Jess Bacon, teen librarian at the Marlborough (MA) Public Library, originated the scratch program and offers an excellent, step-by-step guide, along with a downloadable ticket template, on the “5 Minute Librarian” blog. David Senatore, teen services librarian at the Dayton (OH) Metro Library, adds the following tips for getting started:

  • Decide on the categories you want to include, from novels and nonfiction to comics, games, and audio, and design corresponding tickets.
  • Create a prize board displaying different prizes for each category so participants can see what they could win—and what others have won as the summer goes on.
  • Prizes can be as small or large—from a lollipop to a gift card to the big grand prize. Offer more medium-level prizes in the book categories to encourage reading.
  • Feature small prize tickets every day and spread medium prizes over time, and offer large prizes once a week. Reserve the biggest prizes until the last few weeks to keep kids engaged and coming back.

Listen and get moving

Summer is a great time to promote audiobooks for reading on the go. Why not encourage your users to listen to a book while they’re out for a walk or a run, or on the step machine?

Challenge participants to match steps or minutes with a record of minutes or hours they spend listening to an audiobook. Offer them double the points or prize chances if they’re on the move as they listen.

Not an audiobook fan? Identify the audiobook faithful in your library and get their recommendations for recordings and readers. Take a look at awards such as the Audies to identify the best narrators. Check out awards lists, including the Odyssey Awards and the Amazing Audiobooks, for top titles.

Consider available formats. Digital downloads are skyrocketing in libraries, but Playaways and CDs are still in the mix. A number of vendors offer streaming services.

Podcasts are plentiful, free, and aimed at varied interests sure to appeal to high schoolers. Author Nate Dimeo regales listeners with snapshots of history in his terrific podcast The Memory Palace. Each episode is about 20 minutes, perfect for a short walk or commute. Hollywood buffs should try Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This. A recent 12-episode arc examined cult leader Charles Manson’s connections to the movie industry and is as in-depth and as gripping as any true crime book. Music lovers might try Hrishikesh Hirway’s Song Exploder or Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan’s Switched on Pop.

Introduce audio at events—for example, turn a coloring program into a listening party featuring a curated playlist, including an audiobook teaser, a short podcast episode, a poem, and an excerpt from a radio play or performance.

In the real world

Launching an experience-based summer reading program? Try to keep it varied and story-focused. For example, bingo cards or stamped passports can invite teens to explore local museums, historic landmarks, and performances. Sarah Amazing, teen librarian at the Warren-Trumbull County (OH) Public Library, has these additional tips.

  • Identify specific destinations and provide a list of things to do. Consider your neighborhood farmer’s market or a special exhibit at your local art museum. Include local landmarks to encourage readers to learn more about where they live.
  • Create related book lists. If you’re encouraging teens to attend a local performance or play, provide titles related to the music or a play’s history. How about a visit to the local cemetery? Make it a scavenger hunt to find different eras of grave markers and share Mary Roach’s book Stiff (Norton, 2003), which explores how society treats the dead.
  • Shift traditional book reviews to new formats. Encourage teens to start their own blog or create a YouTube channel and post two videos. Reward them for reading a story aloud to someone or presenting a storytime for young readers, whether in the library or during a babysitting gig.

Crowdsource with a readathon

Consider crowdsourcing your summer reading titles—and holding a readathon to settle on the right title. This idea comes from the inventive Waltham (MA) High School librarian Kendall Boninti, who reinvented summer reading at her school last year by assigning the podcast Serial. This year, Boninti, the Waltham Public Library, and community leaders hosted a 24-hour readathon, during which more than 100 students read potential choices for the One School, One Story title. The 16 contenders were selected by the summer reading committee; participants read for 45 minutes, with 15-minute breaks. Community members came in to read aloud, cheer on the students, and provide treats. By the last hour, the students had selected Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds’s All American Boys (S. & S./Atheneum, 2015).

Brenner-Robin_Contrib_WebTeen librarian Robin Brenner blogs at “No Flying No Tights.”

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