By Meredith Flory

The last two academic years have been tough for kids. Learning in new ways outside of the classroom, or with new social distancing rules inside the classroom, may have dampened curiosity or heightened the risk for the “summer slide”. One great way to instill a renewed love of learning and show how academic success can propel dreams is through public libraries.

Libraries help develop a child’s curiosity and wonder! As someone who has now taught and written professionally, I remember summer reading programs with fondness and still participate in them with my children. I found the programs were great for learning how to search the library shelves efficiently, volunteer as a teen or get lost in a book. Families can participate in summer reading programs together—our local libraries offer programs to adults so we can lead by example—and reward children for reading while allowing them to have more autonomy in their choices than they might in the classroom.

The Augusta-Richmond County Library System’s program works on the time recorded, not the number or type of books. The program is for all ages except toddlers. Older siblings can work with younger ones to practice read-aloud skills, and toddlers can enjoy picture or storybooks. Local library systems in Richmond County, Columbia County, North Augusta and Aiken use the online program Beanstack for families to record reading and participate at a safe and distanced level of comfort. Check with libraries for book and browsing availability, pick-up and in-person activities. You can find more information at the following websites:

• Greater Clarks Hill Regional Library System:

• ABBE Regional Library System:

• Augusta Richmond County Library System:

The Summer Reading Program is not the only program available to get families reading and excited about learning. The 1000 books before Kindergarten Program in Augusta specifically encourages families with infants and toddlers to read together, an activity that is a predictor of vocabulary development and an aid for pre-literacy skills.

Fabulous Fridays is a new STEM program for homeschool families. Registration is recommended to save your spot for select Fridays. For more information call one of the select locations: Headquarters branch at 706-821-2623 or Diamond Lakes at 706-772-2432. Several local libraries are offering virtual story times to keep our little ones safe and learning! Be sure to follow the library system on social media to get notifications of programs and events.

Reading builds knowledge, yes, but it can also build empathy and understanding. As your family selects books to read over the summer. Several awards and organizations are hoping to increase the disabled perspective available in the literature for all ages and improve the quality of portrayals of disability found in books. Whether your family is looking for books that reflect your experiences and allow you to relate to a character, or you are looking for new perspectives, here are some helpful resources:

The American Library Association gives out many awards each year, and the Schneider Family Book Award specifically honors an author or illustrator in children’s literature for a quality expression of the disability experience. The 2021 winners are I Talk Like a River, Show Me a Sign, and This is My Brain on Love. On the ALA website,, you can find honorable mentions, previous years’ winners and other helpful awards for building a reading list.

Disability in Kid Lit,, offers a multitude of resources regarding middle grade and young adult literature, including an “honor roll” list of books with sensitive, authentic portrayals of disability, as well as reviews, articles and interviews on disability in literature. All contributors and editors identify as disabled and bring a multitude of experiences and viewpoints.

While summer reading programs track the number of books read or time spent reading, you can add extra challenges as a family, and find an easy way to use summer free time by creating a scavenger hunt of books to read. Challenge older children and teens to read outside their perspective by finding authors or characters with a disability, of different ethnicities, different religious or cultural groups, different genders or LGBTQIA+, or who live in different regions or countries, building empathy and knowledge as a family. This could be as easy as using the ALA awards list to read a wide range of newer, more diverse books—and your librarian can help you find these titles! Or, write a list of books you loved as a child, can you and your child find a suggestion online for a newer, similar book with a different perspective? Read and grow together with summer reading programs!

Wonder by RJ Palacio, 2012. A #1 bestseller that inspired the Choose Kind movement, a major motion picture and the graphic novel White Bird.

Special People, Special Ways by Arlene Maguire, 2000. Delightful rhymes and deep watercolors take readers on a beautiful journey of understanding children with disabilities.

Leah’s Voice by Lori Demonia, 2012. Themes include teaching acceptance and including everyone.

All My Stripes by Shaina Rudolph, 2016. Gold Medal, Mom’s Choice Awards explains the world of autism through Zane the zebra and his “autism stripe.”

The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules by Jennifer Cook O’Toole, 2012. The book focuses on providing respectful and funny insights on Asperkids (aged 10-17).

Dyslexia is My Superpower (Most of the Time) by Margaret Rooke, 2017. More than 100 interviews of children and young adults with dyslexia and tips for developing confidence and self-advocacy.

All Dogs Have ADHD by Kathy Hoopman, 2008. Delightful humor and compassionate understanding reflect the joys and challenges of raising a child with ADHD.

When Charlie Met Emma (Charley and Emma Stories) by Amy Webb, 2019. Winner of a 2019 Forward INDIES Award Bronze Medal.

The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin, 2008. Readers get an idea of what it might be like to live without sight through a book with raised lines and braille letters.

We’ll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, 1998. For ages 3-7, the book discusses the birth of Emma’s younger brother who is born with Down Syndrome.

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