A Season of Exploration: The Mayor’s Summer Reading Club Launches Its 11th Year

By: GEEARS for Saporta Report

On Thursday, June 1st, a host of bookish fans gathered on the lawn in front of the Woodruff Arts Center to celebrate. The crowd included at least 100 children with their parents, caregivers, and camp counselors, MSRC partners from the Alliance Theatre, children’s author Mark Valdez, illustrator Nicole Kang Ahn, and other VIPS. Framed by a bird-bedecked balloon arch, Valdez read his MSRC book, The Curious Cardinal, in both Spanish and English to the transfixed kids. Later in the program, City of Atlanta Commissioner of Constituent Services, Greg Clay, enlisted the help of two little page turners as he read the MSRC’s board book for babies, the classic Little Blue Truck Leads the Way. 

One of the happy kids who attended, Ava Morrison, said of The Curious Cardinal, “I liked it. I liked when he made new friends.”

Ava noted that she looked forward to reading her gifted copy of the book with her mom over the summer, “Because she gets to help me with the words I don’t know.” She noted that “hatchling,” a big word in The Curious Cardinal, was a new one for her. 

Such vocabulary acquisition is a building block towards literacy and that is exactly the point of The Mayor’s Summer Reading Club. The initiative has always been about more than just its delightful books (although filling Atlanta children’s shelves with books created for them—featuring their home city, relatable characters, and activities they recognize like riding on MARTA—is a critical feature). 

The MSRC helps better equip parents and caregivers to provide their children with literacy-rich experiences, ones that build their kids’ vocabularies and foment a love of reading and learning. That’s why we partner with community organizations who run fun, creative programs oriented around the MSRC books throughout the summer. And that’s why every commissioned MSRC book includes a science-backed READ Guide created by the early literacy experts at the Atlanta Speech School

There is important data to support the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club’s priorities.  

According to Georgia’s most recent Grade 3 ELA Milestones End-of-Grade Assessment in 2021-2022, only 36% of third graders were reading proficiently. 

This matters because, according to a recent GEEARS paper for a House Study Committee on Literacy Instruction, end-of-third-grade outcomes predict academic and career success. Third grade is a pivotal point in a child’s life when they go from learning to read to reading to learn and children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to not graduate from high school on time than proficient readers.

And what puts young children on the path to reading proficiency? Exposure to books and literacy-rich experiences during the critical and irreplaceable zero-to-five years, when brain growth is at its most rapid and depends upon stimulation such as “serve-and-return” conversation with a parent and exposure to books and storytelling. 

All of these educational and neuroscientific statistics informed GEEARS’ strategy when they first conceived of the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club. It also inspired PNC Bank—whose Grow Up Great funding initiative is built on the understanding that education is a powerful means for economic and social mobility—to fund the MSRC books.

This summer’s 85 MSRC partners also use that research-based approach when planning their programs, and that went for the Alliance’s event last week, as well. 

(As part of their MSRC programming, the Alliance will also run an allied theatrical production of the sweet story about a baby bird who spends his first year exploring Atlanta’s Fernbank Forest, encountering the four seasons and many animal pals along the way.) But were the kids who attended aware of all this educational oomph? Not a bit. All they knew was that children’s author Mark Valdez’s reading of his MSRC-commissioned picture book was a hoot. They loved the sweet story about a baby cardinal who spends his first year exploring Atlanta’s Fernbank Forest, encountering the four seasons and many animal pals along the way. 

Every child at Thursday’s launch went home with a copy of either The Curious Cardinal or Little Blue Truck, which was written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. But GEEARS Executive Director Mindy Binderman reminded attendees that the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club is so much more than a book giveaway. 

“The Mayor’s Summer Reading Club also brings meaningful, creative, fun programming to children in every part of our city,” she said. She thanked the Mayor’s office for their support as well as MSRC key collaborators: the Alliance Theatre and its artists, the Atlanta Speech School, and PNC. Binderman also acknowledged other partners in the MSRC’s success: parents, caregivers, and educators of young children. 

“The summer reading club has inspired you, who came here today to celebrate reading with your babies and young children,” she said. “Together, we truly are an entire community rallying around our youngest children, lifting them up with joyful stories and a meaningful step towards literacy.”

We look forward to seeing all the creative programming our MSRC partners will produce throughout the summer and all over the city! If you want to find a program near you, click here. We’ll update our information about programming throughout the summer.  

To support GEEARS’ work, including the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club, click here.