Summer Reading and Connected Learning

Summer Reading and Connected LearningOne of the joys of connecting children with books is fostering their innate curiosity. Employing a transmedia approach—using books and technology together—provides a wonderful way to sharpen children’s critical-thinking and information-literacy skills while offering them a rich variety of opportunities for inspiration and learning.

At the Chicago Public Library, we chose a STEAM theme for our 2013 summer reading program. We followed the initiative to add an A for art to STEM to recognize the importance of artistic creation for inspiration, cocreation, and problem solving. Through a partnership with Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, we broadened our scope to include books, websites, and hands-on activities. Our redesigned “Summer Learning Challenge” marked the beginning of a shift in how we serve children during the out-of-school time—an approach that engages children in reading, online discovery, and hands-on learning.

Nurturing children’s interests across media is the role of the twenty-first-century educator.

In the “Summer Learning Challenge,” children are asked to reflect on their learning, share their ideas with peers, and create answers to specific design challenges based on children’s books. The act of cocreating leads learners to explore the critical notion that there is no “one right answer” but, instead, that resolving problems requires a multifaceted approach. These concepts are central to critical twenty-first-century learning skills, as laid out by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (visit for more information), which emphasize the need to develop the three Cs: collaboration, creativity, and communication.

Connecting multiple texts to provide a framework for self-paced reading and learning is at the heart of the Common Core State Standards. Through Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ambitious Chicago “City of Learning” program, the Chicago Public Library offers electronic badging for children around the tracks that they complete in our learning challenges. “Read,” “Learn,” and “Create” badges are awarded for meeting specific Common Core–aligned goals. (We also promote “Achieve” and “Volunteer” badges for related goals.)

Nurturing children’s interests across media is the role of the twenty-first-century educator. A natural extension of what librarians have always done, this new approach to connected learning, aligned to Common Core State Standards, encourages children to actively use a variety of books and online resources to learn, reflect, and engage in a deeper and meaningful way. Following are suggestions, based on our 2013 “Summer Learning Challenge,” for linking the screen and the page with standout, STEAM-themed resources.

Green, by Laura Vaccaro SeegerArt


The Artist’s Toolkit

Students can explore the tools that artists use and then create their own compositions with this excellent resource from the ArtsConnectEd site, a joint project of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center.

Silk: Interactive Generative Art

This innovative site, created by Yuri Vishnevsky, allows budding artists to select colors and weave patterns set to music and sound.


Green. By Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Illus. by the author. 2012. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $16.99 (9781596433977). PreS–Gr. 1.

In this beguiling Caldecott Honor Book, green is a color that stretches the mind. With each turn of the page, something becomes something else when viewed through the beautifully designed paper cuts: a night sky becomes a violet; a red barn becomes apples on a tree.

Living Color. By Steve Jenkins. Illus. by the author. 2007. Houghton, $17 (9780618708970). Gr. 2–4.

A pageant of the most stunning, vividly hued creatures on the planet, rendered in Jenkins’ celebrated cut-paper style, populates this accessible presentation of basic zoological concepts.

Meet Me at the Art Museum: A Whimsical Look behind the Scenes. By David Goldin. Illus. by the author. 2012. Abrams, $18.95 (9781419701870). Gr. 1–3.

An animated ticket, Stub, and his name-tag-shaped docent, Daisy, offer an enjoyable introduction to art museums in this engaging picture book, illustrated with colorful collage artwork. Along the way, they explain both public and private areas, along with associated terms, such as directors, conservators, exhibitions, and galleries.



Build a Coaster

Build your own roller coaster, adding loops, dips, and squiggles, with this interactive game created by the Discovery Channel’s Discovery Kids website.


Bridges! Amazing Structures to Design, Build & Test. By Carol A. Johmann and Elizabeth J. Rieth. 1999. illus. Williamson, $10.95 (9781885593306). Gr. 4–6.

From the Kaleidoscope Kids series, this informative, large-format title takes an action-oriented approach to bridges. Children will learn about the structural design, construction, mechanics, and maintenance of bridges, and they will also read entertaining bits of bridge history, from the triumphant to the disastrous.

How Much Is a MillionMath and Money


The Mint: Fun for Kids

Created by Northwestern Mutual’s the Mint website, this collection of online games and resources encourages kids to develop financial literacy.

Real Life Math

Encourage students to explore make-believe cities as they refine their math skills with this site created by the STEM Collaborative, a project of Maryland Public Television, the Arkansas Educational Television Network, Alabama Public Television, and Kentucky Educational Television.


Bunny Money. By Rosemary Wells. Illus. by the author. 1997. Puffin, paper, $6.99 (9780140567502). PreS–Gr. 1.

Max and his sister, Ruby, are shopping for Grandma’s birthday present. Ruby has saved up money and thinks she’s in charge, but the money slowly gets used up as Max gets hungry and thirsty, but in the end, there’s enough for them both to buy a perfect gift.

How Much Is a Million? By David M. Schwartz. Illus. by Steven Kellogg. 1985. HarperCollins, $16.99 (9780688040499). PreS–G. 1.

In a jubilant, original picture book, Schwartz and Kellogg demonstrate the concepts of million, billion, and trillion in the first, second, third, and fourth dimensions. Kellogg’s illustrations show his usual motley crew of good-natured children undertaking fantastic feats.

Measuring Penny. By Loreen Leedy. 1998. Holt, $17.99 (9780805053609). Gr. 2–4.

In this creative introduction to measurement, Leedy takes a look at various kinds of measurement (height, weight, volume, and even time and temperature) and units of measure as a young girl, Lisa, uses her dog to help her complete her measuring assignment for class. Detailed pictures filled with easy-to-grasp visual comparisons extend the text.

Money Madness. By David A. Adler. Illus. by Edward Miller. 2009. Holiday, $16.95 (9780823414741). PreS–Gr. 3.

This brightly illustrated picture book introduces the concept of money, first by looking at its development as an alternative to bartering and then by explaining the many forms of money, from primitive rocks, feathers, and metal lumps; to the familiar coins and paper bills; to alternatives, such as checks, credit cards, and digital forms of payment.

The Book of Potentially Catastrophic ScienceScience Experiments


Kidspot’s 5 DIY Science Experiments for Kids

Experimenting with psychedelic swirls and creating fizzing balloons are just some of the fun families can have in these classic kitchen-science-project recipes with matching videos, featured on the Kidspot website. A section of tips and helpful hints for conscientious parents is included.


The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists. By Sean Connolly. 2010. 256p. illus. Workman, $13.95 (9780761156871). Gr. 5–8.

From the author of The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science (2008), this volume approaches science historically, spotlighting certain periods, processes, individuals, discoveries, and inventions. Each of the 34 chapters includes a discussion and one or two related activities, such as making a Stone Age tool, creating an earthquake in Jell-O, building a parachute for an egg drop, and extracting a banana’s DNA.

Snowflake BentleySnow


“The Snowflake Man”

This short documentary about Snowflake Bentley, created by Chuck Smith and featured on YouTube, introduces the man who devoted his life to capturing the hexagonal beauty of the snowflake through the science of photography.


Snowflake Bentley. By Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Illus. by Mary Azarian. 1998. Houghton, $17 (9780395861622). K–Gr. 3.

Bentley found fame as a nature photographer, and even today, his photo book of snowflakes is considered a primary source. Martin has chosen her subject well, and the crisp, engaging text is beautifully matched with strong, sure woodcuts, which earned Azarian a Caldecott Medal. Snowflake-touched sidebars offer more specific details about camera techniques and Bentley’s experiments with snow.

Awesome DawsonTechnology


Invention at Play

This site, created by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, presents games and learning activities that promote tinkering and imaginative play. Among the activities, students can design a cloud in “Cloud Dreamer” or work on problem-solving skills with “Puzzle Blocks.”


Awesome Dawson. By Chris Gall. Illus. by the author. 2013. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316213301). K–Gr. 2.

Dawson collects all manner of junk and pieces together tools and toys from discarded objects. Mayhem ensues when he creates a giant, chore-doing robot called the Vacu-Maniac. The panel-style compositions and word-balloon dialogue give this lively story a graphic-novel feel, while glossary terms are woven creatively throughout. A lively look at recycling, repurposing, and inventing.

Clang! Clang! Beep! Beep!Traffic


“Traffic Jam” Game

Kids try to clear their way through a traffic jam with this activity from the online game site


Clang! Clang! Beep! Beep! Listen to the City. By Robert Burleigh. Illus. by Beppe Giacobbe. 2009. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, $14.99 (9781416940524). PreS–Gr. 1.

From the early morning clang of garbage cans and the rumble of rush-hour traffic to the cheerful din of afternoon crowds going to and fro, the sounds and sensory details of urban life come through in this title’s rhythmic text. Giacobbe’s stylized illustrations present dynamic city scenes with plenty of whimsical detail and cleverly placed onomatopoeic words.




About the Author:

Elizabeth McChesney, Director of Children’s Services for the Chicago Public Library system, is responsible for staff and system-wide services to youth for the 80-branch library system. She has recently received national attention for her redesign of summer reading to include twenty-first-century skills.

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