Califonia Bountiful

Summer reading keeps kids sharp

May/June 2011 California Country magazine

Book recommendations for learning and growing.

From the June swoon to the August slump, it's difficult to keep young minds engaged in learning during summer months. That's especially true in California, where sunshine and outdoor adventure beckon. One way to increase kids' summer fun and learning is through books that build knowledge of the environment and food production.

"Keeping minds growing over the summer through books—either fiction or non-fiction—will lead to better academic performance when children return to school in the fall," said Colusa County third-grade teacher Sherrie Taylor Vann. "Reading doesn't have to be work. Make it fun! Books about science and nature are favorites for my students in and around third grade, but truly, any book is a good book."

Taylor Vann, who teaches at Williams Elementary School, is California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom's 2011 Literacy for Life Award winner.

The foundation's experts have some nifty suggestions for combating what teachers call "summer slide," the slipping away of things learned during the previous school year before the next one starts. Putting books in the hands of children helps keep them engaged and excited about learning.

Taylor Vann suggests choosing a few books to read aloud as a family to sharpen listening and vocabulary skills. Also, read outside under a tree or combine books with lemonade, watermelon or another treat to make reading time an occasion.

Summer is also the perfect time to encourage a new hobby, explore an untapped talent or simply try something new. The foundation's experts say that one of the most rewarding activities for young minds and bodies is to connect with the great outdoors.

Plant a garden or raise an animal. There are books for that, too. California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom provides free resources for students and educators that support these hands-on activities and encourage a connection to the food, fiber and flowers produced so abundantly in California. Visit the foundation's website at

Here are some book suggestions to get started:

Seed, Soil, Sun—key ingredients for growing food—are the focus of author Cris Peterson's new book, which has been named 2011 Book of the Year by the American Farm Bureau Federation. Richly photographed by David R. Lundquist. The Farm Bureau award cites the book for its beauty, but also for its agricultural accuracy. $17.95. Available at or from local booksellers.

Also from Boyds Mills Press is Grandpa's Tractor, written and illustrated by multitalented fine artist Michael Garland. Perfect for early grade boys, the story is about going back to the family farm and the role equipment plays in producing food. $16.95. Available at or from local booksellers.

Most kids know the tune to "Pop Goes the Weasel," but few can match the tune to the words for Laura Purdie Salas' There Goes the Water: A Song About the Water Cycle. With increased emphasis on science testing in schools, Capstone Publishing has combined familiar tunes with accurate text and whimsical illustrations to provide kid-friendly learning. $25.95, with online access to the audio file. Available at or from local booksellers.

Celebrated children's author Anna Egan Smucker tells the "Cinderella" apple story of developing the Golden Delicious apple. The Stark brothers, Paul and Lloyd, began tasting apples, looking for the most delicious, in 1905. By 1919, the apple they developed was recognized as the world's best new apple variety. Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story is handsomely illustrated. $16.95. Available at or from local booksellers.

Poet and gardener Susan Grigsby brings the work of eminent plant scientists George Washington Carver to life for young readers as he teaches a community how to grow good food from the Alabama soil. Lushly illustrated by Nicole Tadgell, In the Garden with Dr. Carver counsels young readers: "Listen to the plants, and they'll tell you what they need." $16.99. Order online at or from local booksellers.

Kids who love animals will appreciate Crabtree Publishing Company's Down on the Farm series. Each book in the series introduces a different farm animal, using large and entertaining photos that help draw children into the easy-to-read facts. Each title also features a fun activity page and ideas for parents and teachers. $6.95 each. Available at or from local booksellers.

The Good, The Bad, The Slimy presents the secret life of microbes to older readers. Science writer Sara L. Latta explains how these tiny organisms impact our lives every day. They live in our bodies, help make food, survive in extreme environments, even change history. $23.95, with glossary and index. Available from Enslow Publishers at or from local booksellers.

Native Texan Dotti Enderle tells the tale of drought, suffering and trespassing on the family's farm by free-range cattlemen who don't respect boundaries. Crosswire follows 13-year-old Jessie as he tries to protect his family and their property and has to stand up to his greatest fear—the barrel of a gun. $17.95. Available at or from local booksellers.

(Kelly Benarth is the communications coordinator for California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. She can be reached at

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