Many Boston parents have come to fear the phenomenon known commonly as the "Summer Slide," which shows children who don't have free or cheap access to books tend to fall behind in literacy scores during the summer months, while their more-privileged peers continue to read new books and attend expensive literacy camps. Now entering its 18th year is the Boston public initiative against this problem, called simply ReadBoston.
Anticipating the ReadBoston Storymobile on a hot summer afternoon feels like waiting for Santa, if Santa published his schedule online for parents to read, and came bearing only gifts in book form for children who have been referred to the program. Parents try in vain to distract their children, who are each abuzz with anxiety. Will the Storymobile have a new free book, one they haven't received before?
Even with all the forethought and planning, there is something magicabout the mint green van that travels around Greater Boston each summer. It's certainly a spectacle as it rolls around the corner, standing out against the black pavement and red brick making up most of Boston's neighborhoods. Reading specialists pile out of the doors like clowns, setting up shop in areas like Hyde Park, Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury, and they hand out copies of books approved by Mayor Menino himself.
The initiative began in 1995 to combat disturbingly low literacy levels in Boston Public Schools, and the Storymobile is a single component of the multi-faceted ReadBoston. Earlier projects funded and designed by Boston-local publishing companies like Pearson had similar, successful results. Less popular is the CD available online, for parents who want to drive their kids to school listening to celebrities like New England Patriot Tom Brady and Mayor Menino himself read storybooks on tape. These tapes are no longer available via Firstgiving.
Most impressive are ReadBoston's recent forays into workshops and free summer education, including the Storytelling Workshop held occasionally where the Storymobile makes its stop. One of the literacy volunteers begins a group activity with the kids in attendance, prompting them into writing a story based on the theme of that day's Storymobile. The instructor helps the kids find ideas for rising action, and just as the project gets to its climax, the kids split off with their notebooks and pen their own creative endings. If a child attending a Storytelling Workshop session wants to have her project copied, the folks in the Storymobile can produce several copies of a chapbook-style takeaway for her.
For long-term programs in Boston literacy next summer, check out Summer Ink and Grub Street's YAWP program (free and highly recommended). These service mainly older children, but programs are available in Boston for younger students as well. If your family is unable to commit to a long program but still wants to enhance literacy skills and enjoy reading together, check out Boston Public Library's Summer Reading program, which can pair children up with older volunteers who mentor and read to them daily. Greater Boston shops, like Porter Square books, offer family-oriented kids' corners for casual reading and shopping as well.