As the school year nears, a pair of literacy efforts are continuing their endeavors to help young readers stay on track during summer break. The Bartow County Library System and The Bookmobile: Reading to Go Places! are both currently busy promoting the importance of books with their summer reading programs.

“The purpose of the summer reading program is to keep children reading during the school break so they don’t lose skills they developed in school,” said Valerie Gilreath, executive director of The Bookmobile. “Summer reading regression is so common, it has been coined the ‘summer slide.’ Reading throughout the summer and continuing to practice those skills is the only way to prevent summer slide.”

Gilreath shared studies have reported third- through fifth-graders “lose about 20% of their school year gains in reading” over the summer months.

“This loss is compounded in low-income households where children may not have access to the same types of enrichment activities as children from higher-income households,” she said. “These include travel, museum visits, summer camps. Plus, summer slide is cumulative, so those lost months add up over time.

“Combined over the years, by the time a student reaches middle school, he can lose the equivalent of two years of learning to summer slide. Research shows that reading just six books over the summer will prevent the loss of reading skills and keep kids on track to start school ready to learn new skills.”

Bartow County Library System

Currently, about 1,000 children and teens are engaged in the library’s Youth Summer Reading Program. The offering will be presented through July 30.

“The reading program is a bigger version of what we do all year and that is a way to make time for books and make time for the library,” said Thomas Shalin, Bartow County Library System’s youth services coordinator. “But in summer, we can always do a lot of extra things, like we run the reading program where they can get prizes, where they can get free books. The more free books we can give out, the better.”

With children being on summer break, Shalin underscored the need to “keep using those reading muscles” to build upon what they learned during the school year.

“If you made some progress, you want to stay on task,” he said. “Especially as you get older and especially if you are a struggling reader around third grade, it’s getting very tough because you’re not just learning to read.

“The things you read, you have to use in your assignments. So it’s sort of like — learn to read, read to learn. We just want to keep kids getting excited about books, [and] families just to come together and have somewhere to make time for stories and to bond together and take books home.”

Among those taking part in the Youth Summer Reading Program are Kayla Powell’s two children: Will, 10, and Jessi Marie, 5. While Will enjoys reading Harry Potter books and the “I Survived” series, his sister gravitates toward literary works about unicorns, mermaids, princesses and dancing.

“We live in Georgia and the summers can be brutally hot, so having a local library where my child can stay cool while enjoying different activities and events is a parent-win,” Powell said. “I think we enjoy the variety of events and activities the summer reading program offers. There are so many books to choose from and different things my children can participate in.”

The Emerson resident credits her great-aunt, Judy Kelley, for her passion for reading — which she now has passed down to her children. During childhood, she and “Aunt Judy” embarked on various adventures to places, such as the local rodeo, museums and “most importantly” — the library.

“As a retired teacher, my ‘Aunt Judy’ valued education,” Powell said. “She took me to many library events, including the summer reading program yearly. This is why I have a love for books today. Now as a mother, I ensure my children can not only have a proper education, but can learn about their own interests, whatever that may be, by surrounding them with books.

“The library programs allow my children to be surrounded by books and different people. For example, going to a story-time event means exposing my children to different cultures, backgrounds and ideas through meeting new people.”

For Will — a rising fifth-grader at Emerson Elementary School — reading and the library’s summer offering has many benefits.

“I can read when it is too hot or rainy outside,” he said, adding he is able to “see other people and friends by going to the programs at the library.”

On July 11, Powell’s children visited the Cartersville Public Library to search for new book titles that sparked their interest. Some of the books in their pile included “J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World: Movie Magic,” “Really, Really Big Questions,” “I Survived: Hurricane Katrina, 2005,” “Puppies, Puppies Everywhere,” “The Kindness Quilt” and “History of Unicorns.”

“I am currently a teacher at West Windsor Academy at Governors Towne Club in Acworth, Georgia,” Powell said. “As a teacher, I have seen the difference in kids who read with their loved ones — increased cognitive development and understanding as well as the strength of their personal relationships. I see how young children love story time and reading.

“It is important however to continue encouraging these traits as children grow older. I myself love to read and participate in library programs, such as a monthly Book Chat and the Adult Summer Reading Program. I not only participate for myself but try to set an example to my own children and students. Reading is vitally important.”

Those interested in their children participating in the Youth Summer Reading Program can obtain forms and information online at by clicking the “What We Offer” tab. These materials also are available at the system’s libraries in Adairsville, Cartersville and Euharlee.

In the program, youth chart the number of minutes they read and — based on that amount — they could be eligible for complimentary books and prizes.

At the Cartersville Public Library, patrons will see various creations related to the Youth Summer Reading Program and its theme “All Together Now.” The walls of the Children’s Department are decorated with construction paper self-portraits and a Kindness Garden, containing colorful cutout flowers listing achievements or selfless acts.

Throughout the Youth Summer Reading Program, there also are various story times and special programming scheduled for youngsters at the system’s libraries.

“It’s fun to put all of these things together — all the programs that we do at the library, especially in the summer where it’s always busy,” Shalin said. “We’re always running very fast, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. So we love that.”

The Bookmobile

Like Shalin, The Bookmobile’s staff is delighted to bolster childhood literacy in June and July.

“Once again I am very pleased that The Bookmobile can offer opportunities to the kids of Bartow County to continue reading over the summer,” said Gilreath’s wife, Kim Dennis, who serves as the nonprofit’s program director. “Thanks to a partnership with Bartow County Schools, in May we were able to provide summer reading bundles for all county students who will enter kindergarten and first grade this fall. In addition to these 5,700 books, The Bookmobile has also provided over 1,700 books at our stops this summer.”

Describing the response to the summer program as “excellent,” Gilreath shared The Bookmobile coordinated many of its offerings with the school systems’ summer nutrition sites.

“The Bookmobile regularly visited Douglas Street United Methodist Church, Faith Methodist Church, the Eddie Lee Wilkins summer camp at Summer Hill and the Allatoona Resource Center as part of the summer program,” she said. “There are also other one-time locations sprinkled throughout, including summer camps, pre-K programs, community festivals and back-to-school events.

“At our weekly stops, visitors can check out books in addition to receiving their free book. We offer story time at some locations.”

Primarily geared toward youth up to age 12, The Bookmobile’s summer reading program also has materials available for teens.

“We try to target locations that are accessible for low-income families — though our services are available to all families regardless of income,” Gilreath said. “For many children, the books we provide in the summer months will be the only ones they have access to.

“’Dog Man’ remains our most requested book. We had a number of them at the beginning of the summer, but they are gone now. Any book from that series flies off the shelf immediately. We typically offer eight to 10 titles in every age range as the free book selection, which is a lot of different titles. We want every child to find something that truly interests him.”

The nonprofit also has journals, such as “Today I Will Be…,” available for children and teens.

“What I enjoy the most is providing a variety of books in the hope that every kid finds a book that really interests them,” Dennis said. “This includes various fiction genres, a multitude of nonfiction, including cooking, drawing, historical fiction, STEM, LGTBQ+ and many others. We have also increased the number of journals and graphic novels available, as more children have requested them.

“My favorite moments are usually interactions with kids who say, ‘I don’t read, I don’t want a book.’ I simply ask them what they like or are interested in or if they like to draw, write or cook. Nine times out of 10, I’m then able to provide a book to them based on exactly what they enjoy. I love these interactions because I want all kids to experience the joy and knowledge that comes from reading.”

In July 2017, The Bookmobile was established to increase literacy by boosting access to reading materials.

“Initially the program was focused in south Bartow, but it quickly evolved to include all areas of Bartow County,” Dennis said. “Our goals include that every child in Bartow is kindergarten ready when they begin school and that all children read proficiently by the end of the third grade.

“Our outreach has grown each year and we have expanded our responsibilities to include The Bookmobile, over 40 Little Free Libraries and the administering of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Bartow County. In 2022, The Bookmobile and DPIL provided over 50,000 brand new books to the children of Bartow County for their home libraries.”

Along with being warmly received at the summer reading program’s sites, Gilreath was thrilled to receive words of thanks from Rachel Gardner via The Bookmobile’s Facebook page.

“It warms my heart when a parent shares that a book their child received from The Bookmobile sparked a love of reading,” Gilreath said. “It means everything. It’s the payoff for the hard work I and so many others have put into making the organization what it is today.

“With regard to Rachel Gardner’s message specifically, I mean, it’s what you want to hear every day. It’s the best feedback I can imagine.”

Through her post about her son, Quentin, Gardner shared, “I just want to say I brought my 4-year-old son to The Bookmobile and he got some car books. He’s not into reading much but he found a book called ‘Elbow Grease’ by John Cena. And he had me read to him over and over and over and over again!!!! He loves it! And we’ve even checked out the rest of the books in that series from the library!!! Thank you Bookmobile for helping my son find his love in books!”

Further details about The Bookmobile and its summer reading program can be obtained by visiting, emailing or following the organization on social media: Facebook @bookmobile and Instagram @readingtogoplaces.