Karen Jensen is a collection development librarian for the Fort Worth Public Library. She primarily covers selections for young readers. (Courtesy photo)

In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Karen Jensen, collection development librarian for the Fort Worth Public Library, discusses the importance of summer reading and what the library offers. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For an unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.

A Few Minutes With Karen Jensen

Kristen Barton: Karen Jensen is a collection development librarian for the Fort Worth Public Library. She deals mostly with youth materials. How are you today, Karen?

Karen Jensen: I’m fine. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Barton: We’re excited to have you here. Today I want to chat about summer reading. We see kids get summer reading assignments over the summer. Tell me about the value in kids continuing to read when they’re out of school.

Jensen: One of the primary things we find during the summer months is that kids can have what we call summer learning loss. One of the biggest benefits to continuing to read over the summer is it does help to prevent some of that learning loss. 

Think about something like, maybe you play the piano, and you play the piano all the time and then you stop playing the piano for a few years. When you start playing the piano again, you have to relearn some of those basics and get your stride back. And that happens over the summer when kids don’t engage in learning and reading, they kind of lose a little bit of what they had been learning in the previous years. Especially because they’re learning something new all the time in these formative years. 

If you’ve been doing something for years, and you take a couple weeks break, it’s literally like you’re learning a new thing. And then you have this summer vacation, and if you don’t practice it, that can be a little bit of a setback. In the beginning months of the new school year, teachers find that they often have to reteach some of what the kids were supposed to have learned the previous year. Keeping kids engaged in reading helps prevent some of that learning loss.

Barton: Should they be reading a little bit every day?

Jensen: I’m a librarian, so the answer is yes. The basic recommendation is 15-20 minutes a day. I mean, I don’t understand why people don’t just read for hours and hours, but that’s a whole other issue.

So, a little bit of reading every day. And that reading can be in a lot of different ways. Obviously at the library, we encourage you to sit down and read a book. But you could do things like cook with your children and ask them to read the recipe. If you’re sitting down and watching a TV show, turn on the subtitles and let them read and hear at the same time. If you’re taking a trip in the car together, we have digital collections you can check out and listen to audiobooks and you can get them the physical copy of the book and let them listen while they’re in the car driving to grandma’s house.

Barton: Tell me about some of the services the library has over the summer to help encourage kids to read.

Jensen: The biggest thing that the library does over the summer is, of course we have our summer reading program, we have a wide variety of activities. You can earn badges for doing a wide variety of things. It’s pick and choose like the things that work best for you and your family. Choice is really important and even when we talk about reading. It’s important that kids are given some free choice in what they read and how they’re reading because the research has shown that if kids have free choice, they’re more likely to follow through and be happy and satisfied and continue that behavior. So we have the summer reading program, and you can read a whole wide variety of books and earn badges for that. We have programs, lots of programs, craft programs, storytime that you can bring your family to and experience that. You can earn badges for doing those things too. But at the end of the summer reading program, your kid has a variety of cool badges they can see like look, I achieved something. They can get prizes.

Barton: I’m also curious to hear some of your book recommendations for kids to read this summer. Maybe something new coming out or something that you notice kids always like to read. What are some of your recommendations for the readers?

Jensen: Well, we have such a wide variety of age groups so I’m going to just talk about a couple of different age groups. 

Of course, one of our most popular items are picture books. And a lot of times people think picture books are for kids, picture books are for everyone. I will even still sometimes sit down and read a good picture book. They’re also a great thing to read and share with one another. When you have younger kids especially. It’s just great to take a moment to touch in with them at night, tuck them into bed, read the story and just have those moments. 

A couple of the books that I have to recommend, there’s this book called “Eyes that Kiss in the Corners” by Joanna Ho. It came out last year and it was a multiple award winning book. It is one of the most beautifully illustrated books I’ve ever seen. It’s about a young girl who ‘s Asian American and she has some concerns because she thinks her eyes look different, and it just goes through and tells her the story about her family. It’s a book about self acceptance and familial love. Any kid will recognize the little doubts we have about ourselves, whatever they may be just the encouragement of somebody saying like you are you. 

Along that same line, there’s a book called “Millions of Maxes” by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about a little boy named Max, who goes to the park. He thinks he’s the only Max in the world, but then he goes to the playground, there’s tons of other Maxes, people calling their kids Max. He even sees that there’s a dog named Max and he’s like, whoa. Again, it’s that whole thing about learning to love yourself and self acceptance. And there may be tons of Maxes, but they’re all different and unique and it’s great and glorious. 

Because, you know, I’m a librarian, I want to recommend a book about books. And there’s a book that just came out called “Books Aren’t for Eating” by Carlie Sorosiak. It’s a book about a goat who owns a bookstore for his fellow goats. And what do you know about goats?

Barton: They eat everything,

Jensen: They eat everything. So his challenge is trying to teach his fellow goats that the books are not for eating, but for reading. So it’s like a pretty funny book about learning to appreciate books.

Barton: That’s cool. I love that. Are there any other recommendations you wanted to share?

Jensen: Just for older readers, a couple of books. Typically when we talk about older readers, you have your early chapter book readers, and middle grade readers, like ages 8 through 12. There’s a really fun book called “J.D. and the Great Barber Battle” by J. Dillard, and it’s about a third-grade boy who gets a haircut and the haircut doesn’t go very well. Some of his friends tease him. So then he decides to fix the problem by himself and gives himself a haircut. And then he starts operating an underground haircut ring out of his bedroom. And it’s just funny and creative. And this is the first part in the new series. 

One of the cool tips about reading is, if you can find a series that your kids likes, that’s always great, because they’ll find a character that they love, and they’ll just keep reading and keep reading because they want to keep going on this journey with this character. Whether it be something we’ve read like “Matilda” and “Ramona” from back in the day. We have a wide variety of books of currently popular characters, like the PAW Patrol people, like the things your kids are seeing on TV, “Peppa Pig.” You can take the love of that character and introduce them to books. 

Barton: Thank you for your time Karen, is there anything else you wanted to share with the listeners?

Jensen: Obviously, we hope to see you at the library.

Barton: Are all these programs free for people? Do they need a library card? Can they just show up?

Jensen: The programs are free, you can just show up, and we have like 17 branches so there should be a branch near you with a program and a program schedule. And you can go to the library’s website and see that schedule. Our catalog is also online. You could search for books that way. And we also, like I said, we have digital resources. We have something called overdrive, and you can check out digital books. If there happens to be a moment where maybe you go to grandma’s house in another state for like a month. You can still use your Fort Worth Public Library resources in your car by using our digital collections. There’s so many different ways you can use it, visit and participate with your library.

Barton: Excellent. Well, thank you again, Karen. I really appreciate it. And if any of the listeners or the readers have a topic that you would like to know more about, you can reach out to any of the reporters at the Fort Worth Report, or you can find us on any of our social media channels, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and you can reach out to us.

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...