The idea came to Anthony Allison two years ago while he was on the way to school with his mom, Emily: he wanted to start his own summer reading program.
Anthony, then just 6 years old and a kindergartner at Lula Elementary School, had participated in a public library reading program for a few years already, but he wanted to put his own personal touch on a method to share reading with his friends, family and community.
“I wanted to start it because I saw how many people liked our library summer reading program,” Anthony said. “I started thinking I should do my own, because why not!”
So Anthony and Emily created a sheet to log reading hours and printed off 30 copies. Emily made a post about the program on Facebook, inviting anyone to join, and the pair waited for responses.
In the beginning, Anthony thought 30 printed copies was an overestimate for how many people would want to join.
“He looked at me and said ‘Mommy, there’s no way that we’re going to get 30 people,’” Emily said. “I was just like ‘I don’t know. You might be surprised.’”
In that first summer, 74 different people — ranging in ages from 1 to 95 — joined in reading with Anthony. The program topped 120 in its second year last summer, and this year the Allisons are expecting even more participation.
“We’ve just kind of taken it and run,” Emily said.
The program differs from many other summer reading projects in that it is entirely reader choice driven. Participants who are 7 or younger are tasked with a goal of reading 50 books over the summer, while those who are older than 7 must read for 50 hours. But no matter your age, the choice of book is up to you.
Shane Rayburn, who joined the program last summer and who has a doctorate from the University of Georgia in children’s literature and language arts, said that Anthony’s less restrictive methodology is crucial to keeping kids involved.
“Letting kids read what they want, and encouraging them to read a variety of things, is really different than the required reading list that you and I received when we were in school,” he said. “They’re going to get a lot of opportunity to make decisions about what they read, which in turn motivates them to read.”
At the end of the summer, the Allisons provide gifts for those who completed the program. Those are often emblazoned with the logo for the theme of the year. This year’s theme is “I read past my bedtime.”
All those who complete their requisite 50 books or 50 hours will receive a cup, a keychain, a button, a bookmark and a reading flashlight. There will also be various other prizes given out during the summer, including books for kids and adults.
Prizes are supplied by community sponsors, which include Eubank Family Dentistry, Mountain Voices Community Chorus and Groovy Graphics Screen Printing
This year’s program will also include a genre bingo card participants can fill out as they read different kinds of books, and Anthony will be making appearances on Facebook Live where he will read to those who wish to join.
Ashley Conway, whose two daughters will both be participating this summer, said Anthony’s program is the most engaging of its kind she has seen. She said Anthony’s presence as the leader behind the project is what has made it so successful.
“Other reading programs, you don’t really see necessarily the face behind who started it, and if you do, it’s usually not a kid,” she said. “I think, especially for the younger audience that they’re drawing, his being behind this program is really important. I think it sparks that love of reading. It’s like ‘Hey, he’s a kid. He can read. I can too,’ to kids all over.”
Megan Baum, Emily Allison’s sister, said reading has always run in the family.
Both Baum and Emily Allison have backgrounds in teaching, so Anthony’s burgeoning love for reading is a point of pride for the sisters.
“Any time I’m around someone and they see my keychain, I love telling them how that’s my nephew’s summer reading program,” Baum said. “He came up with it on his own. It’s just such a good idea. I love that he loves reading as much as we do.”
Emily said she’s expecting this year’s program to get into the high 100s in terms of participation, and she and Anthony are excited to see how far it has come. She said that as long as Anthony wants to keep it going, she will do what she can to support him.
“It’s just been a wild adventure,” she said. “It’s been fun watching him take the lead and read to people and connect to our community.”
For more information on Anthony’s summer reading program or to join in, you can visit his website.