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The best summer reading programs for NYC kids

Summer reading programs are as essential to the season as beach trips and waterpark visits, so head to the library ASAP

Written by
Zoe Butenhoff
&
Danielle Valente
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School might not be in session, but kids are definitely hitting the books. Thanks to awesome summer reading programs, youngsters will be able to enjoy a literary bonanza all season long.

Venture to great kids' library branches or your family's favorite bookstores in NYC and let the fun begin! These programs are not only designed to be engaging, but beneficial when the "summer slump" threatens to creep in. 

Even better? There are some pretty sweet incentives for finishing great children's books, so don't be surprised if your kiddos decide to channel Rory Gilmore. Take a gander at our favorite summer reading programs and see which ones are best for your brood!

Best summer reading programs for NYC kids

New York Public Library's Summer Reading Program
Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

1. New York Public Library's Summer Reading Program

Your lil’ reader will have no shortage of book fun this summer at the New York Public Library! With space-themed events going on all-season long, they'll have many opportunities to blast off into other worlds of literary wonder! Youngsters can play the Read for the Star Game by setting a goal to read for a certain number of minutes each day—and once they've completed the challenge, they can visit their neighborhood library to complete bonus activities and earn prizes. Additionally, the Library will reward online completed activities with gifts such as swag bags, stickers and pencils. If the kiddos are eager to chat with a scientist, visit one of the Library’s many events, dubbed “Stories with a Scientist”, to learn more about the profession! Learn more at nypl.org.  

Brooklyn Public Library Summer Reading Program
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2. Brooklyn Public Library Summer Reading Program

Launch your tiny tot into “A Universe of Stories” this summer with Brooklyn Public Library’s Summer Reading Program (which kicked off on June 1). Take a little field trip to one of the library’s locations for fun, space-themed activities like story time, live music and scavenger hunts. Now to the fun (and free) stuff! After completing the Summer Reading Challenge, your kiddos can talk to a librarian about how to receive a voucher for two complimentary tickets to an upcoming event at Barclays Center or NYCB LIVE. Additionally, those who complete their challenges will have the chance to enter a raffle ticket drawing for a free iPad. Sounds like a win-win to us! Learn more at bklynlibrary.org.  

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Queens Library's Summer Reading Challenge
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3. Queens Library's Summer Reading Challenge

This summer, head over to the Queens Public Library to indulge all of your reading fantasies, as well as your astronaut dreams! The Library will be holding events like the Battle of the Books for teens who are keen on putting their reading skills to the test. And if a battle doesn’t peak your interest, there will be a total of 17 other events (which are space-themed), such as the NASA Challenge and the Alien Invasion in a Box Challenge. May the best astronaut-bibliophile win! Learn more at connect.queenslibrary.org

Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program
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4. Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program

Barnes & Noble offers a simple yet rewarding reading program for pint-sized bibliophiles this summer! Kiddos can read eight books and record them in their Summer Reading Journal—all they need to do is jot down their favorite part of the story and explain why they love it. Then, they'll bring their completed journal to a Barnes & Noble store from Aug 1–Aug 31 to choose a free reading adventure. Time to get going on the challenge! Learn more at barnesandnoble.com.   

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Audiobooksync.com's Summer Reading Challenge
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5. Audiobooksync.com's Summer Reading Challenge

Sponsored by AudioFile Magazine, this summer reading program—rather listening program—is catered to teens. With a 21st century spin on reading, the program's mission is to send participants two audiobook downloads per week. By signing up for the newsletter, teens will receive info on Thursdays at 7am Eastern Time about how to download the weekly selections. Happy listening! Learn more at audiobooksync.com

Scholastic's Summer Reading Program
Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock/Skolova

6. Scholastic's Summer Reading Program

The kid's publisher is known for bringing magic to literature, especially this summer. During the Read-a-Palooza challenge—which runs from May 6–Sept 6—kids will log in to record the books they've read and unlock online prizes as they journey further and further through their TBR list. Learn more at scholastic.com.   

More fun things to do

The goofball science podcast Wow in the World is jam-packed with comedy and information. Hosted by Mindy, a klutz with a time machine, and Guy, her uptight foil, ‘Wow in the World’ takes on serious scientific inquiries and makes learning fun – even for parents. After all, the podcast is from NPR, a standard-bearer in excellence. The expanding cast of silly characters, led by Reggie, the carrier pigeon, keeps the episodes fresh, and it won't take more than a few listens for your kiddo to dream of being a Wowzer too.

Perfect for the budding feminists in your life, ‘Girl Tales’ is a long-running podcast that reimagines fairytales – popular, obscure, and made-up for the show – through an empowering lens. Don't expect any helpless damsels in distress in this likeable series, which is all written by female, non-binary and trans authors.

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Perfect for curious kids who aren't afraid to turn off their nightlight, ‘Unspookable’ offers a family-friendly take on popular urban legends, scary stories and myths (think clowns, vampires and other topics that'll give 'em the heebiejeebies). Whether your littles are camp-bound or in the Halloween spirit 24/7/365, this is the perfect podcast for budding horror fans.

A debate show for kids and families from the makers of Brains On!, ‘Smash Boom Best’ takes two ideas, smashes them together and lets you decide which one is best. It teaches critical thinking, as well as how to take oppositional viewpoints. It also is a lot of fun. Past topics include Aliens vs Robots, Pizza vs Tacos and Invisibilty vs Flying.

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Indoctrinate your tykes with this lo-fi weekly playlist of ‘indie music for indie kids’. Not only will children enjoy starting the day listening to music made for kids, but parents will be delighted to discover that age-appropriate tracks from some of their favourite bands routinely make the cut. Why not off start the day (dancing) on the right foot? (NB; it certainly helps if you have a healthy appreciation of They Might Be Giants, who invariably feature heavily).

If you have a budding scientist on your hands, then ‘Tumble’ is an absolute must. Experts in various fields stop by to discuss their work and ask questions guaranteed to inspire curious minds. With a stated mission to explain the process of science rather than simply working through a series of well-worn, long-proven theories, the ‘Tumble’ podcast aims to make your kids fall in love with science.

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‘Five Minutes with Dad’ is not unlike the conversations that might happen in your family. Listeners will enjoy how this father and his two kids tackle everyday issues, from staying positive in school to losing a tooth to showing appreciation for your relatives. Host Nick Pavlidis (the dad) and his school-age co-hosts Pavlos and Angela are as charming as they are relatable. Despite the moniker, the episodes are more like 20 minutes long.

Here is how ‘Story Pirates’ works: kids supply the ideas and the characters, and then they’re polished – but not too much – into performable form. While the stories are excellent and silly, the performances are the real fun. The tales tend to be read by comics, but some of the celebrity guests are truly memorable, including megastars like Julie Andrews and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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Do your kiddies have a burning question about the world that you personally don’t have a clue how to answer? Perfect! Send 'em in to ‘Brains On!’, a show that each week finds a different expert to address the wildly esoteric sense of curiosity that kids possess. Anything from the existence of the multiverse to whether dogs know that they are dogs has been covered! There are no boundaries here.

Take a sci-fi trip with Finn Caspian, his friends and their pet robots as their hurl through space aboard the Famous Marlowe 280 Interplanetary Exploratory Space Station. Kids will delight in the crew’s misadventures as they explore strange planets, meet aliens and gather feedback from listeners on where their intergalactic journey should take them next.

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