There is little debate about the value of reading during summer or the "off months" for year-round schools. Nor is there any question that reading, like other skills, requires continued practice and effort.

Two studies (nd there are many more) support the notion that the gains made during the summer in reading are worth the effort.A recent Ford Foundation report found that 80 percent of the difference among children in year-to-year reading skills loss occurs over the summer.

The red flag to me is "reading skills loss." Not only do we want children to maintain reading aptitude and comprehension during times with no instruction (acations and summer) but we want no reading loss.

Skills loss may mean more drills in order to catch up.

Skills loss means discouragement and loss of interest.

Skills loss means lowered self-esteem.

Skills loss may mean repeating materials or remediation.

Some older readers who have lost some reading skills may never catch up. Reading becomes too much of an effort, and no reading may result.

In another study,3,000 sixth- and seventh-graders and their parents were interviewed regarding summer activities. It was found that television took three hours a day and playing with friends five hours on the average. Reading was a significant feature, too. Eighty-two percent of the participants of the study read an average of one hour per day or approximately six books. (ighteen percent read no books at all!)

That hour of reading influenced reading achievement when the students returned to classes in the fall. Children who read fewer than six books did not change in their reading.

The increment in reading achievement reported here seems small, and yet there were gains in other areas: self-confidence and expansion of knowledge.

Approximately 58 percent of the children used a library as part of their reading activity.

Is it worth it to read an hour a day (ix or more books) and possibly notonly maintain reading skills but make gains? What could be the gains with more than two hours a day?

While these are persuasive findings, there is something more important than test scores, averages, grade equivalencies and skills loss or gains. There's reading pleasure. Reading means enjoyment of meeting storybook friends, visiting places and times unattainable in any other way. Reading affords vicarious experiences, ways to answer questions, things to laugh at and places to which a reader can escape.

A book is a place

where you can go

whenever you wish:

just open it up

and step in! . . .

When there are no more reading tests, when losing or gaining skills are only memories, reading will be the foundation of all future study, the gateway to a life of reading pleasure.

Let's begin that journey this summer!

(B) Marilou Sorensen is an associate professor of education at the University of Utah specializing in children's literature.