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A deluge of books in an underwater sea

SAMOSET — As he stood on a pile of sand under a giant beach umbrella outside his Samoset Elementary classroom, 6-year-old William Salisbury stared at a sea of blue before him.

“You have to put this on to breathe because the room is filled with ocean water,” he said as he reached into a nearby bucket and grabbed a bead necklace, meant to represent a breathing apparatus.

In an effort to encourage reading, teachers at the school have created an “underwater” classroom, complete with a submarine, a crab trap and a coral reef. It’s all part of the water-themed Florida Department of Education’s summer reading list.

From the Everglades to the Arctic and the bay to the sea, a flood of wet subject topics top the 2010 recommended reading list for grades K-12.

Students can travel “Deep in the Swamp,” explore “Treasure Island,” or hear “Whispers from the Bay,” It all depends on what book they pick up.

“The whole idea is to give them total immersion, to encourage reading,” said Samoset Assistant Principal Pat Stream, who sent the reading list home with students before school let out for the summer.

Research shows that children who continue to read during the summer months are more likely to retain progress made throughout the school year, said Lynette Edwards, the Manatee County School District’s assistant superintendent of curriculum.

“Voluntary, informal reading in the summer promotes literacy and helps to not only maintain skills but also increases skills and ensures greater performance when students return to school,” Edwards said.

Just last week Elizabeth Otero-Angel, 6, sat in front of a treasure chest in the Samoset classroom. She smiled as she reached inside the chest, grabbed a book, opened it and began to slowly read aloud.

Across the room, Carlos Portillo, 5, sat reading beside the S.S. Samoset, a large yellow submarine the teachers built for the room.

Carlos, who enters kindergarten this fall, loves to pretend in the underwater classroom, where he and his classmates read aloud with a teacher and practice vocabulary.

“We learn in here,” Carlos said as he picked up a book.

In addition to picking this year’s water theme, the state Department of Education also has teamed up with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to encourage students to head outdoors to read.

A few other outdoor-related books on the list include Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ “The Yearling.” A visit to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park offers a glimpse into the setting that inspired the book. Florida’s 160 state parks, which cover more than 700,000 acres of Florida’s natural environment, also make a perfect backdrop for reading, state educators say.

Other examples of Florida state parks and nature-based selections include:

n “Pancakes for Breakfast,” Tommie DePaola. Visit De Leon Springs State Park in De Leon Springs, where you can make your own pancakes at the table.

n “The Birchbark House,” Louise Erdrich. Visit Collier-Seminole State Park in Naples, on the edge of the Everglades and rich with Native American history.

n “Forever Forest,” Kristin Joy-Pratt Serafini. Visit Homossassa Springs Wildlife State Park to learn about protection and conservation of Florida wildlife.

n Southern Comforts: Rooted in a Florida Place,” Sudye Cauthen. Visit Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Florida’s first state preserve and a National Natural Landmark.

To view all of DOE’s summer reading suggestions, visit www.justreadfamilies.org/SummerReadingList.pdf.

For more information on Florida state parks, go to www.FloridaStateParks.org.

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