Don’t Let Summer Reading Kill You!

The end of the school year is right around the corner!

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For parents that’s no more carpools, no more packed lunches, no more homework battles! Right?

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Before you get ready sink into that hammock on the beach… what about summer reading?

Fun and relaxation are important. All work and no play really does make Jack a dull boy. But nobody wants to encourage the “summer slump”. Studies indicate that children lose two months of math and reading achievement when their learning stalls over the summer. Elementary school librarian and children’s lit expert Louise Simone says “Of course, keeping students engaged and using some part of their brains over the summer is a good thing. Reading does that.”

Some kids look forward to plenty of free time reading in the summer. But for others summer reading is like a death curse… hence John Scieszka and Lane Smith’s very funny middle grade novel-

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How can you minimize summer reading bloodshed? Consider these ideas-

1. Keep it real. Several years ago New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof proposed a summer reading list that’s a perfect template for how to make your own life miserable and squelch every last ounce of summer reading enthusiasm in your skeptical reader. Sprinkled among Kristof’s ridiculously predictable Harry Potter-ish recommendations were some good old classics like Little Lord Fauntelroy. Really?? Really???  Was he kidding? No. Then he proposed Lad, A Dog, written by Albert Payson Terhune almost one hundred years ago.

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Kristof praised the book, saying “this is a book so full of SAT words it could put Stanley Kaplan out of business.”

Indeed! Here’s a paragraph from the first page of Lad-

“The Master had fished the month-old puppy out of the cavern of his pocket and set her down, asprawl and shivering and squealing, on the veranda floor. Lad had walked cautiously across the veranda, sniffed inquiry at the blinking pigmy who gallantly essayed to growl defiance up at the huge welcomer—and from that first moment he had taken her under his protection.”

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I’m a big dog book lover (not to mention an admirer of high SAT scores). I’m TOTALLY in favor of smart books for kids! But forcing this book on your children guarantees growls of defiance.

Books you remembered from your own childhood? Or your great grandparent’s childhood? Skip them this summer. During the sizzling summer months kids are much more likely to read… and love… modern middle-grade novels, written with today’s pacing and relevant vocabulary. Check out Bobby Pyron’s A Dog’s Way Home

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or any of the other fantastic modern middle-grade novels we’ve compiled in reading lists here at From The Mixed-Up Files.

2. Participate!  Some schools have mandatory summer reading lists. Nearly every local library has a summer reading program. Whether you and your child are selecting summer reading books on your own or participating in an established (or required) program fun summer reading should involve parents as much as kids.

Consider reading along with your child. Discuss the book at meal time. Read aloud together, alternating pages. How about a neighborhood summer reading book club? For most people, and that includes kids, going it alone isn’t a lot of fun. Turning summer reading into family reading will pay dividends in ways you’ve never imagined. Read more about parents’ role in creating a rich summer reading experience in this thoughtful article written for the National Summer Learning Association by Harvard professor James Kim.

3. Take advantage of resources–  There’s so much available on the internet these days. Scholastic has wonderful summer reading resources. And check out WETA/PBS’s Reading Rocket’s summer reading tips and activities. Even ordinary moms have posted tried and true summer reading strategies on the net.  When in doubt go with experts like teachers at your own school, the educators at Scholastic, or your neighborhood librarians, and most of all your own good sense. Tune out the dictates of  random newspaper guys who thinks kids want to read Little Lord Fauntelroy for fun… unless your child is that one in a thousand who really gets into Victorian didacticism.

Which is the point of summer reading, actually. Perfect summer reading is tailored to the child. Explore new genres. Delve into great series. Stretch skills but sometimes fall back on old favorites. Let your child pick some books on his or her own. Select others based on your child’s own taste and ability. Summer reading shouldn’t be an unpleasant job for your child–or for you. Have fun reading books! Those lazy hazy days of summer will be a lot less crazy when you and your children settle down together with a stack of great books.

What will your middle-graders read this summer?

Nobody ever had to force Tami Lewis Brown to read in the summer… but she never had to read Lad, A Dog!

7 responses to “Don’t Let Summer Reading Kill You!

  1. Hi, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this post.
    It was helpful. Keep on posting!

  2. I once heard Tobias Wolff speak, and he said how formative a reading experience “Lad” was for him as a boy. Even he had to laugh, though!

  3. Cindy Sherwood

    Peggy Gifford’s “Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little” is a hilarious take on summer required reading. I love the whole series… (Moxy also does not like writing thank you notes or practicing the piano.)

  4. 🙂
    Funny and sad indeed. Thanks for the link 🙂

    There has to be a fun way to put a spin on required reading…I guess some things are straight up difficult and bound to be “mind numbing/ not entertaining”…but I think books that are fun and also help one learn are great (i.e. greek mythology…you have Rick Riordan’s books or the lower grade Goddess Girls, etc).

    This topic always reminds me of the “Charlie Joe Jackson ‘ books 🙂

  5. Tami Lewis Brown

    I LOVED reading in the summer, too, Jill. But required books can be a different matter. I procrastinated then crammed to finish novels I never would have picked on my own.
    There’s a funny/sad thread about summer reading misery on the College Confidential message board- one poor kid had ten days left to read five books and write three papers. Yikes! http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/high-school-life/233013-summer-reading-procrastination.html

  6. Okay, so there are a million typos/errors/embarrassing run-on sentences in my comment. Oops. Its been a really long night/morning and apparently it shows! (Must remember to be awake and functional before typing words).

  7. I never even considered the fact that it would be a struggle to get some kids to read during the summer – I can see the truth in that now though!
    I think the important thing is to have FUN, summery type books that fit the occasion. Like books on
    – summer camps
    – summer vacations
    – adventure style books in jungles, etc (i.e. “Here where the sunbeams are green”)
    – desert island type books
    – books that are short and sweet and fun (“Justin Case”, “Big Nate”, “Timmy Failure”)
    – books on sports
    – going away for the summer (like going to visit grandma or grandpa, etc)

    I also think getting them involved in a library group is fantastic. Reading lists, fun, sociable, etc.

    I think if I think about to my younger summer days books like “Sweet Valley” or summer-camp type books were fun.
    Even now, when the sun is out, I find I’m rather more drawn to “sunny” type books (versus a halloween or monster-themed book).

    Okay, ridiculously long comment. I’m..procrastinating 🙂