Midwestern Mom's Musings

My view of the world through words & photos

The Rites of Summer

At our house, the rites of summer include books.  Lots of books.  Books have been my companions for as long as I can remember, mainly because of all the places they take me.  I’m rarely far away from one book or another that I’m in the midst of reading – usually one or two at a time, rarely more than three or four.

With the first full day of summer upon us, I’m looking forward to reading more books.  I’m also looking forward to participating in one of my other summer traditions –  the library’s reading program.

When I was younger, the libraries I visited didn’t have reading programs.  Not that I needed any encouragement to read books.  I consumed books like popcorn at the movies.  During elementary school I was frustrated by the school library’s rule that you could only check out two books during each class visit.  If I didn’t have any homework that night, I’d have both of those books done before bedtime.  If I did have homework, the second book would have to wait until the next day to be completed.

To satisfy my habit, I started volunteering in one of my schools’ libraries so I could be around the books more than usual.  The wonderful librarian there taught me all the basics on how to work in a library – how to shelve books according to the Dewey Decimal System, how to put those plastic covers on the books when they arrived from the publishers, how to use the card catalog (that actually had index cards in it), and how to check books in and out using the due date cards in the back of the books.

She also taught me the joy of experiencing different types of books.  When I met her, I was one of the biggest Nancy Drew fans around.   Once I’d finished the initial series, though, I was a little frustrated about where to go for my next reading “fix.”  She challenged me to try different types of books – whether they were on the reading list for our class or not.  Because of her, I discovered science fiction by authors like Alex Huxley, devoured biographies of women who took chances and challenged society’s norms, and immersed myself in Greek, Roman and Norse mythology.  I even took on a few history and science books just to see if I could finish them.  (Turned out that not only could I finish them, I actually retained much of their information later for class projects.)

When I became a mother, I started to pass on my joy of reading right away.  (No, I didn’t read to my kids in utero, but I’ll admit they couldn’t hold the first books we “read” together.)  I signed them up for their first library card as soon as I could, (well ahead of their Kindergarten class because I couldn’t wait that long).  We also dutifully signed up for the summer reading program.

Now those programs’ incentive prizes weren’t anything to really brag about early on.  Fortunately, my kids seemed to get more of a kick out of filling in the boxes when they had completed their minutes of reading than the prizes.  They were so proud when they brought their colored-in sheets to the library to show they had reached their next level.  Bless those librarians who showed just as much excitement as they formally recognized the kids’ achievements.

I know some parents who say we shouldn’t have to “bribe” kids to read books.  And they’re right, in one sense.  We shouldn’t have to bribe kids to read, they should read because they want to do it.  The reality, though, is that reading is not a joy-filled activity for all kids.  Some kids struggle with reading in the beginning and a program can be just the motivator to get them to stick with reading.  Some kids didn’t grow up with reading for pleasure in the home and need role models like other reading program participants and little prizes to help them discover this new world.  Some kids read well, but the “reading switch” just hasn’t been flipped to the point where they’ll pick up a book without an incentive.

For several years, my daughter was one of those kids who needed that extra incentive.  I’m confident she will have her program wrapped up this year well before the program ends in August since she’s already completed first level. (My son begged off signing up for a program this summer. Since he’s between high school and college this summer, he simply wants to read whatever he wants whenever he wants for a few months.)

So have some fun this summer reading with your kids.  Schedule reading time for the family each day or a couple of times a week.  (Who needs to watch all those reruns on TV anyway?)  Remember to grab a book (probably not a library book) when you head off for the park, swimming pool or other activities.  When you or the kids need some down time or the lines are long, pull out a book to pass the time in a positive manner.

And don’t forget to talk about the books you are reading with each other.  While you may have to modify your discussions based on your kids’ ages and reading habits, you will be amazed at the insightful comments your kids will share.  OK – I’ll admit that not all of the comments will be worthy of the New York Times Book Section.  But think of all the lessons you can share and topics you can bring up through the books that you might not want to bring up overtly as a parent.

“Gee, I wonder what Chris is going to do now about ___?”

“I think I might be a little scared if I had to ______.”

“It upset me when I read that people were being mean to Kelly when  ___.”

I’d love to hear how reading has impacted your life.  How are you encouraging your kids to read?  What are their favorite books (and at what ages)?  What has been one of your favorite books?

[Here’s a link to the St. Louis County Library Summer Reading Programs: http://www.slcl.org/summer-reading-clubs

My friend Jill sent me this link to a summer reading flow chart to help you find your next book: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/summer-reading-flowchart_b52769 

This is the list of books given out in April for the first World Book Night USA: http://www.us.worldbooknight.org/wbn2012-the-books

Finally, if you want to be a reading rebel, this is the 2010-11 American Library Association’s list of banned or challenged books (the 2011-12 list isn’t out yet): http://www.ala.org/advocacy/sites/ala.org.advocacy/files/content/banned/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/free_downloads/2011banned.pdf ]

Have a great summer, everyone!  Happy Reading!

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3 comments on “The Rites of Summer

  1. narnee1127
    June 22, 2012

    Thank you, Kathy, for this lovely essay and for the chance to reflect on the meaning of books in my life. As a child, I was so excited about reading I used to stay up past bedtime with a flashlight and I would read under the pillow. Later, I learned from my Dad that he did the same. – Margaret Gillerman

  2. Susan T. Hessel
    June 22, 2012

    In our family, we had the earlobe incentive program – if our daughter read every day of summer between her first and second grades, she could get her ears pierced. It worked. She became a great leader and by the way is the communications director for the Olathe, KS, School District. I understand you were the communications director for Ladue.

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