By Kay Wyma
With summer days fast upon us, free time is but a breath away. Free time that can be filled so many ways: swimming, playing, swimming, televisioning, swimming, gaming, swimming, vacationing, swimming, and reading… Yes. Reading. But, if my kids had their way, summer activities would be ordered accordingly. Especially when it comes to any required reading.
“How can they not love reading?!” I ask myself. Especially the good stuff? The classics. The i-thought-i-hated-reading-until-i-read-that stuff. The books that transport readers to new, fantastical times and places.
I think we and our kids forget about the magic of reading.
Listen, I’m no English major. I’m not a bibliophile. In fact that’s a pretty big word for this brain-cell depleted mother of five. I might have been decently educated. My brain used to work (I often ask my husband to remind me about the good old days when I could think complete thoughts,) but that was BK (Before Kids).
Sadly, I display my brain cell depletion – frequently.
Just yesterday in the park, a friend said to me, “Do you think that’s a pistachio tree over there?”
“Pistachios grow on trees?” I asked.
“Uh … yeah … they’re nuts.”
“Really? … I thought nuts grew on vines.” Then after thinking for a moment I offer, “Peanuts are on the ground.”
“They’re legumes,” my friend responded with an incredulous are-you-for-real tone. “Didn’t you go to Hockaday?!” she asked.
“….uh, maybe…” then I change the subject … to something simple. “So, have y’all seen The Croods yet?”
So to all the former intellects, the now non-readers, and the overly exhausted (from carpooling and enduring whines/complaints.) To parents who have forgotten the beauty of well-formed metaphors, look beyond teen literary trends and grab some classics.
They just might jump-start sleepy brain cells. Maybe even ignite a love of reading in a dubious kid. Good literature does that. It kindles imagination and begs to be savored.
Mind-candy best sellers prolifically line library and bookstore shelves these days. Especially in the youth departments. But they aren’t the classics. Placed on end-caps and luring tables, they catch a kids’ attention. Which is fine, even great. I’m one who believes that reading in general is good for kids. And, you never know what might ignite the fire. I’m pretty sure Calvin & Hobbes sparked a love of reading in one of mine. Now that particular teenager, who formerly protested anything in written form, can’t get enough Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. He tasted the good stuff and craves more.
Hunger Games (thank you Suzanne Collins) brought back to life a love for reading long since forgotten in my tween girl. Somewhere along the way, she decided that Robert Louis Stephenson was boring, and Jane Austin can only be ingested if required reading. I’ve been trying to coax her back to the well with little success… until she remembered how much fun reading can be.
So during our recent move, when we sat together unloading boxes (or “packages” as dubbed by our 6-year-old,) I couldn’t resist squealing at finding my copy of Little Women. I read it when I was her age. My heart skipped as she reached for the book and placed it beside her. She was considered rather than running away. Next, when the box revealed my grandmother’s copies of Wuthering Hieghts and Jane Eyre, she actually allowed her fingers to linger on the old pages and beautiful lithographs.
Then she borrowed them! Yes… to read them herself!
I’m so happy for her. I look forward to the days she will sit alone, pink ukulele likely at hand, and escape the problems of her world only to be propelled into another time where girls her age struggled, too. She will realize that she’s not alone. And that sharing a bathroom with her sister isn’t the worst thing in the world. And that the cute, popular boy who has never notices her isn’t always the answer to life’s woes.
Unpacking those boxes reminded me that in addition to all the other things I hope will grow in my children (like manners, independence, a strong work ethic, and so much more) a love of fine literature also needs to be cultivated. It’s a seed to plant when they’re young and to water often.
Don’t know where to start? Pick up Harold Bloom’s Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages. Treat it like a Friday night wine tasting. Try small sips. Discover what you love. Join your local library’s summer reading program. Nothing like goodies along the way to inspire even the laziest reader. Then purchase your family’s favorites and enjoy over and over. But, be sure to sprinkle the Amelia Bedelia’s with some Robert McCloskey and the like.
Who needs a grand vacation when trips to all parts of the world, throughout the centuries, lie within reach of our fingertips?
Summer reading … so much more than a school requirement.
Kay Wyma is the author of Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. She shares the hilarity and the tears that come with raising adolescents & teens on her blog The Moat … because who wants to walk that road alone.