In the new musical “The Addams Family,” Pugsley says to Grandma, “I don’t get your references.” Grandma replies, “Well, you might if you stop the darn texting and pick up a book.” It gets, as you might expect a huge laugh.
As schools get out for the summer, picking up a book should be on the agenda. I still remember wonderful summer afternoons reading outside. (No, it was not so long ago that the books were on stone or even papyrus!) I went to a school that had a reading list of books that would prepare us for the next year, but it was short. I think there were two or three required books, and I usually polished those off in the first week. I was, and am, a voracious reader, and for that I thank my parents. They were voracious readers, and our house was littered with books. We talked about what we were reading at meals, and reading was an encouraged pastime. Yes, we had TV, and we had time outside, unsupervised and with the dozens of other kids in our neighborhood, but hot afternoons, or rainy days were made for reading under a tree or on the dilapidated couch on our front porch.
Summer reading was always the time to discover new things. After the required reading of the school year was done, I had perfect freedom to read anything in the house—or anything I found in the library. (Which I took the bus to on my own starting in 5th grade.) The librarians and my parents would suggest things, and it was through them that I discovered Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and many more authors who have shaped me but who were not in the reading curricula.
Those were the days when “reading for pleasure” was a watchword. No, we didn’t have a video game system or a huge TV or a million channels and DVDs, but those hours and days spent immersed in books were more than entertaining.
Reading for pleasure is an essential part of developing the imagination. You have to see what the author is describing. This ability to grasp and envision something abstract is an essential tool for later learning. Some books read like movies. Certainly “The DaVinci Code” is written like one, but I can remember suffering from a sunburn and finding a tattered copy of “Gone With the Wind,” which I read in a couple of days, the story unfolding on page after page and the vivid world appearing before my eyes. Later, when I saw the movie, it was certainly amazing, but not so rich as what I had imagined as I lay on my stomach not to irritate my quickly peeling back.
In addition, reading builds vocabulary, gives one an ear for language and helps one understand characters and much more. For children after about third grade, getting into chapter book series can be a great way to get started. My parents were big on the classics, so I read a lot of those, and struggling with some big words and complex sentences ultimately gave way to a real delight in the stories and worlds created by Dickens, Thackery, Eliot and Fielding.
It’s hard to stress the importance of reading, but the best way to get kids to read is to make it fun. When I was growing up, we didn’t have the kinds of super book stores there are today. Take your kids, and let them get lost in the books, look at the jackets, and sit on the floor and get a sense of what they might get into.
It’s impossible to say whether or not your kids will be better students because of this, but reading is a pleasure that can last a lifetime. Today, a lot of my reading is done on an e-reader, which is great to carry on planes, but the thrill of starting a new book, discovering new characters and getting to that magical point where you know you’re hooked on a story is a pleasure that never gets old.
There are lots of good, sound reasons to encourage kids to read this summer, but keep that to yourself. Instead, stress the fun and excitement that reading can bring—a complementary activity to everything active you do in the summer.
Oh, and the best way to get kids to read is to read yourself. Why not pick up a book you’ve been planning to read this summer? Why should kids have all the fun?