My oldest son (Canterbury, Class of 2017) was in Mimi Bridge’s first-grade class when beloved Hough Campus librarian Martha Little passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. She was a little woman (literally, of short stature), but her personality was larger than life. Her love of books was evident to everyone who knew her. Ask anyone, and you will hear lovely memories of how inspirational she was to us all. Most of us still cannot talk about her without getting a lump in the throat. After her passing, Canterbury students wrote memories about Mrs. Little for a scrapbook. My son wrote, “I’ll never forget Mrs. Little because she taught me how to love reading.”
I keep going back to that line, “...she taught me how to love reading.” As if we should teach the love of reading as Ms. Alderson might teach the Pythagorean Theorem, or Ms. Fauver might teach the difference between temperature readings in Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin. How do we DO that, as parents and teachers? How do we get our students to embrace summer reading (or read during the school year), both for school and for fun?
I read an article years ago that was tailored to anxious parents of preschoolers worried if their children were really ready for Kindergarten. The author said that only two things really matter for a child preparing to enter Kindergarten: Does the child have rules at home? and Do you read to your child at home? (http://www.nea.org/home/59838.htm) Toddlers love to imitate, which is why they love pushing toy lawn mowers and “helping” to sweep when they watch parents do those tasks. Why is reading any different? If YOU read, you model that behavior for your child, whether your child is a year old or 18-years-old. Why not read to your child, with your child or next to your child? Prioritizing reading is like making time for worship, writing thank-you-notes, or eating together as a family a priority.
I was asked to join a book club when my youngest son was not quite four months old. As excited as I was to have a standing monthly dinner party with eleven dear friends (including some CSF moms), I hesitated to say yes right away, wondering, “Do I have time to read a book every month?” at a time when my bedside reading consisted of What to Expect: The First Year (Murkoff). Looking back, I believe that saying “yes” was not only a gift to myself, but to my children as well. They see me reading fiction, non-fiction, classics, poetry. They hear me laugh out loud and see tears streaming down my face. We sometimes read the same books, and can share our feelings about strong protagonists, surprising storylines, and despised characters. They see me giving myself the gift of time to read for pleasure.
Where do I start?
Start with Canterbury’s summer reading list (the upper school list is linked here, but there are age appropriate lists for lower and middle school, as well). Take a trip to the public library. If your child does not have one already, consider signing her up for a library card. If you haven’t been to the library in a while, check it out--you can even reserve or renew titles electronically. Or, just go wander in the stacks and lose yourselves in a world of books for a few hours. If you prefer to buy books, consider independent bookstores--Haslam’s in St. Pete, or Inkwood Books in Tampa. The selection is great, and staff recommendations can help you and your child find books that go beyond any Amazon recommendations.
Share some of your favorite books from childhood, college, or early adulthood. Did you love Charlotte’s Web? The Joy Luck Club? To Kill a Mockingbird? Cold Mountain? The Vampire Lestat? Ask your child to read the book so that you can talk about it both while they read as well as after they finish (even if you need to reread it first to refresh your memory).
Spend time reading as a family for at least thirty minutes to an hour each night at least two or three times a week with no phones, TV, Netflix, or computers. You will be surprised how peaceful it can be and how much everyone will come to look forward to that time as a family. Why wait until evening? This works great on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, too.
Here are some of my recommendations:
Classics to read to children (of any age):
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. A beautiful story of a young boy and his dogs.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. A magical, illustrated tale for all ages.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. You will cry...a beautiful analogy of the love of a parent.
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. In contrast, you will laugh at these clever poems.
Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry. A coming-of-age story of a boy confronting his fears.
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Another tearjerker...the love of a child is strong.
Any classic series (Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Harry Potter, The Last Olympian, etc.) Why not have older children read to younger ones? Talk about what you loved about these books as a child, or about what surprised/amused/saddened you in those books.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. A page-turner about a blind French girl and a German boy in occupied France during World War II. Beautifully written with amazing imagery.
Room by Emma Donoghue. A tough read, but cleverly written (a la Gone Girl) from the perspective of both mother and child. For a parent, reading between the lines is the hard part.
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. Historical fiction featuring abolitionist John Brown.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Hauntingly beautiful tale of President Lincoln’s loss of his beloved son and the imagined world of the afterlife told in a unique way.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. This is a great book to read together and discuss with tweens or teens. It is an amazing story of beating the odds despite hardships in the Great Depression.
Mountains beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. You will want to move mountains after reading this book! Great reading (and discussion material) for teens and parents alike.
Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King. The true story of a civil rights case in Lake County, Florida.
Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold by Patti King Fletcher. This book is written by a business partner of Heather Boggini (mother of Anthony Boggini, CSF Class of 2017). Mothers and daughters can read and discuss the opportunities for 21st-century women in business, technology, and management.