May is almost over, and school is winding down. Pretty soon the craziness of a busy school year will abruptly end, and life will settle to a slow crawl through summer. We’ll all have a bit more time for the good things in life; sleeping in, leftover pie for breakfast, popsicles on the porch, and endless hours of reading.
Several summers ago, my kids hit a wall in the “books that interest me” department. They were 10 and 11 years old at the time, and they began to want more mature subjects in their reading material. (“Fare thee well, Diary of a Wimpy Kid! It was a good run.) We have always closely guarded what the kids take in from TV, movies and books, so I began to research junior fiction books that did not have strong language, sexual content or gruesome, frightening scenes.
(My thoughts on content: There’s a difference, I think, between epic battle scenes (i.e. Lord of the Rings) and gratuitous violence (i.e. The Purge). Topics like murder can be presented in vastly different ways as well; think Father Brown vs. Blacklist. Each family will have their own tolerance level for these issues, and should make decisions accordingly. For many, I am too permissive. And for others, too protective. My very best advice is to pre-read a book before allowing your child to read it. Not only will you be made aware of the book’s content, but sharing books with your child will give you lots to talk about.)
Here are some of the books that Colin and Cara have enjoyed/loved/been-obsessive-about for the last four years:
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: (7 books in series) Most of us have seen the movies, but this 7 book series is a family favorite. It goes without saying that the books present a fuller picture than the movies. Readers who love magic and the epic struggle between good and evil will find Harry’s evolution from boy to young man compelling. This series is Cara’s all-time favorite!
Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan: (13 books in series) This series follows the story of Will, an apprentice Ranger who trains to be an archer, warrior and protector. I can’t overstate how much my kids love this series. Even now, as a 14 year old, Colin will reach for his tattered copy of Book 1 when he doesn’t have anything else to read. The characters have become beloved friends, and a part of our family conversations. (John Flanagan also wrote The Brotherband Chronicles and The Royal Ranger series.)
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull: (5 books in series) I purchased the first two books in this series to take with us on a summer trip. By the time we returned home, the last three books were waiting for us in an Amazon box on our porch. The story of Kendra and Seth, who become embroiled in a world of fantastical creatures and a race to save the world, becomes more complex and urgent as the series progresses. Well written, with enough tension to keep a young reader engaged, we give this series two thumbs up.
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley: (11 books in series…and growing) Ok. Let me explain something. There are 10 books in this series, but #6 is followed by #6.5, so there are actually 11 books total. See what I mean? This series is amazing. My daughter Cara has read every single book and is crazy about Flavia de Luce, an 11 year old amateur sleuth with a bicycle named Gladys. These are adult books that are appropriate for a tween…probably. It just depends on the child. (There are some frightening scenes that have shaken Cara a bit, because the books are murder mysteries, after all.) Alan Bradley is still writing, and we can’t wait for the next installment!
Eragon by Christopher Paolini: (4 books in series…with more to come?) This is one of Colin’s favorite series. He’s re-read it several times, and really loves the characters and epic scope of the story. Colin is pretty picky about the logic and reason of a novel, and the interactions between characters, and this series plays very well in those terms.
Mistborn, The Rithmatist, Steelheart and Legion by Brandon Sanderson: We were introduced to Brandon Sanderson through a recommendation by a teacher. He is a prolific writer, with several series as well as stand alone novels. Colin’s favorites are the Mistborn series, and The Rithmatist, but both kids have read all of the books and found them enjoyable. I would say that Brandon Sanderson’s books are on the more mature side of the spectrum, but again, each parent has their own standard for what’s appropriate.
As an educator, I’m passionate about literature and language. As a mother, I’ve learned that fostering a love of reading in my kids takes effort on my part. I certainly don’t read every book my kids read, but being involved in the selection and conversation about what they are reading, gives me insight into their interests and preferences.
Here are five things I do to promote a reading culture at home:
- Model. My kids see me reading books, ebooks, magazines, news articles and internet blogs. They also catch me listening to an audiobook in the after school pick up line. I often share thoughts about what I am reading, whether it be an interesting plot twist, meaningful event or compelling fact. Over the years, Colin and Cara have begun to initiate conversations like this about what THEY are reading.
- Leave books laying around. I often go to the library and check out books for the kids without them asking me to. When I drop the books off in their rooms, I say something like, “These might be interesting reads, or they might not be. If they don’t appeal to you, just put them in the laundry room, and I’ll take them back to the library.”
- Grab reading time when you can. Rather than adhering to the “Reading Log Prescribed 20 Minutes a Day” philosophy, I encourage the kids to bring their books along when we go out to eat, have a doctor’s appointment or make a visit to family. Yes, the books have to compete with their phones, but many times they end up reading. Let’s face it, reading a book is better than being bored out of your mind.
- Pay attention to words. Kids pick up new words from reading. One time, Cara was talking about how she would escape from a kidnapper, and she said, “I would use broken glass or a nail to cut my bonds.” I asked her where she had picked up the word bonds and she answered, “Hardy Boys books.” When we catch our children using new vocabulary, and acknowledge it positively, we elevate language and learning.
- Take a chill pill. Ya’ll, standardized testing has very little to do with actual reading. Things like interest level, stress level and competency in test taking affect their score. So. What can we do as parents to positively impact OUR ACTUAL CHILDREN? Foster the enjoyment and pleasure of reading. Do our children enjoy reading? Do they have access to books that interest them? Do we have a culture of reading in our home? Do I value all kinds of reading? Do we read throughout the day, or are we stuck in a “reading log funk”? If we can settle down and focus our attention on creating interest and opportunity for reading at home, our children will benefit well beyond the next state assessment. (Pardon me while I dismount from my soap box.)
Reading is woven into the day-to-day fabric of our home. While there are stretches of time when we are too frantic with the busy pace of life to settle down and read, we collectively exhale a sigh of relief when summer comes along. Often I will see the kids, reading lamps lit well into the wee hours of night, engrossed in a book. The next morning, they stumble bleary-eyed from their bedrooms to tell me all about the story that kept them up. And my reader’s heart is full.