Summer books: Skip the blockbusters, let kids’ imaginations grow
A summer book allows kids to explore their own imaginations and versions of time, place, and character. Skipping the summer blockbusters could save kids from a world of wasted imaginations.
When I was a kid, every summer had a book.Skip to next paragraph
Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley outside Philadelphia. He has been a Monitor contributor of Home Forum essays, poems, Op-Ed commentaries and feature articles since 1989. He writes a monthly column for Teachers.net. He and his wife, Lesley, have three adult children.
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The summer I turned twelve was the summer of "To Kill a Mockingbird." Sixth grade was over; seventh grade loomed. Scout, Jem, Dill, and Boo Radley remain inextricably bound in memory with our plaid sofa, popsicles, bare feet, and lazy hours in the world of a fictional Maycomb, Ala., childhood. The film version was wonderful — from it I retain an affection for cigar boxes as treasure troves. However, it is the cadence and color of the words on the page that more persistently color my imagination.
Which is to say that a series of summer books is an emblem of my childhood, and my idealized notion of what summer should be like.
Every summer had such a book. I remember the summers of classics like J.R.R.Tolkein, Solzhenitsyn, Thomas Hardy, Willa Cather, Mark Twain, George Orwell. Lest my reading habits seem too high falutin', I admit to interludes of Micky Spillane and Dick Francis, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein. Am I dating myself?
Once my own children started doing summer reading, "Blueberries for Sal" and "Charlotte's Web" topped our summer book classics list. We even picked blueberries in McCloskey country, storing up food for the winter like Little Sal and Little Bear; collecting new thoughts, “Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk,” like the rhythm of Sal’s blueberries hitting the bottom of her tin pail.
During my years as an English teacher, I championed the notion that summer reading is akin to storing up intellectual food for the winter, not merely knocking off a book for teacher, scribbling the obligatory book reports the night before school started up again.