Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer Reading

Just kill me now.

My kids have to read 4 books a piece this summer. Just four books. One required book, and then they are free to pick the other three. Free. Wheee.

Does the game guide to Skyrim on XBOX count? 

How about the blogs for how to improve your performance in League of Legends the online game du jour?

The description of the next Dr. Who episode?

The backs of cereal boxes?

Because these are the things my kids want to read, this is what they would like to be  “free” to read. Surprisingly these are not on the list of suggested reading. That list is composed of books 300 pages and longer which is perfect for apparently every child other than the ones living in my house. Because, according to 87% percent of the parents I talk to(statistic is arbitrary and made up) their kids can’t get enough of reading, they love reading, they live for reading. These children, will, undoubtedly, go to Princeton and Yale and, one day, employ me shaking their heads in bemused disdain as I clumsily negotiate the word processing programs that will at that time be implanted in our heads.

I have a confession to make. I hated summer reading when I was a kid and it wasn’t even as strict as it is now. I liked the thought of filling out the progress sheets the library handed out, but often lagged in momentum as the summer waned on and afternoons at the pool ogling cute boys took precedence. Reading was not my go to form of recreation or escape; I preferred reruns of the Bionic Woman and playing Charlie’s Angels in the backyard with my sister.

So now I am in a tricky spot where I have to be the hammer and get my kids to do their summer reading. There is no respite from my school-year nagging for them to do their homework. It is subtly re-named "summer reading" as if putting the word "summer" in front of it implies a sense of playfulness and whimsy. But it is, in fact, my kids’ least favorite thing to do over the summer. They would actually prefer taking out the garbage, loading the dishwasher and picking up the dog poop in the back yard to reading.

And my husband and I did all those things the articles, and books and Dr. Nancy Snyderman told us to do. We read to our kids since they were babies. We surrounded them with books in their room. We read in front of them, modeling I believe the technical-intimidate-other-parents- with-my well-informedness term is. We turn off the internet we still get a paper delivered to the house. We talk about books, at the dinner table. And yet, my kids still prefer any other activity to reading.

If they are truly free to read whatever they want outside that one required book, can’t we expand the scope of what that includes? How about comic books? Graphic novels? A really great article in Sports Illustrated? An in depth analysis and review of Assassin’s Creed? The back of healthy cereal boxes?

I’m interested in my kids being curious and reading the source material that feeds that curiosity. I do believe they need to be pushed to explore things they have hastily written off in order to fully understand and rediscover the things they truly love the most. I mean the whole reason they are drawn to Skyrim and League of Legends is because of the story aspect. It’s not just to win and blow the heads off of mythical creatures and aliens, they stick with it because they are invested in their character’s story. I know this because I have sat and listened to remarkable detail in the re-telling of their latest victory complete with names I will never remember and specific verbal renderings of weapons, armor and foes.

And why do they seek out the next new game, or the next new tweet or the latest Facebook status update? They are hooked on the stories inherent in these medium. How will that flirtation end up? Will he win the race? How can I defeat the dragon next time?

We read to see ourselves in the lives of other characters, whether to escape, or relate. We seek to know what we would do in that situation or to gain validation from a similar choice or outcome, or to see what is the next possible or inevitable. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, Facebook fact or fiction, video game fiction, we are all just seeking to understand our place in the universe and that can happen in a magnificent book, and it can also happen in the collection of stories we find in so many other sources.

Yet until that particular wardrobe door is opened to that strange new world of possibilities, I will continue to bribe, threaten and dupe my kids into completing their summer reading beating it into a joyless obligatory pulp.


  1. I feel for you! It's so sad to have to turn reading into a struggle. I frequently find the lengthy, intellectualized tomes that are assigned as summer reading so objectionable - kids need some free time!

    I spent hours, weeks, months scouring bookstores for books that would hook my youngest, who was an unenthusiastic reader when he was young. For him, the solution was books in a series - if he got hooked on one, it was easy to supply him with the others. The rest is a judgment call and a negotiation between you and your kids. If they like fantasy games, I bet there are a ton of fantasy books that would lure them in. Feel free to ask me for titles - we probably still have most of them!

  2. Thanks Judy! The Lightning Thief Series got us through one summer.

  3. I hear ya! As a mom of two AVID gamers...and one "reader" and one "non-reader", I feel like the Debbie Downer of Moms as I beat the drum of "what have you chosen for summer reading?" Blech. Oldest son (reader) is currently enjoying "Bringing Down the House" because he likes math...and, you gotta admit, it is kinda cool to think about making millions from blackjack! Other recommendations: Alex Rider series. And check out (although it tends to skew younger). Thanks for the post!

  4. Thanks for the advice. I just spent 30 minutes on Amazon looking for potential books which they might like and which are short at this point. Good luck to you!