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June 26, 2009

Keep Kids Reading Over the Summer

Posted by carol
Today contributor Jamie Layton raises a terrific issue --- inspiring kids to read over the summer. She has come up with an interesting list of books for her 14-year-old son, ones that will make great reading and discussing for everyone, regardless of age. Since I think many school reading lists do not encourage reading but rather make it seem like a chore (or a punishment), as many of the books are not exciting, we've compiled on our website for teens,, the Ultimate Teen Reading List with more than 300 titles. What we've skipped is anything that we would not want to read ourselves!

This is the time of year when summer reading lists start springing up overnight in every magazine, on every website, even on breakfast TV shows. I, however, am bemoaning the absence of a summer reading list for one very important person --- my 14-year-old son, a rising high school freshman. To be fair, I must admit there is a book he must read before classes resume in August. But notice the singular article: "a." As in one. And only one. Did I mention he is an honors student? And no summer reading list? Huh?

My son is an avid reader; but unfortunately seems to go most summers without a book at hand. I have decided this summer will be different and put together a Summer Reading List for him that I have since shared with several mom friends and now happily pass along to those of you who find yourselves in the same boat.

First on the list is The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, his freshman reading requirement. I'm so glad I'll be able to say, "I didn't pick that one for you!" because I am already anticipating the complaints of a 14-year-old boy regarding this book.

He's already most of the way through Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and has really liked it. The rest of his list includes All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque), Night: A Memoir (Elie Wiesel), I Know What You Did Last Summer (Lois Duncan), Lord of the Flies (William Golding), A Long Way Gone (Ishmael Beah) and I Am the Messenger (Marcus Zusak). (If he has time I'm going to throw Ayn Rand's Anthem at him to see if he gets it.)

If the list has any underlying theme, it is this: At this time of his life, as a teenager living in America with a limitless future, countless freedoms and a multitude of blessings, I hope these books will remind him how truly fortunate he is to be able to walk every mile in his very own shoes. Perhaps reading about boys not much older than himself who endured incredible war-time horrors (Wiesel and Remarque) will remind him of the sacrifices of earlier generations. Maybe he will understand how truly lucky he and all his friends are to have been born in a democratic country versus one where constant civil strife creates soldiers out of eight year old boys (Beah). Maybe he'll finally get that the blue collar worker who greets him at Wal-Mart does so not because they want to, but because they have to (Ehrenreich). Maybe he'll think twice before getting too crazy this summer (Duncan) or remember how lucky he is to have a home with a mother who cares before ignoring a request to clean up his room (Zusak). And as he moves toward the social challenges of high school, perhaps Golding's classic will open his eyes to group dynamics and the power of personality.

If your child didn't come home with a summer reading list, don't despair. Make one up! There are countless resources on the internet to turn to; many colleges now assign one book that all incoming freshman must read, like Nickel and Dimed. Use their requirements for your list. Many private high schools publish their reading lists online. Take advantage of them. Or just take your kid to the local library or favorite independent bookstore and ask them what they want to read this summer. Whatever you do, make sure you keep 'em reading...

To an enjoyable summer,

Jamie Layton