A fourth grader sidled up to me in the library this past October. Many of her other classmates were eagerly scouring the shelves for new books, or excitedly telling each other about the latest plot twist in the Wings of Fire series. "I really don't like reading," she whispered to me, in decidedly confessional tones. "Maybe you just haven't found the right book yet," I responded. When I began asking her more questions I found out she loved graphic novels and had read the entire oeuvre of Raina Telgemeier. We both waxed lyrical on the humorous and authentic stories of real-life issues and friendship that Telgemeier so expertly illustrates. Once she realized that I didn't mind what she read, as long as she enjoyed reading, she blossomed. She began raising her hand when I asked for personal book shares and, haltingly at first, but soon with greater confidence, described what she enjoyed from her graphic novel favorites. She started finding reading buddies in class and encouraged them to read more, too. In the last few weeks of May, after I launched a summer reading book bingo challenge, she and a friend asked for permission (instead of using the library computers) to sit by my desk, with a cart full of books I had been recommending, to make a list of books to read for the summer! Reading is both personal and social. She needed to know she wasn't being judged on her personal book preferences to feel like she could claim to be a reader and feel a part of a community that loved reading.
In the summer months, you and your family are your child's reading community. The best way to continue developing sustained healthy reading habits in your child is to allow them to choose to talk about what they want to read and for you to do the same. Show them (don't just tell them!) how much you enjoy reading, too.
Here are some suggestions to rock some family reading time—so shake out that hammock, put on some PJs, and READ!
START A FAMILY BOOK CLUB
Have each family member suggest a book that you will read together as a family! Decide on a (relatively flexible) schedule and designate a time for each family member's book. For younger siblings, they might have a picture book they want to read aloud; older siblings might have a longer novel they want to share and discuss with the whole family. Children have a finely tuned sense of fairness—and knowing that each will get a turn to discuss their book choices and a chance to share with the whole family puts everyone on an equal footing. It also allows the adults the opportunity to choose a book to read aloud that your child may not have chosen on their own.
DON'T BE A BOOK SNOB
Even the strongest readers have trouble reading assigned books if the books don't appeal to them. Let them lead the way—your child might choose a graphic novel that you wouldn't ever in a million years choose to read, but if you read it, too, you'll get a better sense of what your child is drawn to, whether it is fantasy, high drama, action-packed thrillers, friendship, or anthropomorphic characters. When it's your turn, you can choose to read a different type of book, which your child will be more willing to listen to and read since you've already modeled how to keep an open mind and explore something new.
Who doesn't love leaning back, with their eyes closed, as a narrator paints a picture with words? Even older children relish the opportunity to be read to, perhaps even more so, as their days fill up with more and more responsibilities! It's a wonderful chance for them to relax and simply soak in a story. Studies have shown that listening to a well-crafted book, with language and imagery that might be beyond a child's reading level, can help a child's reading comprehension. As parents, don't fall into the trap of making it a choice between independent reading and being read to; children want the attention and closeness that the act of reading together brings, so make it an "and" rather than an "or." If you're short on time, offer to have each of you take turns reading out loud from the book. See if an older sibling would like to read pages out loud to a younger sibling. Reading aloud, with the right expression and intonation, is great practice for public speaking and gaining confidence. The best part of reading aloud? You can get excited about the next chapter together!
SOME BOOK SUGGESTIONS FOR FAMILY BOOK CLUB READ-ALOUDS
All these books are wonderfully written, many with themes of family and friendship that will hopefully lend themselves to rich family discussions.
After the Fall / Dan Santat
What happened to Humpty Dumpty after he was put back together again? A beautiful metaphor for resilience, this book is filled with quiet humor, quiet scenes of strength, and an ending that will make you gasp and think.
Finding Winnie / Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall
A heartwarming story based on the true story of the real baby bear that was adopted by a World War I veteran and inspired the creation of Winnie-the-Pooh.
Last Stop on Market Street / Matt de la Peña
CJ keeps asking his grandmother questions as she takes him on a public bus. The rhythm of the voices and the bus ride help evoke the many wonders and stories that children living in city neighborhoods will appreciate. The pictures reveal an unspoken ending that will lead to plenty of rich discussion. (Learn about Matt de la Peña's visit to Holton's Lower School during the 2018-2019 school year here!)
Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure / Torben Kuhlmann
The perfect blend of a picture book and an early chapter book. With intricately detailed illustrations on every page, it has you following two determined little mice who build a vessel that will take them to the bottom of the ocean in search of a missing treasure. A science-filled adventure tale!
CHAPTER BOOKS (3rd through 6th)
A Boy Called Bat / Elana K. Arnold
Bat has trouble connecting with people and likes everything just a certain way. But when his veterinarian mother brings home and orphaned baby skunk, he has to figure out how to convince her to keep the baby skunk in the family.
Wishtree / Katherine Applegate
Told through the voice of an old oak tree, Red is the community wishing tree, where people tie their wishes on the first day of May. However, when a new family moves to town and the owner of the land on which Red grows decides to cut down the tree, Red has to figure out how to save itself as well as the new family.
Front Desk / Kelly Yang
Mia Tang lives in a motel, not a house. But she doesn't own it—Mia and her parents work there, as well as occasionally hide other immigrants for free. If mean motel owner Mr. Yang finds out, Mia and her family will be doomed!
The Wild Robot / Peter Brown
A robot has washed up on a remote island—can it survive the wilderness on its own? Or can Roz the Robot make friends with the animals on the island to figure out how to survive?
Bob / Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
Livy hasn't visited her grandmother in Australia for five years and doesn't have many memories of her last visit. So she is very surprised to get to her grandmother's house and discover a small green creature dressed in a chicken suit, waiting in the closet for her, claiming that Livy has promised to help him find his home.
Lucky Broken Girl / Ruth Behar
It's the year 1956 and Ruthie Mizrahi has just moved to New York City from Cuba. Just as she is starting to find her place as the Hopscotch Queen on her block, she is involved in an accident that means she is stuck lying on her back recovering for months. Will life ever be fun again? Inspired by the author's own life, this moving novel shares how Ruthie finds strength.
Matilda / Roald Dahl
A fun and timeless meditation on the meaning of family! Matilda is a sweet and smart little girl, but her parents and her scary headmistress find her intolerable. Will Matilda be able to use her newfound powers to get her revenge?
CHAPTER BOOKS (5th & 6th)
Shooting Kabul / N.H. Senzai
12-year-old Fadi and his family are fleeing Afghanistan because of the Taliban, but Fadi accidentally lets go of his little sister's hand as they are boarding the truck and she gets left behind. Once in America, Fadi is hoping that if he can win a school photography competition, he can win the prize of a trip to Pakistan, where he hopes to find his sister.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler / E.L. Konigsburg
Another fun classic with wonderful period details and an art mystery to boot. Claudia decides to run away from home..to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City! She invites her younger brother, Jamie, along as well—and together, the two must figure out how to eat, sleep, and wash themselves while hiding out in the museum. In the meantime, Claudia has also become fascinated by an angel statue that the museum has purchased. Will she discover the true story behind the statue and its mysterious owner?
Amal Unbound / Aisha Saeed
A glimpse into another culture. Amal is the oldest of four sisters and her mother is pregnant with yet another baby! All Amal wants is to become a teacher, but when she accidentally insults a wealthy landowner in her Pakistani village, she gets sent to become his indentured servant. How will Amal make it back to her family?
Blended / Sharon Draper
Isabella feels torn between her two parents: her African American father and his glamorous fiancée, and her white mother, who works in an IHOP. She goes by Isabella with her father and Izzy with her mother, changing backpacks and identities every weekend when she swaps houses. Luckily, the one constant she has is music and her love of piano.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea / Jules Verne
A true sci-fi/fantasy classic! It is the year 1866, and many ships keep spotting what they believe to be an undersea monster. But when the U.S. government assembles an expedition to find and kill the monster, several of its crew members fall into the water and discover that the monster is actually an underwater submarine called the Nautilus!
Evelyn Schwartz is the Lower School Librarian at Holton-Arms. She also writes reviews of middle-grade books for School Library Journal. When not excitedly talking about her new favorite middle-grade book with tween girls, she loves playing board games with her spouse and their three young children.