My favorite thing about parenting, hands down, is reading aloud to my daughters. I get excited about it the way I see other parents get excited when their child takes dance or finally makes the football team. I used to post status updates on Facebook about what we were reading. Though I did it out of sheer enthusiasm but also, selfishly, to get suggested titles from other parents, I stopped doing it so often. I worried I was annoying. (Welcome to my brain. Occasionally, I eke out an earnest update or two about this. Forgive me. I try not to get too rhapsodic.)
But now summer is upon us. We live in the South, where school starts and ends earlier than many schools up North, where many of my friends live anyway. And though I realize that in about two months’ time, I’ll be wondering when school will start back up already and perhaps gnashing my very teeth, right now it’s a bit thrilling to think that I’ll have even more time with my daughters to read, especially since I work from home and can easily bend my schedule to what I need and want it to be.
Sure, they’re going to take some camps and visit friends and be active, but I look at the next two months as this landscape dotted with books, and it’s fun to figure out what our reading will entail.
We just finished the debut middle-grade novel from Julie T. Lamana, Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. As the Kirkus review notes, it’s bleak. It’s a very wet book: It’s about Hurricane Katrina, so naturally there’s a lot of flooding, but there are also copious (to put it mildly) tears, as one family deals with the devastation of the storm and the loss it brings. (There were also tears on my part.)
To balance the great sorrow (for which my 10-year-old kept giving me the skunk eye) and because said child is a fantasy-lover and pretty much never chooses realism over fantasy (which is precisely why I read such realistic books aloud to her), we are also reading Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s a fantasy staple, and it occurred to me we’d not read it at all.
On their own, the girls are ripping right through Tony DiTerlizzi’s Wondla books (the third book is out on shelves now), and we’ve got a stack of nonfiction and poetry I want to spend time with, including Claire Rudolf Murphy’s My Country, ‘Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights, illustrated by Bryan Collier, which we picked up today. On hold at the library is Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener, which I’m eager to read. And we’re always reading picture books. Our favorite right now is a galley of Mac Barnett’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Ingenious, this book. And funny, so very funny. It will be on shelves in October.
I’m currently rereading Mem Fox’s classic Reading Magic, originally published nearly 15 years ago. In it, she talks about how her own daughter learned to read at a very young age. When in shock (this was before Mem became a literacy educator) she asked her daughter’s teacher how she managed to pull that off, she said to Mem, “she’s only been in my class for two weeks. You must have read to her often before she came to school.” Mem responds, “of course.” And Mem closes that very chapter by writing:
Reading aloud to my daughter was a fabulous experience. We bonded through
all sorts of marvelous books. We came to know and love each other better though
the variety of stories we shared. I hadn’t realized that reading aloud regularly would
mean Chloë would learn to read without being taught. It was just enough to be together.
And it is right precisely there that Mem Fox nails what I love about reading aloud. And what I’m most excited about this summer.
Why am I sharing all this, including what we’re reading now? Pure and utter selfishness. I want you to recommend other titles we need to see. You don’t have to be a parent. You can be a children’s lit fan who doesn’t have children of your own. Lay it on me. What books should we add to our list this summer, both old and new?
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.