It may be that, here at my weekly Kirkus column, I’ve sung the praises many times before of French author Daniel Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader, originally published in 1992. This is to say that, if I’m being redundant, I apologize, but it is a wonderful book. To call it a guide to reading, which it actually is, makes it sound dull, but it’s hardly that. Instead, it’s a fresh (even after all these years), in-your-face, and funny-as-hell book about how not to tyrannize children about reading.
Pennac actually has a list of ten readers’ rights, as the book’s title promises. You can read the list here in spectacular poster form (a PDF of a poster anyway), created by Walker Books in the UK. They had the book translated by Sarah Ardizzone and illustrated by Quentin Blake in an edition published in 2006, and two years later here in the U.S., Candlewick published it.
There’s so much wisdom in that list of rights (my favorite being the tenth one, “the right to be quiet,” which I once tried to put into words myself here at Kirkus). But the fourth one, “the right to read it again”? That makes me think of summers.
Here in the South, we’re nearly at the halfway mark for summer break from school. O! The groans when I remind my own daughters of this fleeting calendar. They, like many children who love to read, enjoy summer for the wide-open, unscheduled time to read for pleasure – not for school assignments or papers or grades. (I’ll check my own privilege here and say that they are able to laze about and read at home, since I’m able to work from home, which I realize not everyone can do.)
They not only love to read; they love to re-read. I’ll see stacked all over the house their favorite books, even ones they read when they were much younger. As but one example, my youngest may be about to enter middle school, but she has such a fondness for Rose Lagercrantz’s My Happy Life, illustrated by Eva Eriksson—which I wrote about here in 2013 and which she read when she was hardly done with elementary school—that she’s re-reading it and all the books that followed it. (There’s a new one coming out in August, a fifth book in this Swedish chapter book set, called See You When I See You. I’ve read an early copy, and it’s an excellent addition to this endearing series.) Perhaps even the thought of entering middle school makes her want to re-visit those older titles she once read. Maybe it brings her comfort and girds her for the accelerated growing-up that’s about to take place.
Here’s part of what Pennac writes about the right to re-read your favorite books:
This may sound like something that doesn’t need to be explicitly called out as a right, but I often hear adults talking to children about reading “on their level” during the summers – that is, turning reading into a chore during a time of year it absolutely shouldn’t be one. Pamela Paul and Maria Russo at the New York Times recently published “How to Raise a Reader” (it’s so good, and you can read it all here) and wrote:
Pamela and Maria are talking about any time of year, but this especially applies to the summer when students take a breather from school work. By all means, let them read what they want. And let them re-read whatever strikes their fancy, levels be damned.
These are the best kind of summer reruns.
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.