Reading Rituals

Wild plots. Heroes with superpowers. Gadgets, get-ups, gizmos… Does anything go, if it gets our kids to read?

I recall summers as a time for unwinding – at least in some measure: a little sun, a little swimming, no commitments that were too trying for the gray matter.

But there was room for reading – whatever I wanted. That was true when I was a child as well as an adult.

After children of course, jammed schedules make that more difficult. Sadly, periods during which I could read without guilt (or interruptions) have been few and far between.

Personally, I wish I were in a position to make myself a summer reading list. If I could, I’d likely re-read some of my favorites – including poetry and short stories. I’d happily make a reading list and proceed through it with delight – ideally in the way our kids are supposed to. You know, when they troop home as the school year ends and the warm months begin – and the last thing they really want is to be told to do anything.

Big Books, Big Dreams 

Shouldn’t summer be a time for dreaming? Shouldn’t the long days and nights allow for big books, tall tales, and the imagination sparked by both?

I haven’t been the best example to my kids. Unfortunately, as an adult, no matter how much I love to read, unless I’m perched by a pool or sprawled on a beach, I feel guilty about recreational reading. And let’s just say the last time I relaxed with Rilke or sunned with Sedaris has been a number of years.

Then I think about my children. When it came to their summer reading assignments, I paid attention when they were little, but by middle school and beyond, I rarely inquired though I recall complaints over too many classics, and not enough “fun stuff.” My teenagers seemed more irked than inspired.

And don’t we want our kids to love reading?

Summer Reading Options

For one of my sons, I suspect his required reading turned him off – both during the summer as well as the school year. He powered through diligently, but I don’t think he enjoyed it. And the summer was more of the same.

For his brother, a more consistent reader for pleasure, he was irritated at arcane English, but more open to an absorbing classic if the plot, setting, or characters were compelling enough.

Theoretically, you could say that any reading done by kids is valuable – even if it’s on their smart phones or computers, in comics or other “light” fare. But as they grow older, don’t they need to be expanding vocabulary, expanding knowledge, and igniting the imagination? Don’t we want to see them off their electronic devices?

Is Summer Reading Valuable?

The academic pressures on kids today are considerable. Shouldn’t summer allow them to exhale? Couldn’t their reading list selections reflect that – in number and content?

When I was a teen, I read biographies, popular fiction, and literary classics – because I wanted to. I was marked significantly in terms of style and substance. I would hope my sons could say the same when they’re adults, but to be honest, I recall looking at their reading lists at times, and shaking my head in dismay. I want their summer reading to be meaningful, yes – and instructive.

Still, can’t we find ways to give our kids a good selection for both learning and enjoyment – at every age?

  • Do you monitor what your kids read – even when they reach the early tween years?
  • Do you encourage the classics or feel good if they’re reading anything?
  • What about an age-appropriate mix of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry?
  • Do you want them to enhance their “world view” through reading, even in the summer?
  • How much are a child’s reading habits influenced by the parents’ reading habits?

© D. A. Wolf



  1. says

    Very important topic. I still can monitor to some extent what my younger son (11) reads. The problem is that reading Greek mythology or historical books, The Canterbury Tales, etc. (he likes encyclopedias) or even highly popular for his age bestsellers (I always offer options and leave the choice up to him), doesn’t help to keep up with peers. The guys his age read mostly junk and sport limited games language. So this summer he decided to be like everyone and try pulp fiction, not to be a nerd, not to stand out of the crowd back to school in September. So we’re navigating in this stream now.

    Thank you

    PS. I discovered your blog via Lost in Arles and fell in love instantly, and subscribed of course. From now on you’re my daily read.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Natalie, A child who likes encyclopedias! That’s fantastic! (And I agree, it’s a more important subject than we realize.) I’m so happy you stopped by from Heather’s beautiful blog, and thank you for the kind words. I’m delighted to have you here, and will pop by and see you as well (virtually speaking, of course). :)

  2. says

    I taught 8th grade reading in the public schools for a while, before moving on to high school English – and I’m a big proponent of letting kids read what they enjoy. Yes – I’m of the school – at least they’re reading. I read what I want to read. They’ll move on to “better” lit. The more they read the better they write, the more they question, the more they want to know more. And I think, as a mom, if I would have suggested books (to my sons anyway) they would have balked. I had classics and current books around the house so they could stumble on them themselves.
    And I can feel their pain with the things they HAVE to read in school. When I was getting my English degree my sister, who reads prolifically, would ask about this newest book or that, and I’d always respond, “no, I haven’t read that.” I hadn’t read any text less than 100 years old for 2 years. Reading, like painting, like sketching, like knitting, like gardening, should be a pleasure.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      “The more they question, the more they want to know.”

      So important!

      And I agree Barb. Reading should be a pleasure.

  3. says

    I always read when I was growing up. I was fascinated with words and learning to read. I read at the table. I read under the covers. I read walking to and from school. I almost always had a book in my hand. I really wanted my children to love books as much as I did…as much as I do.

    When they were in school, they said that their reading assignments were as much as they could handle, leaving little time for fun reading. However, they did read when they felt there was time for it. My daughter loved fiction and my son non-fiction and comics. As adults, I don’t think their reading tastes or habits have changed a lot.

    Summer reading programs? Not a fan!

  4. Jeanne says

    As a school librarian I see this time after time. Kids who love reading until they hit “the classics”. For summer? Let them read what they want. You want them to read a good mix of genres? Have it around the house. Read lots of different things yourself. Talk about it at dinner. Point out the movies that they love that started life as books you love. Take them to the library. My mother, who was very frugal about almost all things, never said no to buying a book and no book that was on the shelf in our parents’ home was off limits to us. If it was inappropriate for our age, we usually lost interest. I could go on and on but it boils down to the fact that we surround our children with the things we value…books and reading included.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Always lovely to hear from you, Jeanne. The librarian’s viewpoint. Extremely helpful! (From your lips to the administrators’ ears???) And what a wonderful mention – that we should surround our children with what we value. Yes.

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