By Luke Smith
It’s summertime! Woot! Woot!
After months of getting up early to get to school on time, kids get to sleep in a bit, play in the water, hang out with friends, and enjoy being a kid. I know I have fond memories of my childhood summers. Adults don’t get summer breaks – BOOOO!
All kidding aside, it is important for kids to enjoy there down time, but down time doesn’t mean brain-dead time. It is important for kids to keep their minds sharp over the summer or they are likely to fall behind the next school year. A child’s brain is like a muscle, and it is important to exercise that muscle to keep it strong! Note that the brain is not actually a muscle – it is an organ, but you get the example. The easiest way to keep your brain sharp is reading.
Growing up, I used to hate reading. I had to read tons of books in school that didn’t really interest me, so I would mostly skim through them to find main points, look up the rest of the details online, and get whatever I needed to pass my book reports or exams. Then one school year I… misbehaved… and I was grounded for the summer. I was not allowed to watch tv, play video games, or hang out with friends. The only thing I was allowed to do was read, so as you can imagine, I must have read 50 books that summer.
That might have been one of the best things that ever happened to me because from that point on, I was a straight A student. I learned that it wasn’t that I didn’t like reading, it was just that I didn’t like WHAT I was reading before. That summer I found dozens of books that I loved and would fondly remember throughout my life.
Hopefully, you (or your kids) don’t have to get grounded for the summer to find their passion for reading. As a professional in academics, I now recommend to parents that is not important necessarily what kids read, it is just important that they are reading! If that means reading more Harry Potters or other fictional titles, it doesn't matter, as long as they are reading, your child’s brain is growing. With that said, you might be looking for some new (or old) genres to introduce to your kids, so here are a few of my favorite books growing up:
Bruce Coville (Elementary and Middle School)
Bruce Coville was hands down my favorite author as a kid! He writes a lot of “spooky mysteries” and primarily specializes in fantasy fiction and science fiction. Goblins in the Castle (Grades 3 – 5) was my all-time favorite; I must have read that book a dozen times before I went to middle school! My Teacher is an Alien was a close runner up.
The Chronicles of Narnia (4th – Middle School)
A classic series (like many on this list). I read these in chronological order, so the first book I read was The Magicians Nephew and I wasn’t particularly blown away. I was gifted the entire series for my birthday one year and after reading the first, I moved them from my bookcase to my closet. My dad, however, insisted that I read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and boy am I glad that I did. I binge read the rest of the series which turned out to be fantastic! For the reason stated above, I would recommend reading these in the publication order instead of the chronological sequence which is:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
The Last Battle (1956)
The Hardy Boys Mysteries (Middle School)
You have probably heard of this series even if you never read any of them. This series started in the 1920s and didn’t conclude until the early 2000’s (though many would argue the “cannon” series finished in the 70’s). My dad, once again, told me how much he loved reading these when he was a kid and insisted I give them a try. So I did, and once again Dad was right! There are well over 100 volumes in this series but my top 2 favorites were The Viking Symbol Mystery and The Witchmasters Key, both by Franklin W. Dixon but you can’t go wrong with The Tower Treasure (originally written in 1927) which was the first installment of this series.
The Lord of the Rings (Middle & High School)
I am not going to lie, I saw the movies first (which are still some of my favorite all time movies). But after seeing the movies, I had to go read the books which were absolutely fantastic! Percy Jackson (the director of the movie series) took some artistic liberties from J.R.R Tolkien’s masterpiece but I equally loved the books just as much as the movies. If you have seen the movies first (like me), you will be surprised to find that Frodo is far more courageous, Legolas is funny, and Gandalf is a lot more powerful than the movies lead you to believe. These books are hard to put down!
Magic Tree House (Elementary school)
The Magic Tree House is an adventure packed series of books for kids that starts off at a lower reading level and with each book, progresses to a higher and higher reading level. These are by far the best way to introduce your children to reading chapter books as their minds will be off on adventures with dinosaurs, ninjas, knights, pirates, mummies, and so much more. I was so captivated by Dinosaurs Before Dark (the first installment in the Magic Tree House series) by Mary Pope Osborne and I am really looking forward to reading these again with my kids.
Treasure Island (Middle & High School)
Who doesn’t love a classic pirate story? This book by Robert Louis Stevenson has been retold in hundreds of other stories, movies, and tv shows. If a story is worth retelling so many times, it must be worth reading right? That was my mindset going into it and I was not disappointed at all. The STARZ show Black Sails (a VERY VERY ADULT SHOW – NOT AT ALL VIEWABLE BY KIDS) is a direct prequel to this book that I had to see because of how much I loved Treasure Island. It's one of those stories that your kids will remember forever.
Tears of a Tiger (High School)