- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

As summer days become long and lazy, it’s easy for families to put aside the schooling schedule and focus on sleeping long and luxurious hours and vegetating with games, TV and the like.

There’s a lot to be said for a relaxed summer. Extra sleep lets the batteries recharge and the body grow. Outdoor exertion builds muscle and bone. Fresh air and sunshine are beneficial to anyone’s health.

But summer is also a great time for recreational reading. In our house, the rule has been two hours of reading per day during the entire vacation. We go to the library, head for their favorite sections, and load up on books that look interesting. Although I let them choose any kind of books that interest them, I also steer them to books I know are of good quality, to acquaint them with the wonderful stories and characters that are part of our literary heritage.

There’s a Web site parents may find helpful for a summer reading project: Buster’s Bookshelf, named after the Kansas City, Mo., bookstore whose owner, Amber Gallagher, created the site. “Buster” is the nickname of her grandfather, W.J. Brooks, who instilled in her a love of reading through his tradition of reading aloud to her. The Web site aims “To provide exceptional reading material for children and anyone who would choose to share the love of a book with a child.”

Bustersbookshelf.com is an eclectic mix of an online bookstore, a teaching resource, and a tool to link to other family and educational Web sites. It offers everything from ideas for summer activities to birthday party themes. There are pages on how to teach your child to read and how to develop and encourage a love of reading from the earliest years.

You may want to access the many lists of suggested titles and authors on the site, listed according to age group and type of book. I prefer the Classics list (https://bustersbookshelf.com/timeless_classics.htm). Here you’ll find a pretty good starting point for books that will delight the heart and feed the mind.

With apologies to contemporary authors, I confess to a bias toward classical literature. In my experience, it provides a far richer and more varied vocabulary than current works. My children ask me more questions about unusual words or phrases when they read the books of Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott. I believe this develops fluency and familiarity with the language and attunes the reader to different styles and tempos of writing. The structure of good writing is absorbed, and it informs the young person’s own ability to write well.

That being said, I caution parents to always examine and be familiar with the content of any book before exposing a child to it. There are many works that can be troubling — and in some cases, destructive — to a young person’s psyche. Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Kate Chopin, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Henry James and J.D. Salinger are authors whose works are sometimes dark, morbid, hypercritical or focused on negative portrayals of human nature. They may be introducing themes of adultery, deceit, abandonment, torture or suicide to the young mind, and if a young reader begins to identify with a certain set of ideas or emotions, it can cause depression, self-doubt or cynicism. Be ready to discuss the topics contained in a book with your children as they are reading it if you do feel the overall content of the book is important.

Buster’s Bookshelf also has lists of contemporary works, indexed by age group and type of book, and you also can access the works of authors through alphabetical listings. Of course, you can purchase the books, but I would recommend using the library first. If you find yourself borrowing the same book several times, or having several of your family members reading it, then it’s a good idea to purchase it.

Two hours of reading a day helps children maintain and expand their academic muscles, even as they enjoy lots of other fun summer activities. Call it “vitamin R,” if you will; reading is strongly correlated to better outcomes in all other subjects and to good oral and written communications skills for life.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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