Summertime for Kids Should Include A Book … This Book

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Before I offer my recommendation for your summer reading list, please allow a digression to a scene several winters ago.

It was another in an endless schedule of youth hockey games involving one of my older boys. As usual, a sibling or two sat in the bleachers, often reading.

The kids always had a book. It wasn’t a rule, per se, but an encouraged practice:  Bring a book if you’re going out, especially if you know there will be dead times. (Like waiting for your bother’s hockey game to end, or a parent to pick you up.) So, there we were in the rink, son on the ice and my 8-year-old daughter Kathleen sitting high up, buried in the pages of her paperback, oblivious to all.

A dad standing next to me noticed Kathleen’s focus. “Wow,” he said. “How do you get her to read like that?” He then pointed to his girl, about the same age, with the same concentration, but with her thumbs moving in a blur, playing a handheld video game.

“I wish she wanted to read like your daughter” he said.

This is where I pause. What can I say? Anything out of my mouth will reek of virtue signaling. Aren’t you impressed with my parenting? But the man did ask me a question.

“Um, our kids have always read,” I offered. “We don’t allow video games.”

“Oh,” he said, “I could never do that.”

The reply was so quick it was stunning. This grown man, who I knew to be a business success – and therefore had to often make tough decisions in the adult world – could not fathom making a decision for his 9-year-old. (Virtue Signaling alert: This dad was a good guy. But he, in my humble insight, lowered the bar for his daughter.)

He’s not alone. We continue to dazzle our children with technology, and watch their reading skills fade. According to an article in Education News, a government study that marked this decline, stating that for “kids in the fourth grade, only about one-third of them are ‘proficient’ in reading and another one-third tested under ‘basic’ reading skills.”

Reading makes minds work, in those two valuable areas of reason and imagination. It makes children more articulate, and better writers. (I won’t bore you with national measurements of writing skills, but you can guess.)

All my children have been read to – may I suggest the Chronicles of Narnia? – and have read often. Not all are passionate about it, but the benefits were obvious, including an ability to write clearly.

Kathleen, among the more voracious readers, took it a step further. Like her siblings, Kathleen wrote proficiently. I always appreciated the kids’ poems and stories (and fought the urge to immediately edit). But when Kathleen recited her poems or short stories, I froze — awed by the unfolding of creativity and depth. 

The skeptic in me wondered if my judgment of Kathleen’s prose was overly subjective (i.e., a bragging dad), until she joined The Telling Room, a marvelous non-profit center in Portland, Maine that encourages youth to write; it’s a place I’ve mentioned before.

Kathleen progressed through the center’s programs and was accepted into its selective Young Emerging Authors Fellowship. The result, after a year of re-writing, editing, mentoring, and more re-writing – was a published novel last year, a fantasy thriller titled Quick. My daughter, the 15-year-old author.

You would think her father would read it right off the presses, ready to boast to the world. I did not. Frankly, my skeptical self feared that I would not like it, and Kathleen knows when I offer her fake praise. I waited for months, until I was out of town, with time on my hands, to begin Quick.

I couldn’t put it down.

With imagination and insight, it’s a great read. No fake praise needed – when the national Scholastic Art & Writing Awards were announced, the book won a gold medal – so I can (objectively) recommend it. (It can be ordered from The Telling Room, which directs all revenue for future projects).

Read it this summer. Have your kids read it; or have your kids read something else. (Longer than a text message.

Just have them read.

In her article “Do America’s Reading Habits Explain Today’s Lack of Clear Thinking?” Annie Holmquist, the editor of Intellectual Takeout, a web site that publishes social commentary, writes:

“One has to wonder how much genius and creativity today’s population is denying itself by its lack of reading. By avoiding reading, do we push ourselves into a state of mindlessness, unable to think, reason, and create in ways which sustain a future, flourishing society?”

Want your children to flourish? Lose the gadget. Hand them a book.


Kevin Thomas is a writer and teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.