The Role of Children’s Books in Our Insanely Active Summer

IMAGE Summer reading adventuresMy kids and I were uploading all the titles and author names of the books they’ve read this summer as part of the 2014 Latinas for Latino Lit Summer Reading Program. Luckily, the program required we only report eight books per child or I’d be doing this all night. Why? Because my kids, now entering grades 2, 5 and 7 this fall, are (thankfully!) self-motivated, voracious readers of many types of books. I have never had to remind them to read over the summer. They default to reading, that is, when we’re not outdoors doing something else. Or should I say, because we’re outdoors doing so much? You decide.

In June as the L4LL program kicked off, I was invited to participate in an NPR interview on parenting and “Diverse Summer Reading Picks For Kids,” I mentioned how my hubby and I intentionally expose our biracial kids to a diverse mix of nonfiction and fiction literature in the summertime when the world is our unscheduled oyster. I also mentioned that I let their interests lead the choices we make in what to check out from the library and what to load on the Kindles. Especially when traveling, we have both print and eBooks available for enjoyment depending on the activities of the day. I gave the example that I had asked each child what they wanted to study and read about this summer. Predictably, my son said, “I want to learn more about insects.”

When they’re reading what they love, they simply read more. Very importantly to prevent the typical regression that happens when kids turn their brains off for the summer. As I mentioned in the NPR interview, I remind my kids to journal regularly in the summer about the adventures we’re having. My oldest child who is blind reads Braille books and journals her sentences on a digital, refreshable BrailleNote; my two sighted kids write in small journals they shove in their backpacks while packing.

This summer the reading, the outdoor adventures, the learning, the experiences, the journaling all came together so naturally. They had to – we traveled over 3000 miles by car from California to Las Vegas, back to California then north for two days to Washington State. There, we spent the entire month of July fixing up a rental property. But that’s the beauty of having insatiable readers – all three read quietly for hours and hours in the car – it was the smoothest set of back-to-back roadtrips EVER. In the evenings after dinner, we’d let them relax and enjoy playing Minecraft until they got sleepy and we arrived at the hotel.

In Las Vegas, my daughter and I met Duncan Tonatiuh, author of Pancho Rmeeting Duncanabbit and the Coyote, after the International Latino Book Awards ceremony we attended. He signed the copy of his book we had brought from home for this occasion and she was thrilled. She also met Angela Cervantes, author ofMeeting Angela Cervantes Gaby Lost and Found that she’d read at school.


It was super special to have my daughter and parents with me as my bilingual children’s book won an award that night, AND even more so to be able to introduce her to other award-winning Latino authors. We bought the Pure Belpre winner this year, Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales to enjoy on the Kindle in the car on the way home. It’s a completely hilarious story with genius illustrations. I bought a print copy and gave it to my 83 year-old father who loves it too.

We drove home and did a quick unpack/repack marathon in a day. We then drove north through Oregon and Washington – 900 miles over two days after driving 560 miles home from Vegas. Ouch.

The night we arrived at the Washington house in the forest, it was 8:45 p.m. on the 4th of July and not quite dark. As we exited the car, we got buzzed by a very large brown and white beetle. “Whoa, that’s HUGE!” exclaimed my son. I said, “Yep, you’re going to LOVE it here. There’s some awesome insects and especially cool beetles!”

A few days later, my neighbor Sharon, who I’ve known since we first moved into this house when I was stationed at Fairchild AFB in the 1990s, mentioned that she was going to take her grandkids to the local rural library for storytime. She invited us to go and of course we accepted. The library was enrolling kids into their summer reading program and so all three of my kiddos signed up. My son immediately checked out two nonfiction books beetlesabout beetles and began to identify the different species they had already collected in the backyard. The initial conversation I had with him about what he wanted to deeply explore this summer, became a daily experience (catching numerous insects), was embellished with the beetle books and gave him a chance to show the neighbor kids the proper way to pin insects to cardboard for display and exploration. He expanded his science vocabulary, gained cool social points by teaching the neighbors and enjoyed every second. Guess what he wrote about several times during the summer? My role was limited to driving him to the library and listening to his discoveries and new beetle names. Love that.

The Lakeside Community Library summer reading program was based on hours spent Koko with bag 20140714_142953reading, so we immediately credited them for all the hours reading between home and Vegas and up to Spokane. My ten year-old got her prize, a nice logo’d book bag, for twenty hours of reading, the following week; the other two later in July. She remembered to write down at least half of all books read on the L4LL reading log sheet she remembered to pack.

In Washington State, the many trips to Home Depot for our many home improvement projects instead of becoming exercises in frustration for our family, became the time when my ten year-old plopped down in the outdoor furniture section or the garden section to read and re-read the manga version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. That one she discovered at the American Library Association national convention we attended in Vegas in June. What’s funnier than sneaking up on her laying on bags of compost and peat moss, reading and snapping a photo?

My blind child had a similar yet different experience. She read big Braille books from home that she packed in tote bags. She packed many issues of Spider magazine from her large collection, a magazine I enjoy along with her because I have a digital subscription to access on my laptop or smartphone. The highlights you see of her in the first graphic all came this way: My long-time friends Doug and Margie, both former Air Force officers, invited us to visit their horse farm. We spent a lovely afternoon with them and their goats, sheep, dogs, and horses. My oldest child adores horses and loved riding almost as much as touching them and feeling their hot breath on her neck.

When we finally came home to California, I took her to her school library, the California School for the Blind, and checked out one of my favorite books starring a blind character, Mandy Sue Day. It’s a book where a girl spends a day enjoying her horse in a very multisensory way – a beautiful story where you only learn at the end that she is blind. As we enjoyed the book together, she relived the fun days we had with our Air Force friends with horses. Doug and Margie, Jim and his Clydesdale horses and Jon and the three miniature horses recently rescued.  Her reading and adventure experiences came in a different order, but that’s okay.

The highlight of her end-of-summer reading came that August day in the CSB library when she found Stir It Up: Recipes and Techniques for Young Blind Cooks produced by the National Braille Press. That evening, she led the shopping, prepping, cutting and baking of our new favorite easy meal: Corn Dog Muffins. Last night, she and Dad made another recipe she read aloud and led: Sweet Potato Casserole. Yum!

I share these experiences so that other parents and children can hopefully appreciate the natural flow of life, books, adventures and daily experiences – they somehow tie in altogether if you let them. There’s no nagging and stress required to enjoy reading in the summer when you allow the children’s curiosity to lead the way. This is true whether you spend the summer at home like we usually do or if life requires a manic summer schedule as we had this year. You just have to ask them what they want to learn during this valuable time.

I had NO idea my son would learn so much about the wide variety of beetles that exist in the world (350,000 different species!). I had NO idea my second daughter would get deeply into Japanese-style manga (coincidentally my hubby is Japanese) and be reading books from back to front all summer. And I had no idea that my daughter who sees with her hands would discover a book that now has her telling us what she wants to help make for dinner as a result of finding this one book.

Yet, all these wonderful, fun, personal growth things happened because we listened to their interests, honored them and got out of their way. I can’t wait to see what they discover next summer!

Thank you L4LL for structuring a program that exposed my kids to more Latino authors and books this summer as part of their intellectual exploration amidst the family “working vacation” chaos. Keep it up. We’re big fans!L4LL kids with certif

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