Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summer Reading

We are officially on summer break. By “we,” I of course mean everyone at my house except me. The first day of summer, my three boys looked at me as I was getting ready to leave the house in the morning and asked, “Where are you going?”
“Oh… You don’t get summer, too?”
“Shut up.”
I’m not bitter.

In preparation for a three-month period of not being able to get away from the boys, my wife went to our local library and picked up information on their summer reading program for kids. Apparently the public library system is trying to keep kids interested in stuff like books and reading, so they are offering an incentive program. You set a reading goal of a number of books to read, and you get to come into the library and pick up a prize when you reach your half-way point, and again when you reach the full goal.

Son Number Two, who will be going into the second grade next year, heard the word “prizes,” and was immediately on board. If there is ever something to win, whether it be a prize, a trophy, or just bragging rights, he is interested. Their last day of school was on Thursday, and they were released from the hellish prison of elementary school just after noon. When I arrived home around 5:30 P.M., he was very excited to inform me that he had already read eight books.

“No, buddy, you can’t count ones you read during the school year. It has to be books you read during the summer.”
“I know. I have read eight books today, since after school. I’m on nine right now.”
“They have to be real books. Not picture books.”
“I know,” he said. “I read these.”
He hands me a stack of books. They weren’t exactly Moby Dick, but they weren’t Go, Dog. Go! either. He had read five Disney Winnie the Pooh adventures, two Magic Tree House chapter books, and Dolphin Tale, which was so good, they made it into a movie. (Actually, I think in this case, the movie was made into this book, but either way, the movie starred the handsome, roguishly charming, and multi-talented Harry Connick Jr., so you know it was good. Oh, and Morgan Freeman, too.)

“Wow, dude. That’s a lot of books to read in five hours.”
“Yeah, my goal is twenty books, so I’m trying to get to the halfway point so I can get my first prize.”
“It’s called a ‘summer reading program,’ dude, not a ‘the day school gets out reading program.’”
“I think you should take a break now.”
“OK, I just need to read this one and one more, then I’ll be done. Can we go get my prize tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow is the actual first day of summer. They won’t be ready for you.”
“Don’t worry, buddy. Mommy can take you in a couple of days.”

Well, that was last Thursday. In an effort to slow his pace a little, we told him he was only allowed to read long chapter books for the other ten. We went to a baseball game on Saturday, and he sat in the stands and read. My wife took the boys to the pool to swim with their friends, and he laid under her chair and read, until she had to almost throw him into the pool.

As of yesterday, five days after school got out, he was at 19. He has put us in a strange spot, parenting-wise. On the one hand, we are thrilled that he loves to read. On the other hand, we really don’t know if he loves to read, or if he just loves prizes, and would be eating live goldfish, or swimming naked to Alcatraz, if that happened to be what the library’s summer prize program entailed. On the one hand, we are thrilled to see him set a goal and work hard to achieve it. On the other hand, we have considered moving his goal from 20 books up to 2,000 in an effort to make it a “summer” program.  

We don’t want to tell him to stop reading, because that seems wrong from a good parental advice standpoint. We have to do something, though, because if we don’t, he will literally read all summer. I think we’re going to have to put him on a strict schedule, and try to balance out his activities. This is mostly a selfish thing on my part, because one of my main concerns is that he will get too smart, too fast.

He is already reading the Hardy Boys mysteries, and the Encyclopedia Brown series. At his pace, I’m really kind of worried that he will run through all of those and then graduate to the Sherlock Holmes collection. What’s next, John Grisham novels? I’m going to have to try and balance this out somehow. “Dumb it down,” if you will. I think I’ll make a rule that for every chapter of a book he reads, he has to spend at least ten minutes in the backyard banging a stick against a tree, or digging a hole with a spoon.

If we don’t do something like that, he’ll be on to The Count of Monte Cristo and A Tale of Two Cities in no time. Based on the furious book-devouring capacity he has already demonstrated, he will have read everything by the time he is 14 years old. I am well aware that when my boys are in their teens they will be convinced that they know everything, but I am not at all interested in trying to raise a teenage boy who actually does. This must be stopped!

My wife and my parents helped out the other day in distracting him, by taking all the boys on a summer field trip to an insect museum. Not only did this help by providing a four-hour window where he was unable to read, but it shed a hopeful light on our situation. He was allowed to spend some of his money in the gift shop at the end of the day, and what did my highly-educated, well-read seven-year-old son purchase? A three-inch-long piece of transparent hard candy with a scorpion encased inside. He’s currently sucking on the candy, trying to get down to the scorpion, so he can eat it.

Maybe there is hope. Maybe he’s not all that smart after all.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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