Next Tuesday, my wife and I are going to take our middle child to a large bus, where she is going to—somewhat regally—offer us her cheek, sling her knapsack over her shoulder, and leave us for seven weeks. Had we given her the opportunity, she would have gone to camp a month (or six) ago. She’s nine, almost ten, and both independent and quietly self-confident. She thinks she’s sixteen, which is fine in lots of ways. She’ll have a blast. She will occasionally brush her teeth, eat pretty much no protein, and will send us one or two non-informative postcards because otherwise she won’t get a care package.
There will be two books in the bottom of her pink-and-leopard duffle bag, which will represent her Required Reading for the summer before fifth grade. We received the list from which she could choose last week. There is little chance she will open either book. One of the reasons they will gather dust is because, well, she’s ten and would rather listen to the new One Direction album while talking about what jerks the boys are (or worse, how cute they are). The other reason is the list itself.
I’m really not here to bash their school or their librarian or administration for their choices. Other schools have similar, very good and meaningful books on their lists. But honestly, at the end of a day with swimming and dancing and basketball and gaga (I don’t know, it’s a game they all seem to play), is any ten year old going to say “Ooh, what I want to do now instead of braiding my bunk-mate’s hair is to sit quietly and read Sarah, Plain and Tall?” Or Sounder, or A Little Princess? And while there are A Wrinkle in Time and Bridge to Terabithia, even these are sort of Good For You good books, and BTT is SO sad.
And that’s what I keep seeing—sad, adult, Message books. All good for you. All good, in fact, when considering them objectively, and very worthy of their awards. But not always fun. And not the way to get kids to read during camp. And yes, she can do it after, when she gets home and is depressed and apprehensive about the start of school. And she may make her way through them in camp, if threatened with no care package if she doesn’t read one a week for the first two weeks. And she may even enjoy them despite herself. But it will feel like work, and it won’t be cool. And being cool is SO important. Last year I heard about the kids who were reading Harry Potter at night (even if it was for the third time) or Hunger Games (even though it was TOTALLY inappropriate for the age group). I’d LOVE to hear my daughter tell me that she was SO excited to read the next Rick Riordan or The Apothecary or, for that matter, Monster High. Because what I’m looking for—and what, to my mind her teachers ought to be looking for—is an excited, engaged, happy girl who WANTS to sit and read and learn.
And who will, eventually, become excited about and appreciate A Wrinkle in Time.
Postscript: As I look through the list again to check myself, I see The Lightning Thief on the list. So Percy gets to go to camp, and I suspect will be both read and passed around.