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Summer Reading: What's Old Is New Again

By Jerry Griswold

To Kill a MockingbirdFrom her mountain cabin in Colorado, my friend Alida Allison writes: “Here in the Southwest Rockies, the movie theater is 45 miles away, so I haven't seen ‘Up’ yet. However, I just finished To Kill a Mockingbird. I'd forgotten what a remarkable and wise book it is. Next? My bi-annual rereading of The Lord of the Rings. It's summer!”

A note like that reminds me how summer reading is different from reading in other parts of the year. It’s an opportunity to revisit past favorites, explore new books, and catch up on those you’ve meant to get to. Mostly, it’s a chance to read for fun.

Needless to say, I have a number of friends with real expertise and a special interest in children’s books and adolescent literature; my cronies are parents, teachers, authors, professors, animators, and the like. So, given their youthful interests, I asked them what they were reading this summer and what they recommended. Here are some of their answers.

InkdeathMike Cadden is reading the Inkheart books, that trilogy of novels by Cornelia Caroline Funke where literary characters come to life and pop out of the pages. “They’re good and complicated and somewhat dark,” he writes, “and emotionally demanding.”

Sean Corbin advises that he is rereading Louis Sachar’s Small Steps, a sequel that follows the characters from Sachar’s Holes as they adjust to life in Austin, Texas, after leaving the prison at Camp Green Lake. But Sean is not just reading boys’ books: “I’m also reading Little Women for the first time and like it more than I thought I would.”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceVanessa Chalmers and Marianne Paluso are readying for the summer release of the film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Vanessa writes, “I'm reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (book 5), trying to get through book 6 in time to watch the movie.” Marianne explains that she is “rereading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for fun before the film comes out, and I just started reading Twilight. Although I'm not finished, I think Twilight is going to be the kind of book where I enjoy the story but not so much the way it's written. I actually find the prose very mediocre and at times it seems as if Meyer is trying too hard. Consequently, when I pick up Harry Potter again it is a great joy and pleasure to return to writing that I find absolutely engaging.”

Smokey the CowhorseHaving just become a mother, British emigre Ellen Nef has created an ambitious project for herself: “I have started reading all the books that have won the Newbery Prize since 1922, mostly out of curiosity about what makes them ‘American.’ There's only been one thus far that I would say is really “American”--Will James’ Smoky the Cowhorse. While I’m only part of the way through the list, my favorites have been Tales from Silver Lands (a collection of South American fairy tales) and Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon from an Indian author.”

Life as We Knew ItVirginia Loh’s summer reading plans are equally ambitious. Heading her ten-item list are these two entries: “1. The ‘Percy Jackson’ series starting with The Lightning Thief (by Rick Riordan): I have a couple of friends who raved about this series and kids seem to like it, so I wanted to see what the big deal was about. 2. Depressing books just so I can keep things real: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.”

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time IndianHimself. On my part, I'm reading Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky for the second time; I read it for the first time last week and really liked it. On the recommendation of lots of friends, lined up for reading next are Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

And here’s my advice. Take books like these on your family vacation. They are part of the vacation.

About the Author
Jerry Griswold is the Director of San Diego State University's National Center for the Study of Children's Literature. His most recent book is Feeling Like a Kid.


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