My grandparents’ basement is a magical place. Always cool in the summer, it’s filled with stacks of old movie posters from our family cinema roomworn furniture, old games and photographs, a bust of Theodor Herzl and shelves full of books.
There are stray books from my mom and aunt’s college classes alongside YA paperbacks from my teenage years. But the gems of the collection are vintage hardcover editions from the 1950s of popular children’s series such as the Bobbsey Twins, the Dana Girls and Nancy Drew.
There’s something special about summer reading.
I spent July and August hours in that basement, reading on the cool sofa while munching on handfuls of peanut M&Ms I brought from the candy dish upstairs. I savored each of my mother’s childhood books, which seemed to transport me to an old-fashioned time when girls wore interesting clothes and life seemed orderly and enjoyable even though mysteries cropped up everywhere.
When friends arrived, we would go down to the basement with piles of Baby-Sitters Club books and swap them out as we finished them.
There were certain books that I reread summer after summer: a novel about a time-traveling girl in Victorian New York; a entertaining memory by one of the actors from “The Brady Bunch”.
Publishers have built an entire industry around summer books and beach reads, but I think whatever genre you get lost in, it’s common for our summer reads to be driven by nostalgia, l escape and the memory of the pleasure of childhood.
My kids seem to take big steps in their reading lives every summer. Last year, my then 8-year-old son entered his first series of chapter books (Hilo graphic novels), and this summer is his first time independently reading a chapter book that is not shown.
I’m delighted to say that the novel that caught Nate’s attention is “Sideways Stories From Wayside School”, a weird, funny and entertaining classic by Louis Sachar that is timeless and, without a doubt, a summer choice of first order. (Note to other millennials: a fourth book in the Wayside School series was released last year.)
My 5 year old son, Harvey, is making huge strides in his reading life because of the fact that he reads.
When Nate was the same age, I was a firm believer that he shouldn’t be forced to start reading too young, and it would take another year and a little prodding before he read on his own. Once he started he couldn’t be stopped, and I’m glad we let him go at his own pace.
But it’s a pleasure to see Harvey more or less learn to read, and it’s also a great relief to know that I won’t have to push him to a certain level in school, because he’s already there.
Recently, my kids picked up a book from my grandparents: a 1950s puzzle book that has chestnuts like, “Why is a dirty kid like flannel?” Because he recoils from the wash” and “What’s the difference between a busy typist and 16 ounces of flour? A distance book; the other weighs a pound. Nate and Harvey can’t make heads or tails, which I’m glad about, because so much of the “humor” in this book is dripping with sexism.
Nancy Drew’s old books also contain outdated representations of race and gender that I don’t want to pass on to my own children. It’s fine, though, to leave Nancy behind, because Nancy was never great literature.
The point of reading the books was to imagine being like Nancy, with her car and her boyfriend, running to the end of each book to find the thriller, and craving the next and the next and the next.
My mom loved Nancy Drew so much she named me after her.
And to this day, she is a voracious reader.
She gave me Nancy Drew books when I was young, but when I grew up she gave me Bronte. I can’t wait for my kids to read books, love them, and also throw them away as they move on to bigger and better things.