My kids claim they like to read, and during the school year, they're pretty good about working books into their evening routines. But come summer, it tends to be a struggle.
The boys would much rather be outside racing around with one ball or another, or unwinding with a little television or computer time. I love that they're active and don't mind a reasonable amount of electronic fun, but I want them to keep reading, too. What I don't want to do, though, is force them to do it. I don't want books to feel like a punishment or something akin to a "clean your room" command.
The summer reading programs at local libraries are awesome, but they've never worked so well for my kids. They'll race through books just to add them to their total, without really understanding them. Not to mention the fact that the boys, who are two years apart, are very competitive with each other and too easily get caught up in a "who-read-the-book-faster" contest.
My husband and I, both writers ourselves, want the boys to find joy in reading, appreciate good writing and understand the meaning of stories, not just the basic plot. So how could we do that?
It was my husband who came up with the idea that has worked: a Johnson Family Book Club. We'd all read the same book at the same time and the same pace, maybe two or three chapters a night. Then the next day, we'd sit down and talk about those chapters. No competition, no prizes -- just reading for fun and comprehension.
We've read three books so far, which we all pick out together. My husband and I ask the kids basic questions about the plot but also talk about why we like certain characters, what the kids learned from them and their predictions for what will happen next.
I have read books I never would have picked up on my own. The first was a science fiction novel called Dragon Rider, and although I have never been a science fiction fan, I thought it was a great story with interesting characters. The second was an entry from our older son, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Not exactly highbrow literature, of course, but I laughed out loud several times and it prompted some good talks about family relationships.
We're now on The World According to Humphrey, a neat book about a class hamster who helps students and teachers get through problems in their lives. On deck is Jackie & Me, a time-travel book about a boy who goes back to meet baseball great Jackie Robinson.
I wish we'd started the book club earlier in the summer, but next year we'll know what to do.
Now, off to see how Humphrey can help the quietest girl in his class.