The Summers I Spent Reading...
The summers that reside in the memory of my childhood do not always resemble the present summers of my own daughters. I didn't go to a water park down the road like my daughters can (although we did visit a nearby lake on special occasions, and we swam in one of those three-foot deep, assemble-yourself pools in our backyard), and we rarely had a true family vacation (our week-long getaway usually consisted of visiting my grandparents in Texas).
A few things do remain the same, though. Childhood Me and my own girls both look forward to Vacation Bible School every summer, and we enjoy many of the same simple pleasures. Things like eating homemade ice cream, playing with sparklers on the Fourth of July, running through a sprinkler in the backyard, and digging into a juicy watermelon.
And, thank goodness, a common thread that runs through all of our Summers is an affinity for--and time spent--reading.
I will always thank God for the love of reading that my parents instilled in me. And in every Summer from my childhood that I can recall, that involved weekly trips to the local library. We would sign me up for the summer reading program and I would leave that wonderful building with a pile of books that reached all the way up to my chin.
I can't exactly remember the years, or my ages, but I do remember some of the books that I read during those summers I lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Austin, Texas.
One Summer I decided that I would read every book in the Black Stallion series that I could find; another Summer I read every Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew book that I could get my hands on (that, I guess, is when my love for mysteries began!)
I remember some of the specific books that I discovered during those summers...books like Shane (probably the only Western I ever read, until I discovered the phenomenal Lonesome Dove when I was in college), Are You There God, It's me Margaret? (I can still remember the Sunday morning I hid it behind my hymnal in church and read it throughout the service), The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and A Wrinkle in Time (one Summer--I think after my fourth grade year--I read that entire series and was enthralled!).
As I got older, I'd spend my allowances during the Summer on paperback books from the Waldenbooks at the local shopping mall. (The library didn't stock enough of those teenage romances I'd discovered!) My parents still tried to convince me that the "classics" were what I really needed to be reading, not "Sweet Valley High" books or books with titles like P.S. I Love You and Christy's First Love. But, until I turned maybe fifteen, my summers were spent reading mysteries, romances, and young adult fiction. (Later on, I'd discover that the books recommended by my parents were wonderful after all.)
And so, during Summertime, I'd head home from the local library or the bookstore and spend countless hours...sometimes the entire day...reading. More times than not, I'd pull out my favorite beach towel and throw it on the ground under the big tree in our front yard. I'd lie on that towel for hours on hot June and July afternoons, the shade from the tree and the slight breeze in the air giving me some respite from the heat. But, really, the heat didn't seem to matter so much when I was really somewhere else anyway; I was in Narnia, or Nancy Drew's convertible, or the Boxcar Children's boxcar instead.
When it did get too hot, I'd come inside my room, get the box fan going, and sit on a corner of my bed for hours and read some more; then at night, Mom would oftentimes have to come into my room and tell me to turn off the flashlight I had hidden under my covers. I'd spend all night reading if I could get away with it.
These memories of my Summers spent reading came back to me recently, when Mom called me from a bookstore to ask if McKenna and Delaney had copies of two books she'd just found. The books were by Paula Danziger...The Cat Ate my Gymsuit, and The Pistachio Prescription. Had the girls read them? she wanted to know.
I immediately said they hadn't read them but that, yes, they would be great for the girls. In fact, I oohed and aahed and rambled on to Mom about how much I'd loved those books when I was younger.
I discovered The Cat Ate my Gymsuit the summer after my eighth grade. I immediately fell in love with the main character, Marcy, who is a typical junior high student who doesn't get along with her parents and feels like she's too fat and boys will never like her. She really finds out "who she is" when a new teacher comes to her school and teaches her to think outside of the box and learn to love herself. It was one of those books that really spoke to me, because it presented preteens like they really were. I was so excited to discover that the book was now considered a "classic" (I read it in the early 1980s, but it was actually written back in 1974), and it soon became part of Delaney's personal book collection.
Mom gave it to Delaney and she began reading it that night. (As a funny coincidence, she told one of her best friends about the book and discovered that Caroline was actually reading it right now too.) She ended up really liking the book, (thank goodness! I would have been upset if she hadn't). And then I sat down and re-read it again. And I was happy to discover that, even with almost-forty-year-old-eyes, I felt the same joy that I felt when I read it for the first time so many years ago on that beach towel in the front yard.
(By the way...this is what my original version looks like...yes, I still have it!...
and what the "new" version looks like...
That book...and so many, many more...are an integral part of my childhood and preteen Summers. I really can't think of Summertime without thinking about books. Sure... I think about the beach, and riding my bicycle throughout the neighborhood, and catching fireflies after dark...but really, more than anything, I remember those books. Those books, and the characters, and the settings they took me too, and the joy I felt in starting a new book, and then the satisfaction (and the sadness) I felt every time I turned a last page.
And so, this Summer, I am encouraging my girls to read. (Just the other day, I caught McKenna reading Of Mice and Men well into the night and...so sweet...Delaney has begun reading the "Junie B. Jones" books out loud to Sydney). And I have a smile on my face when I catch Gary reading a book between innings at our softball tournaments (reading is one of many favorites we share!).
And I am working on my pile of Summer books myself.
Because, really, what would my Summer be without them?