My daughter is a great reader. She’s been bitten by the book-love bug, shot by Cupid’s literary arrow, fallen head-over-heels for fiction–you get the idea, this girl loves to lose herself in a good book. It was always my dream as a parent to have that horrible (ha!) problem where a child won’t (fill in the blank here), because their nose is buried in a book. Yes, it’s bad that they aren’t doing whatever you filled in the blank with, but the fact that they aren’t doing it because they love their book so much isn’t really the worst problem in the world to have. So, I got my wish, I have that kind of kid.
Up into middle school, she was mostly able to satisfy her fetish with whatever she felt like reading. Yes, there would need to be a mix in terms of quality so that she could write occasional book reports on her outside reading, without having to try to pull literary greatness out of something like…say, oh, Pretty Little Liars for example. Bottom line, lots of variety interspersed with fun garbage here and there made for one happy, carefree reader. By eighth grade she got pretty busy with homework and other activities, and towards the end, the pleasure reading had to be gently moved aside to make room for the assigned reading in English class. That was okay though, because on the weekends and over breaks she would have time to read her own stuff (ie, those self-chosen gems that truly fan the reading flame).
With the transition to high school however, I am horrified to see that her reading joy-flame is being slowly but surely snuffed out. And the sad truth is that assigned summer reading is the culprit. We have long since accepted that because of schoolwork and activities, pleasure reading is now a luxury set aside for breaks from school. But my daughter has a stack of pleasure reading books gathering dust on her nightstand that she has been trying to get to for well over a year now: final books from a couple of trilogies she’d started, a fabulous historical fiction book that tied in with her history class (from LAST YEAR!), a couple of “must read” stand-alones that she’s long forgotten who loaned her. She had assigned reading last summer, but managed to get a couple of books off the top of her pile read. She was really looking forward to this summer, even knowing she would have to carefully prioritize which of her books she could get to. But alas, as classes advance, summer reading requirements expand too. She read several books this summer, but did she read a single book of her choosing? Not a one.
Gah! I’m conflicted. On the one hand, yes, she read all summer. On the other hand, did she get even one little iota of joy out of it? No. She spent beautiful summer days slogging through meaty books that she will eventually learn to appreciate, and maybe even love, when she analyzes them later in the year. There is immense value in this type of reading, to be sure. But this type of reading is also a chore. And nothing sucks the sheer joy out of something more than turning it into a chore. Kids need down time to get back to their reading roots and truly lose themselves in something they love again–be it a graphic novel, the latest PLL, or a dystopian trilogy. It makes me sad that my daughter’s passion for reading is dying on the vine, killed by the very class that is supposed to encourage and nurture that love. How ironic is that?