Each summer at about this time, summer reading lists tumble out of my children’s backpacks with wrinkled smocks and ripe sneakers. The lists remind me of summers spent choosing what I wanted to read — a fun and relaxing experience, which always made me feel a little more grown up. I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt as as I checked off another book finished.
I remember reading The Chosen, A Day no Pigs Would Die, and A Member of the Wedding. All are coming of age stories, and all rather depressing, but that was my thing. I sought them out the way my nine-year-old son, the future cartoonist, pores over comic strip books like Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, and The Far Side. He keeps telling me that he is the only kid in the neighborhood without an Xbox or Play Station game system. And every morning this summer, I hope to find him flopped in the same overstuffed chair reading a book.
My 12-year-old daughter reads voraciously, always managing to read many books in addition to her school assignments. It’s true what they say about there being a dearth of books for kids her age. You can’t write books fast enough for them. [Note to publishers, I have a great mystery series for ’tween girls that will delight girls everywhere. Call me.]
About six months ago, she wrote to her favorite author, Cornelia Funke, the German writer of magical adventure stories like Inkheart, The Thief Lord, and Dragon Rider. It took a while, but she got a response from the author’s sister, who handles Funke’s huge volume of fan mail. Each question my daughter had asked was answered in detail, and a small illustration signed by the author was included with the letter. It was a thrill on the order of getting a Derek Jeter autograph or a photo with an American Idol.
She’s proud I’m a writer, too, even if I’m no Cornelia Funke.
Earlier this year, Penguin published Laura’s List, a book by Beverly Darnall detailing the First Lady’s choice of 57 great books that children and families should read. Mrs. Bush’s must-reads include Goodnight, Moon, Charlotte’s Web, Little House on the Prairie, The Wind in the Willows, and Esperanza Rising. The readings chosen by the former teacher and librarian are of a broad range: books to be read to small children, books to experience as a whole family, and books to be read independently. Darnall offers a reader’s guide to each one, including some questions to think about or discuss after reading.
Parents will probably find classics on the list that are already family favorites, perhaps since their own childhood days. Others might inspire a trip to the library or bookstore. While it was years ago when I presented my kids with a copy of Make Way for Ducklings, I realized reading Laura’s List that I had never acquired a copy of Where the Wild Things Are (although. their school librarian had read it to them).
Books are indexed according to genre (adventure, poetry, animals) as well as by theme (such as comfort, fear, compassion, friendship, encouragement, adversity, and individuality). There are brief synopses and excerpts that offer enough of a heads up if tough issues such as death or abandonment are tackled.
Darnall details Laura Bush’s odyssey from teacher/librarian to First Lady of Texas, and then of the United States, consistently developing her expertise in literature along the way. It is not news that reading is important to Mrs. Bush, but Laura’s List reiterates the necessity of introducing books to kids early on and serves as a tool to guide parents in achieving that goal.
The book has several epigraphs including:
I started reading. I read everything I could get my hands on.…By the time I was thirteen I had read myself out of Harlem.
A home without books is like a room without windows.
Henry Ward Beecher
I’d like to add:
A home without an Xbox is a place where kids read. Perhaps we should cancel the cable…
— Susan Konig, a journalist, is author of Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road (And Other Lies I Tell My Children).