Summer Reading, Reluctant Readers, Dismay, Chickpeas & Me

Yes, it already feels like summer, and I am filled with the familiar sense of desperate excitement and dread that this season brings me.

Here, summertime concerns (yes, it's terrible to put those words next to each other, I apologize):

1) WILL THIS BE A GOOD SUMMER? I don't know when this question emblazoned itself on my heart and mind, but it seems to have happened, and now from March through July I am devoured: Is this going to be a good summer? Is it a good summer right now? Is everyone happy? Is everyone happy enough? Did I find the right camps? Are we swimming enough? Etc.

2) Summer reading

I can see you all wondering (yes, I can see through the computer! I didn't tell you before because I didn't want to freak you out): "How is this in any way, shape, or form a concern? Summer reading is the most fun, unyoked from assignments and due dates fun kind of reading in the world!" I'll tell you how. Because of all the things that have  twined around reading like a parasitic vine: reading levels. Grade level. Dyslexia. School. Catching up. Falling behind.

Here's the thing: as much as I want the two to be torn asunder, I am well aware that reading huge amounts will help educate a child, prepare him or her for school, set this hypothetical child firmly on the road to success. But. I feel, deep in my addled heart and mind, that trying to pour books into a kid in the hopes of edifying and educating said kid is as problematic as eating with an eye on the calorie counter/nutritional chart. My (not scientifically backed up yet deeply held) belief? That reading (and eating) are only beneficial if they are done with joy. Even more, are only worthwhile if they are done with joy.

The problem with this? Not all people can bring themselves to the joy, whether it's from bad experiences in the past, a lack of self-confidence, bad examples all around them. They only remember being unable to read a book in school, or that time they tried okra and it sliiiid across the back of their tongue.

This can (in some ways) be helped by books (or food) that are irresistible to kids, that meet them wherever those kids may be. All hail, Captain Underpants! Wimpy Kid! Bone! You have brought many a reluctant child into reading with great joy.

But what of the kid who has struggled so hard, whose tracking issues are so intense, whose focus is so diffuse, that it feels like there's no way he or she can ever catch up with peers? What of this kid's parent, who knows the thrill of reading, but feels hanging over him or her the specter of Not Up to Grade Level and Must Be Level F by September?

Truly, I don't know. All I know is that when we were having troubles like this, the greatest things anyone did for me/said to me were thus:

1) the pediatrician to the struggling child: "Oh, is reading hard for you? I bet you're the kind of kid who's really good at building with blocks, right? A lot of my patients who are good with blocks didn't read comfortably until third grade, when things just got a lot easier for them."

2) the reading specialist to me: "Reading is what you say it is. If she doesn't want to read it herself, read it to her! It's still reading. It will do as much good. Plus you'll both have fun."

And she was right.

In that spirit, the books of joy lead to the healthy food of joy. With apologies and thanks to Mark Bittman, from whose How to Cook Everything this is adapted. Just in case you're doing great with the books but struggling with the things-grown-on-plants.

Grilled Chickpeas

2 cans chickpeas (yeah you can soak and cook your own, go ahead, knock yourself out)
1 Tablespoon (or so) olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
salt & pepper

Drain chickpeas, then mix with the olive oil and the crushed garlic cloves in a bowl. Forget about it while you do other things around the house. Eventually remember it. Heat your grill (gas or charcoal, we won't judge). Use a slotted spoon and scoop all the chickpeas into a vegetable wok, sprinkle with a lot of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Put the wok on the grill where it won't catch on fire. Cover the grill. Shake the wok every 10 minutes or so, until all the chickpeas are a deep golden color, shrunken and crispy. Remove from grill, try to wait until you won't burn your fingers off, and share with all the people you love who won't eat vegetables. Experience joy. Repeat.

And does anyone know of any excellent advice for the summer for a kid who's struggling with reading, and needs to not have a crappy summer?

18 thoughts on “Summer Reading, Reluctant Readers, Dismay, Chickpeas & Me

  1. This post so speaks to me and one of my sons — the non-reading, visual processing disabled, soon to be fifth grader reading at a third grade level boy —


  2. I have eaten those chickpeas. H E A V E N.
    4th grade daughter, who luckily enjoys reading, currently ripping through TinTin. She doesn’t like chickpeas though. More for me.


  3. Audio books! There are some great productions out there that are fun for the whole family to listen to (on a long car trip?). If your child has the print edition to follow along in (or jump ahead in when you reach your destination)–even better!


  4. I have a late-reader 5th grader. I still read to her every day, but graphic books were the gateway for her to reading for pleasure. That and NO PRESSURING, nothing kills it like me trying to take control. So I let her read all the graphic books she can find, and when she read all the ones at the library, she started pulling non-graphic books off the shelves.


  5. Does a chickpea count as a vegetable? If so, then my 2 year old eats vegetables! Hurrah!
    I’m thinking the read aloud book for the summer is the Swiss Family Robinson, now to find the right edition…


  6. Got to try the chickpeas. My thought was graphic novels too, but I don’t have specifics. And everything here has to be HER IDEA, so prodding does more harm than good. Mine can read, but hasn’t caught the fire for it yet. She loves the praise and does it like a parlor trick, but it isn’t her joy. I’m waiting and hoping…


  7. Seconding the audio books! There are new gadgety things called Playaways, that are like iPod that contains only one audiobook. You listen to it with headphones/earbuds. Some libraries have them. Kids like them because there’s no intermediary technology to mess with– no CDs to swap out or keep track of, etc. Plus they look cool.


  8. I wouldn’t say it’s a vegetable. But it is full of all kinds of good things anyway. Thanks for the recipe – sounds delicious. (Home cooked chick peas are way tastier than canned, and in a pressure cooker it only takes 40 min. or so to cook them – shorter if you soak them).
    Sorry to hear about the grade level pressure. Even though my kid is at grade level right now, I hear you about the joy. Everyone on earth (teachers, summer camp people, library) wants her to keep a list of everything she reads this summer (complete with Parent Initial Here). I know this is supposed to be a tool to foster love of reading, but to me it seems just as likely to do the opposite.


  9. Very interesting.
    I grew up hating to read. So today, I write action-adventures & mysteries for readers 8 and up, especially boys. Here are a few of links.
    Books for Boys Blog
    When the Lights Go Out
    Video Books Trailer
    Video – When the Lights Go Out
    Max Elliot Anderson


  10. My friend’s son was a very late reader (dyslexic and with some ADHD features), but like you, she kept the love of stories and words going for him with lots of reading to him. He’s a successful performance poet, making a living at it for nearly 20 years now, and is best known for being the first poet to sign a million pound record deal.
    So no particular advice to offer sorry, but hopefully some reassurance that the joy can come.


  11. These posts are very heartening. My son does like some graphic novels, and also those DK eyewitness books packed with information, but visually overstimulating,at least from my point of view. I have resolved to just read a lot to him this summer. Hopefully he’ll also read some to me, but I will only push it if the Reading Tutor says we must. We already went through some of the Judy Blume “Fudge” books, and are now starting on “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”. It helps that these are books I don’t mind reading. Far better than reading aloud from the beloved History of Aircraft or Star Wars trivia.
    And so far, we’re having fun.


  12. I’d recommend The Invention of Hugo Cabret to reluctant readers. It’s almost all pictures with some pages of text, but it’s big and I imagine there’d be a huge sense of accomplishment in finishing it. Plus, it’s great. And has a lot of interesting history for the fact-oriented kids.


  13. I don’t have titles, but I have a structure that might work…every once in a while (or at a specific time weekly/daily…etc) declare it “bookclub” and EVERYBODY in the house pulls out their book and reads. We did this when my kids were little every night before bedtime stories. It helped calm them down so they could listen to the stories, and put reading into the routine. Books/magazines were totally the reader’s choice.


  14. There is a new resource (maybe by the author of the blog of the same name?):
    Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives.


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