Happy Memorial Day! In honor of the holiday that marks (in the US, anyway) the start of summer, I'd like to talk about outdoor reading. I was inspired in this by a recent post at Australian blog The Book Chook. Blogger/reading advocate Susan Stephenson (one of the organizers of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour from earlier this year) shared several of her favorite childhood reading spots (including "halfway up our huge jacaranda tree"). She closed by asked her readers "Where do you read?".
Part of my response (in the comments) was: "when I was a kid I read in the car (for even the shortest of drives), up in a tree in my yard, on the roof of our house (love those dormer windows), and on a raft in the lake (you have to swim with one arm holding the book up, it's a bit awkward, but worth it)." I SO wish I had photos, especially of the skinny little kid swimming out to a raft, holding a book up in the air.
What the most memorable of my childhood reading spots have in common, I realize now, is that they are all out of doors. It's been quite a while since I climbed up into a tree to read. But reading out of doors, particularly in some scenic location, remains one of my greatest joys. I'll go a step further, and say that it's how I recharge, how I heal myself, how I do what I love while remaining connected to the world. (Image credit: photo by taliesin, made available for use at MorgueFile.)
One of the best days that I have ever spent was during a vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine not long after college. We stayed at a tiny hotel with individual cabins, right on the ocean. After several days of hiking together, I sent my boyfriend off on his own one day to tackle another mountain. I spent the entire day on a chaise lounge on a little peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by water and trees, reading. Even now, when things are stressful, I travel back in my head to that oasis of a day. It continues to make me happy. And it's perhaps not a coincidence that on the day, quite a few years later, that the same boyfriend asked me to marry him, he left me sitting on a deck facing the Pacific Ocean, reading, while he was off making preparations.
Something about the outdoor reading actually sharpens my memories of my surroundings. I can still remember what beverages I drank that day in Bar Harbor, and what books I was reading. I can feel the wooden raft on Echo Lake, in New Hampshire, and picture the gray water. I can sketch the way the branches came together on the tree in my side yard. I can smell the tar on the roof. And I'm not a person who is generally blessed with a good memory. Reading and spending time out of doors are far from incompatible. And in fact, they can enhance one another.
Summer is here, and that means that it's time to start talking about summer reading programs for kids. You can find resources about summer reading here at PBS, at Reading Rockets, and all over the Kidlitosphere (I'll follow up with more links in a future post). But to me, summer reading for kids is about much more than lists of recommended books. It's about more than having time to read books outside of school (although that is a wonderful thing). To me, summer reading is about reading out of doors, on a beach, on a raft, on a sun-warmed rock, in a weathered rowboat, or up in a tree. Summer reading is about the smell of sunscreen and salt and chlorine. It's about feeling the sun on your shoulders, and having to angle the book to reduce the glare. It's about shaking the sand out of your book, and having the lower part of the pages get warped from resting on your wet bathing suit. (Image credit: photo by Carool, made available for use at MorgueFile)
One of the marvelous things about books (as Susan mentioned in her post) is how portable and sturdy they are. You can take them anywhere. You can read them in bright sunlight. If you're careful, you can even read them in the middle of the lake. Might I suggest, then, as you plan your family's outdoor events for the summer, that you think about bringing along a book or two. Or ten. Wouldn't it be nice, thirty years from now, for your kids to be able to share their memories of the fabulous places that they read books as children? (Image credit: photo by Wallyir, made available at MorgueFile.)
What does summer reading mean to you? Did you ever read outdoors when you were a child? Did you have a favorite spot? Does your child? I would love to hear your feedback! Happy Memorial Day!