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Outdoor Reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on May 25, 2009 at 3:00 AM in Recommendations
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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.

momson.JPGWhat 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.

GirlReading_Carolina_Antunes.jpgSummer 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)

IMG_2627.JPGOne 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!


Bookworm writes...

Hi Jen!

This post has really touched me.

My 8 yo son LOVES to read in the hammock in our backyard. He asks me everyday if we can read in the hammock! Most days I say yes...and I do enjoy it. But, sometimes it is not very convenient for various reasons. (rainy/wet weather, our pet dogs jumping in hammock to be with us, etc.)

After reading your post, I will definitely be saying yes a lot more often.

Thank you for this wonderful post! I am so encouraged! The only thing that will keep us out of the hammock tomorrow is rain! THANK YOU!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thank YOU, Bookworm! I'm glad to have feedback from someone who so clearly "gets" what I'm trying to say here. And I love the mental image of you and your 8 year old son reading in the hammock. In fact, it makes me want to get a hammock - that sounds lovely. I hope that you both enjoy more time reading there together.

Book Chook writes...

Hi Jen! I linked to check out more Hawaiian reading spots, fully intending to drool. And then I saw myself quoted!

I'm so pleased you posted about this. I can practically smell the salt breeze and feel the sand, despite my part of the world participating in a soggy overture to winter.

What I love about your post is the suggestion to put a book or ten into that Mom bag. I guess it should be as regular a habit as packing water, hats and sunscreen.

And in honour of your summer holiday, may I suggest Bob Graham's Greetings from Sandy Beach?

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for clicking through, Book Chook. And for inspiring the post in the first place. This one was written before I went to Hawaii, so it didn't have any photos from there. But I'm glad that you like the "take a book" suggestion. I followed that for myself, most of the time, while I was away, and was glad that I did. Maybe this should be a post in the next share a story tour - always take a book, here's why. Will have to check out Greetings from Sandy Beach, too!

Rasco from RIF writes...

Alas, growing up in south Arkansas in "rice growing country" meant we did not sit still for a long time reading as the mosquitoes were more than plentiful (and they went after their victims with gusto!) with all that standing water irrigating the emerging rice. Outdoor activities were those that kept us in motion; one way I stayed "in motion" was daily trips on my bike to the small public library in the basement of a municipal building...I remember it was so cool down there away from the heat and humidity of outside; and I could sit back in a corner with a tiny window sending in some light and read, read, read. However, at summer camps during "free time" I could then read outside sitting by a tree near the water, sit on the bed in the tent or screened cabin and read to my heart's content. I could read in the car on family trips or simple shopping trips to the "city." I could read as I traveled all around the country with my grandparents who were "schools on wheels" with the trailer pulled behind us and learning coming alive through books and experiences. What wonderful memories you have evoked in me this morning on a rainy day in DC!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Carol, I love this comment! I can picture you hiding away in the basement library. And taking advantage of free time at camp to read. I never went to camp - I didn't want to be away from my books that long. I read in the car a lot, too, on even the shortest of trips (sadly, motion sickness has caught up with me, and I can't do that anymore). Anyway, I'm so happy to have evoked some fond memories for you! Thanks for sharing them here.

Sandra writes...

I can so identify with you. My favorite reading spot right now is a wonderful swing my husband bought me so I can sit outside and not get too sunburned.

When I was growing up on our farm I would sit in the rafters of our corn crib, under a large maple tree in the front yard, or in the swing.

A few years back we took our daughter to Key West for her graduation present. We toured all of the historical place and then visited an old second hand shop down on the docks. My daughter found a barrel of books that were marked $5 each. She found an original signed Hemmingway book the old man had gotten from an estate sale. She sat in one loughe chair and I in another reading while my husband went jogging. The Bed and Breakfast we stayed at provided a basket of books in each room with a note that said, "Take a book, Leave a book". I thought it was wonderful the way they showed children and adults how much they valued books and reading. I spent most of that time reading in one of their swings, hammocks, or lounge chairs. That is my idea of a vacation.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sandra, thanks for sharing your reading spots, too. The corn crib is one that I wouldn't have thought of (though I secretly always wished for a barn, from which I could jump down into hay wagons). Anyway, I can totally relate to your Key West experience, spending quality time reading, in a place that clearly values books. That sounds like my kind of vacation, too! I've been wanting to go up to Mendocino (on the California coast) for a weekend, and just sit on a balcony facing the ocean reading books all weekend. One day... Kudos on the signed Hemmingway book, too. That's amazing!

Judy writes...

I lived for 40 years in a part of our country that is not known for wonderful weather. Whenever possible, I would set up a work area at our patio table in the backyard and plan lessons, grade papers, write letters, READ, etc. sometimes from morning to late afternoon.

Today, in retirement, my husband and I live full-time in our RV and find ourselves outdoors in beautiful weather and beautiful surroundings nearly 365 days a year! I, too, read books in Bar Harbor, Maine. In Nova Scotia, I read in a lawn chair while waiting to watch a parade of Tall Ships from all over the world set sail for their home countries. I read while surrounded with beautiful fall leaves in Vermont one October. I read outdoors at the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, at Red Rock State Park near Sedona, Arizona, at Mt. Rainier in Washington, the Dry Tortugas south of Florida. My daily life is all I could ask for . . . beautiful weather, beautiful surroundings, a lawn chair, books, and a companion who enjoys the same things. I even have a library in a small Texas town that welcomes the books I pass on each month. I feel wonderful about the contribution I continually make and the excellent excuse it provides to purchase new books. I am so blessed.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Judy, you are definitely blessed. Reading your comment makes me happy for you - after paying your dues for 40 years in a place that didn't have great weather, I'm glad that you found a way to visit lots of different beautiful places, and read there, in retirement. Those are some WONDERFUL reading spots. And I love your justification for buying new books, too. What a great example of people who have figured out what's important to you, and worked your lives around that.

Tarie writes...

I still remember reading Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology at my family's farm (I was in high school at the time and we were sorta camping). It was BLISS.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Those moments sure do stick with a person, don't they, Tarie? Thanks so much for sharing yours!

Tina POPOVIC writes...

Dear Jen Robinsons.
I just found your txt about outdoor reading. 6 year ago I began with Library Under Tree Tops (Knjiznica pod krosnjami) in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This year, when Ljubljana is The World Capital of Books, we have 6 reading islands in Ljubljana and it is great! People just love it!
Tina Popovic

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

That's wonderful, Tina. Thanks so much for sharing it! I love that idea!

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