Few things give me greater joy than hearing my kids discussing a book they’ve enjoyed, particularly if I catch them discussing said book with each other. Not only do these conversations give me hope that they might someday treat their siblings like actual civilized human beings on a regular basis, but I firmly believe that talking about books is a fantastic way to connect with other people – especially kids. And the tail end of summer, when boredom is peaking and school isn’t yet in session, is the perfect time for a family read.
“Family read,” by the way, does not mean “family book club.” The point is not to assign a book or insist on a formal discussion. Instead, the goal is to establish some literary common ground – to get a feel for what your child is reading and join in the fun. Which means, of course, you need to find some books that you’ll both enjoy.
There’s no such thing as a sure bet, but here are some that have worked well for our family – teens, grade-schoolers, parents, and even grandparents. (If your child tends to question your taste in literature, may I suggest leaving one of the books below on the kitchen table, near some tasty snacks? Or in the backseat of the car when you’re running errands? Bribery and boredom are excellent motivators.)
The Westing Game: You probably read this mystery eons ago – but it is as entertaining today as it was when it was published in 1978. Half the fun, I think, is listening to someone else puzzle out the mystery of who killed eccentric millionaire Samuel Westing. Turtle Wexler is one of my all-time favorite kidlit characters.
Belly Up: A zoololgist’s son tries to uncover who killed a hippopotamus at a second-rate animal-themed amusement park. Naturally, there are hijinks (both animal and human), as well as suspense and a healthy dose of animal facts, as author Stu Gibbs once worked in a zoo.
A Wrinkle In Time: Meg Murray’s search across the universe for her astrophysicist father is a classic for a reason – but what most kids don’t realize is that there are more books in the series. We’ve gotten as far as A Wind In The Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which continue Meg’s adventures.
Counting By 7s: Twelve-year-old Willow Chance is a genius who hates change and is obsessed with medical conditions. But when her parents die in a car crash, she must work to overcome the tragedy and create a unexpected, unconventional surrogate family.
The Mother-Daughter Book Club: This series about – you guessed it – a book club comprised of mothers and daughters – combines classic literature and with the ups and downs of middle school. My ten-year-old convinced her grandmother to read it, and now they’re planning a special outing based on the first book.
If none of these appeal, you can always ask the experts in our Children’s Departmentfor a recommendation. Or try this tactic: ask the kids in your life what book they’ve really liked. Read it. Casually mention it in conversation, and then let your child lead, even if they go off on wild tangents about wombats or superhero powers or softball. You don’t have to love the book like they do. It’s enough to share the experience — to have bookish discussions and in-jokes and a common vocabulary. In my opinion, there’s no better way to grow readers and relationships.