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Summer Reading

Vacuuming my stepson Travis’ room on a June morning, I see a book on the floor. Even though we and his teachers have tried valiantly, Travis has never been a reader, so to see Under the Blood-Red Sun lying so nonchalantly on his floor during the summer startles me. Since he is spending this week with his mother and it is before cell phones were really a thing, I have to wait several days to ask him about it.
Travis explains that it is his summer reading book for 8th grade and he hates it, even though he’s only on page 6. Knowing how he feels about reading, I can see into the future far enough to figure out this isn’t going to end well, and I need to do something. I am struck with inspiration: I buy my own copy of the book. We figure out how much we need to read each day during the weeks that he is with us.

Then, casually, we talk about it. I bring it up off-handedly during drives to his baseball practices, while we are waiting in the dentist’s office, while I’m grilling hot dogs and he’s playing with the dog on the deck. In the book, sushi is eaten, so we try sushi (he loves it; he gets to eat all of mine). The book is set in Hawaii, so we eat pizza with fresh pineapple and ham and tiny shrimp and talk about the families in the book. The air show comes to our town’s little airport, so we go and look at WWII planes and talk about what the characters saw and how they felt. 
We are both a little sad when the book is finished and school starts.
As a mom, I want my kids’ summers to be chasing fireflies and swimming and bonfires, to be lazy morning pancakes and slow walks by the lake with the dog.  But, as a high school English teacher, I see how much of a setback three months of not reading can be, especially for kids who change residence during the school year. When students move into our district, and if they have moved often, it can difficult for them to change from one curriculum to the next. Of course, it’s not impossible, but it is easier for the ones who have a solid reading base. It’s not only important to retain and build those reading skills; it’s important to expose them to the stories different people have to tell. Reading these stories encourages empathy, sparks creativity which leads to innovation, and gives them a springboard from which they can leap right into the school year. Reading is definitely worth the time.
Travis still does not love reading. Now in his second year in the Air Force, even if he did love reading, he doesn’t have time to read much more than his CDCs (Career Development Courses). But, on the other hand, he is not struggling to do well with the CDCs either, a fact that I firmly attribute to the amount of reading he did, even those dreaded summer reading books.

Rikki Carr, an AP English teacher at Northwestern Senior High School in Pennsylvania, is one of many NMSI Consultants who lead Student Study Sessions and professional development across the country as part of NMSI's College Readiness Program

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