In Minibury’s “Our Favorite Things” column, Faith Gong – Addison County resident, mother of four daughters, wife of one assistant professor, writer of the “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent and The Pickle Patch blog – shares some of her family’s favorite things. The goal is to highlight items or activities that are simple, inexpensive, local, and promote creativity. Faith receives no kickbacks, compensation, or thanks for any items mentioned here!
The countdown is on.
Earlier this week our family marched in Middlebury’s Memorial Day parade with the group from Ilsley Public Library (as we do every year), which marks our official start of summer. School will be out in a couple of weeks. The danger of frost has (mostly) passed. Everyone seems to sense the change in seasons: Children are getting a little more wiggly in anticipation of summer vacation, and parents may be getting a little nervous in anticipation of the same.
Summer vacation can be a blissful time for families: sleeping late, cookouts at the lake, berry picking, and plenty of togetherness.
Summer vacation can also be a fraught time for families: cranky children who are off any semblance of schedule, long days filled with sibling squabbles, ice-cream-fueled craziness, and the pressure to cram too many summer activities into a mere two months. Speaking only for myself, I start hearing moans of “I’m bored!” by July 4th.
This is the first of a three-part series within “Our Favorite Things,” on “Surviving Summer.” To kick things off, I’m going to delve into our family’s ultimate favorite thing, which has rescued us from numerous past vacations: reading!
One of the biggest challenges of having all the kids at home together can be finding books that everyone can enjoy together. We’re just beginning to have older daughters who can read to themselves, but for years we’ve attempted to find books that could appeal to a five-year age span. (And even if my older daughters can read independently, it’s still more fun to snuggle up all together over one book!)
So, as a mother of daughters who range in age from 3.5 to 9, here are a few of our family’s favorite “multi-age” reads (I’ve also attempted to make these “multi-gender” reads.):
The Mercy Watson series, by Kate DiCamillo. A six-book series about the adventures of Mercy Watson, a “porcine wonder” (aka. The Watsons’ pet pig.) These books have beautiful illustrations on every page to keep younger readers interested, enough elevated language to keep older children challenged, and plenty of ridiculous situations and charming characters to delight the whole family! There are also three spin-off books about various characters in the original series.
The Bink and Gollie series, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee. Three books about two good friends, written in a wonderfully quirky style by real-life friends Kate DiCamillo (who wrote Mercy Watson) and Alison McGhee. Like Mercy Watson, the combination of appealing illustrations and high-concept humor will engage a wide range of ages – and provide your family with plenty of inside jokes. (“It’s a compromise bonanza!”)
Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren. Earlier this year, my grown-up book group decided to include our offspring for one session. We needed a book that would appeal to 15 children, aged roughly 2 to 10. The successful solution was Pippi Longstocking, a Swedish classic about the hilarious misadventures of a little girl who lives alone while her father is off being a “cannibal king.” There are two other books in the series – Pippi Goes on Board and Pippi in the South Seas – and our family has enjoyed them all. My daughters also loved watching the old Pippi movies, starring Inger Nilsson and overdubbed from the original Swedish, which are available at Ilsley Public Library.
Zita the Spacegirl, Mighty Jack, or any other books by Ben Hatke. Graphic novels are a great solution for multiple ages, since they’re always interesting for pre-readers to look at. (They can be challenging for adults to read out loud, but the benefit is that younger children can usually “read” them to themselves.) The three-volume Zita the Spacegirl series tells the story of a girl who travels through a portal to another universe, and Mighty Jack (which has a sequel due out in September) is a modern re-telling of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” These are our favorites, but pretty much anything by Ben Hatke is gold.
The Kingdom of Wrenly series, by Jordan Quinn. Dragons! Fairies! Pegasus! Mermaids! Witches and wizards, knights and sea monsters! Join Prince Lucas and his friend Clara as they traverse the magical world of Wrenly. There are currently 11 books in this series, with a 12th due out in the fall. Each book has lovely illustrations on each page, and is short enough that we’ve often read an entire book in a single summer afternoon.
The Magic Tree House series, by Mary Pope Osborne. There are about a zillion books in this series, and they’re all pretty formulaic, but my children can’t get enough of them. Each book involves brother-sister team Jack and Annie traveling in their magic tree house to another location or time, where they have to complete certain tasks. In the process, they (and we) learn something about history, animals, or culture. Simple enough for younger children, but educationally interesting enough for older readers.
And that’s just the tip of the iceburg! All of these books are available at Ilsley Public Library, and if you finish them all before summer’s over, children’s librarians Tricia Allen and Katherine Laliberte will gladly recommend more.
Speaking of Ilsley: Our family’s summer practically revolves around Ilsley’s summer reading program (this year’s theme: Build a Better World!) Visit the Ilsley Children’s Room any day this summer, and you’ll either find storytimes, craft projects, family-friendly movie matinees, Itsy Bitsy Yoga, Music with May, or a selection of special performances and events. Book Bike Storytimes happen every Tuesday from June 27 to August 8 during the free lunches at Memorial Sports Center. Children who sign up to record the days they read during the summer can earn raffle tickets, coupons, and a special prize at the end of the summer. The Build a Better World summer reading program kicks off with an ice cream and popsicle social on June 20th at 3:30 PM; for more information, visit the Ilsley Children’s Room or website. Added benefit: The library is indoors and air-conditioned when the weather outside is rainy or baking!
Happy Summer! Happy Reading!