Book 'Em: A Starter Kit for Last-Minute Summer Reading-List Readers

It’s now just a little past the middle of August, the time of year affectionately known as “the dog days” of summer. I know why it’s called that — something to do with the ancients who thought Sirius, The Dog Star, the brightest star in the heavens, would sit on his haunches overhead, wagging his tongue and panting down on us with his hot, sultry breath.

But I like to think it has more to do with the fact that I, and just about everyone I know, feels dog-tired right about now, exhausted from all that we’ve done (I’ve been working like a dog during the past eight months) and dogged by all that we still have to do. And we’re pooped from all the run-and-gun relaxation we’ve been seeking these last few weeks, cramming in as many fun-in-the-sun activities as we can handle, knowing that soon, as the leaves on the trees would tell you, everything is about to change. Doggone!

This time of year also is marked by other natural phenomena: noticeably longer shadows, the occasional metallic “thunk!” of an acorn hitting the roof of someone’s new black Toyota Camry (ouch!), and an increase in the volume of bird-chatter, as far-flung, migratory nesters make stopovers in my holly trees, putting on the dog for the locals and fueling up on the berries as they wend their way to points south.

And it’s the time of year when I hear another, more menacing sound — little feet scurrying over the floorboards, books toppling from their shelves, and pages ruffling. That’s right, the dog days include a brief period when kids start howling (because their parents are barking) over the fact that the new school year is fast approaching and the texts selected from the required summer reading lists lie scattered about, still largely unread.

Does this panic attack happen to the pack in your household? If so, then Scribbleskiff is here to help, and just in time. It’s not an uncommon problem, really. Summer reading lists can be long and intimidating, overly ambitious and overwhelming, to children and parents. The problem is that too many choices, especially among offerings that include books by unknown authors, can lead to inaction: I can’t pick, so I won’t.

The solution to this situation? Insider information, as schoolmarmish Martha Stewart might suggest. Therefore, this week we offer a few current summer must-reads, along with commentary generated by the readers themselves, to assist any parent looking for a way to let their pups out of the doghouse. Woo-woo!

Mary Charlotte, 2nd Grade, Best in Show for Rotten Ralph, by Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel. Rotten Ralph is a cat trying to be the best cat in the cat show. He is competing against his cousin Perfect Percy. It is a funny book because Ralph is really, really lazy. He just lays around and watches TV and eats buckets of fried chicken. He is rotten because he does mean stuff — he eats out of the trash, he doesn’t take showers and baths, he chases squirrels. He tries to work out but that doesn’t work out real good. He gets the biggest trophy for being the worst at being the best, and his cousin gets the smallest trophy for being the best — that’s weird. (Other recommendations: Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans, The Story About Ping, by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese, and The Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall.)

Will, 5th Grade, Go Big or Go Home, by Will Hobbs. There are lots of reasons to like Go Big or Go Home. One is that it has a lot of action. There is a part where the main character does a flip off a buffalo! Another reason is that the writer took nouns and used them as verbs. In one sentence he used the word “beer” and changed it to a verb “beered up.” I also like sports and extreme sports. Quinn and Brady, the main characters, get pulled into a bike race as they were taking a bike ride. Brady shoots past everybody in the race.  The book has a lot of good and hard vocabulary words, like “Achilles’ tendons,” “cross-hairs,” and “extraterrestrial.” My favorite character is Quinn. I liked Quinn because he and I are the same. We’re both really good at basketball. (Other recommendations: My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg.)

Anna, 9th Grade, A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster. At first I didn’t think I was going to like this book, because it took awhile for the action to start. This book is a lot like a Jane Austen novel, though — once you get into it, you get hooked. The story takes place in England and Italy and has everything you need for a romance — hate, hidden love, and even a murder. The book A Room With a View is about finding yourself and discovering what you want.  (Other recommendations: Persepolis and Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi, The Once and Future King, by T. H. White, and A Painted House, by John Grisham.)

There are also a number of great Web sites that offer excellent (and manageable) reading lists with short descriptions, like this charming primer of read-aloud books with a back-to-school theme. Others include this comprehensive list from the Houston Area Independent Schools, a creative reading “program” from the Nebraska Library Association, a list of books recommended by children’s authors themselves, and this clever list of books to have on hand when your grandkids come to visit. And don’t just take our word for it: here are some helpful tips for choosing the right book for kids of different ages.

So there you have it, a starter kit for last-minute summer book searching, designed to prevent your kids from suffering reading-list paralysis — in other words, to keep the tail from wagging the lazy dog.

As always, let us know what you think. Have you and your family made it all the way through your summer reading lists at a manageable pace? If so, do you have sure-fire method for completing the task? What books do you recommend? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

And be sure to visit (and join) the Scribbleskiff page on Facebook (find it here), where you can partake in wall-to-wall conversations, find additional information and suggestions from readers, and more.

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