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Reading doesn’t stop when school lets out

In the immortal words of Alice Cooper, school’s out for the summer, which means it is time for our hearty congratulations to all the fresh-faced graduates of the Lowcountry. Peruse this issue’s advertising for announcements from a number of our leading local educational institutions rightfully bragging on their bumper crop of bright lads and lassies.

The Charleston Mercury is not just thankful but mighty proud to host such announcements. We know that success at one of these elite schools doesn’t come easily, even for the smartest of students; parents must remain involved, helping with academics when needed, encouraging their children to push themselves, and holding them accountable for their behavior, work ethic and compliance with strict honor codes.

For those who have not yet graduated, this is the season for summer reading. Thank heavens; when upon entering adulthood most of these children enter a workplace that demand extensive reading, the ability to read quickly, thoroughly and with thorough comprehension will mean the difference between success and failure in their career.

We believe, of course, that Mercury readers are the type of people who would insist on summer reading for their children, no matter if it was a school requirement or not. Because of that, we will be so bold as to offer some suggestions.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, once said “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” When it comes to reading the same applies; the earlier you can find the teachers and texts that unlock a child’s love for the written word, the better. Even the roughest English class assignments (Beowulf, Faulkner, we’re looking your way!) are more readily borne by the student who wants to be in that class in the first place. So if your youth is yearning for the just-for-fun stuff like Harry Potter and the like … let them have at it. Such works develop their ability to see through their mind’s eye and make them better readers of the heavier stuff to come.

Beyond the particular assignments from one institution or another, we’ve made a short list of some titles that might “bridge the gap” between entertainment and literature for young readers (and for older folks, too!)

To Kill a Mockingbird: In every person’s life, there will come times when they must choose between what is right and what is popular. This book explores that concept brilliantly.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe/Lord of the Rings: These classics from C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, respectively, are usually read at slightly different age levels, but both offer a two-fold gift — a cracking good epic tale and a quietly masterful lesson in an author’s use of symbolism and the insight that deep truths than can be contained in a simple story.

A Separate Peace/Lord of the Flies: Both summer reading staples, for good reason. Children brought up in “the right kind of home” assume they will always have the ability to control their surroundings and situation. Both classics, while containing narratives of vastly different intensity, open the eyes of the young to what can happen when life takes a turn for the worse … and how the power of social pressure can lead to tragedy.

Brave New World/1984: Two generations ago, these were works of science fiction. Today, we are fast approaching their reclassification. Youngsters need to understand that our addiction — to power, to leisure, even to safety — can plague us. Further, young eyes should be opened to see how, given the opportunity, many individuals would happily reduce us to proles.

Lonesome Dove/The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy/Breakfast of Champions: Although these three tomes are dissimilar in many ways, they share a great virtue. The ability to hook the reader and keep him or her glued to the page until the bleary-eyed hours of the morning. From a western that tackles manhood, justice, love, courage, morality, and mortality to a time-and-space spanning tales that stretches the creative use of the English language well beyond the stars; to Vonnegut’s crisp and creative writing, straightforward syntax and pitch-black humor will hook older teens for whom they’re most appropriate.

Which brings us to our last, most important point. Children are in school roughly 180 days a year. They also need a teacher for the other 185: That falls on you, dear parents. Talking about books with your children — about their themes, their symbols, the parts that are confusing and the parts that are most compelling — is of utmost importance. You can do it, we believe in you — after all, if you weren’t a fine reader, would you be reading the Mercury?

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