Tish Fobben is the direct response manager at the University of Nebraska Press.
A recent Shelf Awareness newsletter headline caught my eye, “RIF Survey: Reading Important, but Not a Top Summer Priority.” Shelf Awareness reported “a new survey commissioned by Reading is Fundamental and Macy’s found that 17% of parents believe reading is a top summer priority and that children spend nearly three times the hours playing video games or watching TV than reading during summer vacation. . . . While summer reading may not be the top priority, 83% of respondents still considered it extremely/very important to them that their child reads this summer.”
I recognize the disconnect between “very important” and a “high priority” in my own life. I just don’t expect to see it in other’s. Books have a lot of competition out there and I have been repeatedly shocked (and insulted, I’m afraid) by how compelling a TV program, computer game, or Nook app is for our five-year-old daughter, in comparison to, say, a conversation with me.
But as a book publisher and the parent of a young child, I have to believe that reading is fundamental. (And I do.) I’ve heard experts recommend that parents model reading during the day (since children are typically in bed before their parents settle down for their own reading). Although most parents of a young child can only fantasize about the luxury of reading during the day—there is nothing as powerful (or contagious) as behavior, good or bad. Since the summer solstice I resolved to “get caught reading” by my daughter. (The days are getting shorter now—there’s no daylight left to waste!) Reading during the day goes against my longtime, frustrating tendency to save the pleasure of reading until my bedtime, at which point I doze off after a few paragraphs—thus making an “extremely important goal” a low priority.
All this is an excuse to sing the praises of a glorious discovery I made recently, following my sister’s recommendation: the Frances books. Written more than forty years ago by Russell Hoban, these stories about a young female badger are pithy, wise, and timelesss. Woven into all the stories are Frances’s rhyming monologues—raw, honest, and unfiltered. Our family has enjoyed Bread and Jam for Frances (even something as wonderful as bread and jam can get tiresome if consumed at every meal), A Birthday for Frances (“Tomorrow is Gloria’s birthday, and her party is sure to be fun for everyone except Frances, that is, who wishes it was her own birthday”), and Bedtime for Frances (“Here is the coziest, most beguiling bedtime story in many a day.”—Kirkus Reviews).
But I really hit the jackpot with A Bargain for Frances. This cautionary tale depicts a challenging friendship and brilliant problem-solving skills. The jacket copy reads: “Frances and Thelma are friends—most of the time. Thelma always seems to get Frances into trouble. When she tricks Frances into buying her tea set, it’s the last straw. Can Frances show her that it’s better to lose a bargain than lose a friend?” As Frances calmly goes about rectifying the situation, she composes this poem (with just the right touch of foreboding): “Mother told me to be careful, But Thelma better be bewareful.”
Best Friends for Frances was our latest read. “Frances doesn’t think her little sister, Gloria, can be her friend. But when Frances’s friend Albert has a no-girls baseball game, Frances shows him a thing or two about friendship—and a thing or two about what girls can do.” Written in 1969, the story remains surprisingly relevant. A spring 2015 UNP book chronicles the struggles of women to participate in “America’s pastime” into the twenty-first century: A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball, by Jennifer Ring.
I put these books in the summer reading category because they are pure pleasure to read and I found myself reaching for them long before my daughter’s bedtime, desperate for a cheerful diversion. They are great books, no matter how you get your hands on them, but may I recommend the library? If your life needs a little regularity amid the disturbing and destructive weather and political chaos (at home and abroad), consider the cool, quiet library with its neatly shelved books and orderly Dewey Decimal system. And since library books are free to borrow, you can fill your bag to overflowing without the pressure to justify every selection. Just remember to return them before they’re overdue!