a young boy sits reading Curious George
(Photo/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Summer is a real page-turner in my book-happy family

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My grandparents’ basement is a magical place. Always cool in summer, it’s filled with piles of old movie posters from our family-owned movie theater, worn-out furniture, old games and photographs, a bust of Theodor Herzl and shelves full of books.

There are stray books from my mom and aunt’s college courses alongside some YA paperbacks from my teen years. But the crowning jewels of the collection are vintage 1950s hardcover editions of popular children’s series such as the Bobbsey Twins, the Dana Girls and Nancy Drew.

There’s something special about summer reading.

I spent hours of July and August in that basement, reading on the cool couch while snacking on handfuls of peanut M&Ms I brought from the candy dish upstairs. I savored each and every one of my mom’s childhood books, which seemed to transport me back to an old-fashioned time where girls wore interesting clothes and where life seemed ordered and pleasant even if mysteries did keep popping up everywhere.

When friends came over, we would head down into the basement with loads of Baby-Sitters Club books and trade them back and forth as we finished them.

There were certain books I reread summer after summer: a novel about a girl who travels back in time to Victorian New York City; an entertaining memoir by one of the actors in “The Brady Bunch.”

Publishers have built an entire industry around summer books and beach reads, but I think that whatever genre you lose yourself in, it’s common for our summer reading lives to be driven by nostalgia, escape and the memory of childhood pleasure.

My kids seem to take big leaps in their reading lives every summer. Last year, my then-8-year-old got into his first series of chapter books (Hilo graphic novels), and this summer is the first time he’s independently reading a chapter book that isn’t illustrated.

I’m delighted to say that the novel that has captured Nate’s attention is “Sideways Stories From Wayside School,” an odd, funny and entertaining Louis Sachar classic that is timeless and, without a doubt, a top-notch summer pick. (Note to fellow millennials: A fourth book in the Wayside School series came out last year.)

My 5-year-old, Harvey, is taking huge leaps in his reading life by virtue of the fact that he is reading.

When Nate was the same age, I firmly believed that he should not be pressured to start reading too young, and it would take another year and a bit of prodding before he was reading on his own. Once he got started, he couldn’t be stopped, and I’m glad we let him go at his own pace.

But it’s delightful to watch Harvey more or less teach himself to read, and it’s also a big relief to know that I won’t have to push him to a certain level at school, because he’s already there.

Recently, my kids picked out a book at my grandparents’ house: a 1950s book of riddles that has such chestnuts as, “Why is a dirty child like flannel? Because he shrinks from washing” and “What is the difference between a busy typist and 16 ounces of flour? One pounds away; the other weighs a pound.” Nate and Harvey can’t make heads or tails of it, which I’m glad of, because much of the “humor” in this book drips with sexism.

The old Nancy Drew books also contain outdated depictions of race and gender that I don’t want to pass onto my own kids. It’s OK, though, to leave Nancy behind, because Nancy was never great literature.

The point of reading the books was to imagine yourself as Nancy, with her car and her boyfriend, to race to the end of each book to find out whodunnit, and to crave the next one and the next one and the next.

My mom loved Nancy Drew so much she named me after her.

And to this day she’s a voracious reader.

She handed me Nancy Drew books when I was young, but when I got older, she was handing me Brontë. I’m excited for my kids to read books, to love them, and also to discard them as they move on to bigger and better things.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.