So how will your kids spend this summer? Building sand castles at the beach? Swimming at summer camp? Shedding I.Q. points?
In educating myself this spring about education, I was aghast to learn that American children drop in I.Q. each summer vacation — because they aren’t in school or exercising their brains.
This is less true of middle-class students whose parents drag them off to summer classes or make them read books. But poor kids fall two months behind in reading level each summer break, and that accounts for much of the difference in learning trajectory between rich and poor students.
A mountain of research points to a central lesson: Pry your kids away from the keyboard and the television this summer, and get them reading. Let me help by offering my list of the Best Children’s Books — Ever!
So here they are, in ascending order of difficulty, and I can vouch that these are also great to read aloud.
1. “Charlotte’s Web.” The story of the spider who saves her friend, the pig, is the kindest representation of an arthropod in literary history.
2. The Hardy Boys series. Yes, I hear the snickers. But I devoured them myself and have known so many kids for whom these were the books that got them excited about reading. The first in the series is weak, but “House on the Cliff” is a good opener. (As for Nancy Drew, I yawned over her, but she seems to turn girls into Supreme Court justices. Among her fans as kids were Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.)
3. “Wind in the Willows.” My mother read this 101-year-old English classic to me, and I’m still in love with the characters. Most memorable of all is Toad — rich, vain, childish and prone to wrecking cars.
4. The Freddy the Pig series. Published between 1927 and 1958, these 26 books are funny, beautifully written gems. They concern a talking pig, Freddy, who is lazy, messy and sometimes fearful, yet a loyal friend, a first-rate detective and an impressive poet. These were my very favorite books when I was in elementary school. A good one to start with is “Freddy the Detective” or “Freddy Plays Football.” (Avoid the first and weakest, “Freddy Goes to Florida.”)
5. The Alex Rider series. These are modern British spy thrillers in which things keep exploding in a very satisfying way. Alex amounts to a teenage James Bond for the 21st century.