Laura Shovan is a celebrated poet whose debut novel in verse, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, came out last year to much acclaim. She’s edited poetry anthologies and works with children as a poet-in-the-schools and was the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society’s Writer-in-Residence for 2015-2016. Her second middle novel TAKE DOWN, a dual narrative about middle school wrestlers, comes out next year summer.
I thought I’d interview Laura about summer reading, since in addition to have a much-anticipated summer book in 2018, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY is on many summer reading lists.
What have been some of your most memorable middle grade summer reads?
When I was a teen, we spent summer weekends in New York’s Catskill Mountains. I loved having a big, juicy novel for the summer and remember reading Jane Eyre as a middle schooler. There were days when I did not come out of my room because I didn’t want to break the spell of a good book.
More recently, when my children were reading middle grade, summers were all about audio books in the car. Family favorites were Harry Potter, the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, and classic MG like Ginger Pye and The Indian in the Cupboard.
Can you think of a common denominator?
For many of us, schedules are looser in the summer, without the constraints of the school day. It’s a great time of year for settling in and allowing yourself to become absorbed in the world of a book. Think of a series like Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart. Summer means reading page after page, wrapped up in Meggie’s fantastic story, and not having to loosen the grip of that world to focus on testing, or homework, or going to bed early.
Why do you think certain books get on summer reading lists?
That’s a good question. In part, it depends on who is creating the list and the resources that person is using to choose books.
I like when summer reading lists include something for every reader: Funny books, poetry books, non-fiction, adventure stories, literary novels, fantasy, science fiction. (Librarian Barb Langridge has influenced my thinking on reading personalities. Her website is A Book and a Hug. https://abookandahug.com/) A varied list encourages children to experiment with new genres. If a young reader tries a book on the list and doesn’t like it, okay! It’s summer. Pick up another book. Try something else.
In addition to summer reading lists, there’s also beach reads, or lake or mountain reads, if you’re not a beach person. Why do we need beach reads?
For me, the experience of reading a book is different on vacation. If I’m reading at the beach, there’s nowhere else I have to be. I have the brain space to let the characters, setting, and ideas of the story settle deeply into my mind. It’s almost like being in two places at the same time – sitting on a towel at the beach with sand sticking to my sunblock, and drinking a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. In summer, children don’t have to think about reading levels, or analyzing the text, or doing character studies. They can simply enjoy reading for its own sake and relax into the story.
So, it may not be beach reads that we need per se, but story. Whether it’s ghost tales around a campfire, reminiscing about family history at a reunion, or passing a great book to a friend, storytelling is one of the most important ways that human beings share information, culture, and meaning. And in the summer, we have time to sit and read, or sit and listen.
Two summers ago, I was at a poetry conference in Italy. Walking back to our room one night, my friend and I bumped into another person from the conference, a young poet from Ghana named Richard Botchwey. Because it was summer vacation, we were in no rush to turn in for the night, and the three of us sat at a café for hours, as Richard told us about growing up in Ghana. Because we had time to listen, and Richard was willing to share, the three of us formed a special friendship. Books can become special friends in the same way, if we take time to sit and enter into the stories written on their pages.
I do want to give a plug here for public libraries. One of the great joys of summer is walking into a cool library on a hot day. In the summer, my mother used to let us bring home as many books as we could carry. And we could choose anything! It was heaven.
Can you share your TBR for this summer?
The Maypop Kidnapping (A Quinnie Boyd Mystery), by C.M. Surrisi
The Perfect Trip, by Stacey Mozer
One Shadow on the Wall, by Leah Henderson
Ghost, by Jason Reynolds
When My Sister Started Kissing, by Helen Frost
Vampires on the Run (A Quinnie Boyd Mystery), by C.M. Surrisi
Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine, by Caroline Starr Rose
The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee, by Erin Petti
How about you? Can you share a book on your summer TBR? I’m going to be re-reading The Ethan I was Before by Ali Standish. Ali graduated from the Hollins University Graduate Program in Children’s Literature & Writing where I teach. Confession: she’s a former student, so I’m very biased. But I think it’s a book worth re-reading!
Hillary Homzie is the author of the forthcoming Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, September 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.