August is upon us, and if your family is like mine, you’re making the most of those final carefree summer days by locking your children inside and forcing them to finish their summer reading assignment. It’s time for them to crack open that paper anvil you purchased in June and delve into whatever moral-drenched tome the teacher has chosen to put the wet blanket on your child’s personal picnic. Here are a few tips to get you from “Once upon a time…” to “The End” without it turning into a “Who Done It?”
1. Divide the number of pages by the number of days your child has left for a handy pages-per-day goal. Do the same calculation using the total number of days in their entire summer vacation. This provides your child with perspective on just how much their procrastination has cost them. When they complain, remind them. They love it when we do that.
2. Feed strategically and only when page goals are met. In the interim, Neccos are a great source of energy in a handy wafer form and can be doled out in small doses. Manage the water intake–bathroom breaks kill productivity.
3. Say things like “Have you gotten to where…never mind. I won’t spoil it for you!” The key is to sound really excited. No matter where they are, assure them they are almost to the really good part. When they finish and ask you what good part you were referring to, say “You’re done. That’s the good part.”
4. Skim Wikipedia to find the main characters’ names and ask them which “team” they are on. “You’re reading Brave New World? Are you Team Bernard or Team John?” Tell them you’re surprised the school chose the title. Promise them it’s sort of “inappropriate.”
5. Don’t bother telling them it’s a great book, that you loved the book, that it’s a classic or one of the best ever written. My son is reading The Poisonwood Bible. It’s one of my favorite books. It’s beautifully written, poignant and powerful. It’s also 576 freaking pages long and sort of depressing. Summer reading books are always depressing. It prepares them for the school year.
6. Here’s a radical idea: Go to a library. I hear people can read there. Some even have a Starbucks!
7. Play the audiobook in the car and drive until it’s done. I asked my son if he wanted to go to Chipotle. I took him to one in Iowa. Hard to execute with more than one child.
8. Quiz them during dinner to make sure they’re internalizing what they’re reading. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the book. That’s why SparkNotes were invented.
9. Set up a book discussion group with their friends, just like your own book group. Make them actually talk about the book, however. Just like most book groups, a couple of them will have read the thing and will teach the others how to fake it. They can’t drink wine, but you can.
10. Prepare for the all-nighter. Coffee and M&M’s are my standard go-tos. Sometimes I even let my son have some. My husband and I join in the fun. We both love reading. My son says he must have been switched at birth and somewhere there is a family at Atlantis Paradise Island begging their kid to put down the book and get in the pool.
Finally, resign yourself to the fact that this will happen again next year, no matter how many times you swear it will be different. No matter what the task is, we all prefer doing what we want to do rather than what we have to do. Speaking of which, I have two loads of dirty laundry to wash and a garden full of weeds. I think I’ll go read a book.