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Editorial: Make Room in the Reading Tent

Despite everything I’ve ever loved about reading and hated about camping, I find myself wanting to sign up for Michelle H. Martin and Rachelle D. Washington’s Camp Read-a-Rama, a summer camp “for children ages four to eleven [that] uses children’s books as the springboard for all other camp activities, including songs, chants, games, field trips, and explorations.” (see page 54). Doesn’t it sound like fun? Maybe I could be a CIT.

Like Regina Hayes, whom Leonard S. Marcus interviews on page 12, “I was one of those kids to whom people would always say, ‘Get your head out of a book!’ I didn’t really go outside and play…” As a kid, the thing I valued most about reading was being able to do it by myself, indoors and away from the terrors of bugs and other children, and in the first grade I learned how. Easy readers, of which we recommend some of the best, starting on page 29 of this issue, were my key. I know that I regularly horrify my Nambe Pueblo activist colleague Debbie Reese with my nostalgia for Betty Baker and Arnold Lobel’s Little Runner of the Longhouse, but it was the first book I owned, a prize from first grade, and anytime or place I wanted to, I could and did read it. I rejoiced even then in my independence and newfound ability to be alone — at least in my imagination — on demand. Librarians and teachers, please always remember to honor this need for solitude in young readers.

But one of my touchstones at the Horn Book remains Christine Heppermann’s July/August 2000 Horn Book essay “Too Much of a Good Thing?,” in which she wonders if a kid could spend too much time with her nose in a book, actively resisting efforts to make her do something else. “I do feel as though I missed out on things, as if I may have traded real life experiences for literary ones.” Would it kill you to go outdoors? (Well, it felt like it might; I don’t know the exact connection between being a reading child and a fearful child, but there’s a significant enough overlap, anecdotally at least, to warrant attention!)

What does a reading camp designed, as Martin and Washington state, to combat “summer slide” offer to kids who view summer vacation as a chance to read even more? Let’s be honest: you couldn’t have dragged little Roger to Read-a-Rama, but it would have been good for him. Sunshine, playmates, exercises in physical dexterity — probably optimistic but nonetheless salutary. And in such a context where reading is king and, importantly, strictly recreational, kids for whom books are everything might find themselves unfamiliarly feeling on top. And if not? I note with gratitude that Read-a-Rama includes a “reading tent,” where one, presumably, could retreat when it all becomes too much. I have already pitched it in my heart.

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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