As book lovers, we are enthusiastic for any opportunity to talk about what we are reading. Literally any. Might as well be asking us about the newest season of Stranger Things because that’s how hype we get. Now, we are aware that not everyone feels as excited about books and we get that teens may not feel the same intrinsically about summer reading. As educators, we know how important reading over the summer is, though we completely understand that being on the receiving end of that order does not always feel positive because we were once young…

One major benefit for our youth today is that the landscape of books has changed a lot since we were teens. Today’s Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA) categories offer a wider and deeper variety of books and formats, featuring more nuanced topics, richer stories, more complex characters, a greater diversity of authors, and more. Plus, thanks to technology, reading has exploded into the digital realm, bringing us more accessible digital and audio formats.

Still, summer reading can seem like a chore or a bore to kids; but ultimately, it is in their best interest to try and get as much out of the task as they can. This is where we (the adults in their lives) come in!

The Benefits | The Why

There are many incredible academic and social-emotional benefits to facilitating conversations with our teens about what they are reading. A potential bright side to this is that you don’t need to have read the book to do this in a meaningful way! Here are just some of the ways having quality conversations with your young person has both an immediate and long-term impact on them:

Discussing what they have read has the potential to bolster their critical-thinking skills. These ever-so-crucial skills are tapped into more and more frequently as kids progress through school. Higher order thinking, such as synthesizing and evaluating, is expected of older students because it shows a level of understanding that goes beyond what is on the surface or accessible in an online summary.

When we engage with our kids about what they are reading, we are also strengthening their capacity for future literature-focused conversations and writing assignments that are to come. A conversation with you at home or in the car might feel much more low-stakes than in class with their teacher, surrounded by their peers. Having the opportunity to talk through the major plot points, themes, and questions they might have beforehand means that they may feel better prepared and more confident for however their teacher chooses to engage or assess them.

Ultimately, this is one more way to help nurture a healthy and authentic relationship with your teen. With the academic benefits that come with talking to your child about what they are reading, you also have an opportunity to show that you are truly invested in them. Adults have the ability to empower our youth when we engage in what they are doing and show that what they are doing has meaning. Their summer reading may be mandatory, but you can each grow and learn from each other because of it.

Book Recommendations | The What

If your teen has not been assigned specific titles to read or choose from, take advantage of the opportunity and encourage your teen to find books that truly engage them. Your local librarian or small bookstore are wonderful places to gather recommendations. Here are some helpful considerations to ponder together while you are out looking for your teen’s next read. We’ve also included a variety of MG and YA books that are a good place to begin your search:

Oftentimes, we as readers gravitate towards books that have characters that remind us of ourselves. This is completely natural and can provide us with a comforting mirror that reflects and validates our experiences back to us. How your teen identifies is a place to begin when choosing a book with a strong character to connect with. Their gender identity, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, appearance, religion, ability, socio-economic status, and nationality are all possible links to hook them into a book. Your child may also prefer to read books that provide windows into identities that are different from their own.

  • MG recommendationsStarfish by Lisa Phipps, The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani, Alice Austen Lived Here by Alex Gino
  • YA recommendationsI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malindo Lo, Apple (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gainsworth

Hobbies and habits are other ways to find books that may be interesting! Whether it is an interest or commitment that they currently have, or one they are hoping to pick up, extracurriculars provide characters, settings, plots, and lessons that are relatable either way.

  • MG recommendationsThe Sea in Winter by Christine Day, The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden, Ana on the Edge by A.J. Sass
  • YA recommendationsSlip by Marika McCoola, It Sounds Like This by Anna Meriano, Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

For every movie or TV show that exists, there are books that are just as engaging and exciting! Your teen may consider looking for books in similar genres, topics, or themes to what they enjoy watching.

  • MG recommendationsPrettiest by Brigit Young, Where the Woods End by Charlotte Salter, Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes
  • YA recommendationsBeasts of Prey by Ayana Gray, Go Hunt Me by Kelly deVos, Kings of Bmore by R. Eric Thomas

Embrace this opportunity and invite your young person to share what they are curious about. Consider sharing some of the topics you were interested in at their age or even topics you wonder about now. This can be a valuable moment to reinforce that you are invested in their interests and a chance to model how reading books is still a powerful way to learn.

  • MG recommendationsWe Are Not Free by Traci Chee, Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes, One Life: Young Readers Edition by Megan Rapinoe
  • YA recommendationsThe Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, Rising Troublemaker by Luvvie Ajayi-Jones

Tips and Pointers | The How

In case this all seems a bit too daunting at this point in the summer, start small. It is not too late to bring up a book that your teen may have finished weeks ago and there is still more left of Summer Break 2022 to get the ball rolling. The goal is to create a sustainable habit that you can continue to lean into during the school year as well. Remember that this is all still completely possible with you not having read the same book!

Lead with curiosity and try to imagine as vivid a picture of whatever you are discussing in your mind. Ask questions and lightly challenge how they know some of the information they are sharing. Keep the conversation going by staying open-minded and suspending judgment. Make this conversation intentional and share what you are thinking or wondering about their book. And of course, make sure to ask them about how and why they like/dislike what they are reading!

An accessible doorway to a meaningful conversation and higher level thinking is through making connections. Bring up the book’s protagonist and ask your teen to compare/contrast them to a family member, another character in a different book or a TV show you two are familiar with, or someone else you both know. There will be similarities and differences they are able to collectively list that describe not just looks and their personality, but also internal traits like their motivations or weaknesses. You could also ask about more broad literary aspects like themes, plot points, and setting.

Do something book-related together. Consider reading along with or after your teen has finished with their copy so that you have a more shared understanding and can have even deeper conversations. Watch the author give an interview or scroll through their Instagram feed together. If there is a movie or TV show adaptation, watch it together. If there is a setting connection that is relevant to where you live, take a visit or a virtual tour. Check to see if the author has any upcoming events you two can attend in-person or virtually. Any of these allows for further authentic conversations, deeper connections, and shared positive experiences for you two.

If you feel as though your teen needs a bit more guidance in tackling their summer reading than you can provide, enlist in outside support. Our partnership, the Baltimore Transformative Learning Collective, is offering a week-long, half-day Summer Reading Camp for middle and high school students from August 1-5. Check it out here to learn more and to register for our camp. Space is limited!

Any step towards talking about books with your teen is a move in the right direction. Whether you start small (i.e., asking about the last thing they read on their phone), or go big (i.e., committing to reading a series together), these conversations will only be sustainable and feel authentic if you set realistic goals. Why not plan a read-aloud session or a book discussion while cooking breakfast this weekend?! Or listen to an audiobook together on your next long drive?! Think about what will work for your family and begin there. And remember, it truly does take a village and you are not alone. You can find us at www.bmoretransform.org or @bmoretransform on Instagram. Until then, happy reading!