If the summer shapes up to be like spring has been here in Vermont, I suggest stocking up on summer reading for the whole family. Not to belabor the point, but It’s been a wet one, and one of the few therapies for cold, wet weather is losing oneself in a great book.

I googled ‘summer reading lists’ as I was preparing to write this blog. I wanted to see what kind of books folks were recommending for parents and kids, and I found a baker’s dozen of current lists– all with decent recommendations, mind you. But how to choose one over another? I could certainly throw my own hat into the ring and recommend some of my own favorites of the season as well. However, I think another approach merits more attention this year.

In a brilliantly conceived move, our National Ambassador to Children’s Literature, the graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, has decided his grand objective for his tenure as ambassador is to get kids (and adults) to read things outside their comfort zone, to, you know, broaden their world view. Who doesn’t need a little perspective expansion these days?

Gene’s Reading Without Walls Challenge launched in April, and not only does he want us to read across cultures, he also wants us to read about topics we are unfamiliar with (or claim to be ‘not interested’ in) and to read across genres. Why is this so important, besides the obvious reasons? Have you ever had the experience where someone is describing something that profoundly touched them and they say “This isn’t what I usually read/watch/listen to but it was so moving…” or something that effect?

These intensely transformative encounters with something or someone whom we don’t usually meet tend to be the ones that stay with us longer, and alter our way of being in the world. Ultimately, the Reading Without Walls project challenges us to break down the barriers we’ve built between ourselves and our safety zones and the rest of the world around us. Once you’ve finished reading the three books outside your comfort zone, you complete the challenge by challenging someone else to do the same. Read more about the the Reading Without Walls Challenge at Gene’s website.

Here are the three books I chose to participate in the Reading Without Walls Challenge: As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (read a book about a character who doesn’t look or live like you do); Lost in the Pacific, 1942 by Tod Olson (read a book about a topic you don’t know much about); and Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld (read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun). I loved each book and am so glad to be able to share them with other readers.

I hope some of you are ready to participate in the challenge this summer, and are up to sharing this with some kids in your life. There are an amazing amount of great books out there and many resources to help you find them — sometimes the challenge is to challenge your own proclivities.

Jane Knight is a member of CLiF’s Board of Advisors and the Children’s book buyer at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, VT.

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