Once the obligatory summer vacation to the beach is but a sandy memory, don’t let the dog days of summer get you down! How about taking a literary staycation that can:
• Keep your children engaged for a few weeks
• Build their reading and communication skills without a textbook or worksheet
• Teach them about a different part of the world or a different period of history
• End with a great out-of-school family field trip
And best of all, it can be accomplished on a shoestring budget.
A family read-aloud is the perfect summertime activity. Finding the right book to share as a family read-aloud-turned-staycation can be as easy as asking your local librarian, talking to friends who are teachers, spending some time on Amazon or browsing the aisles of your local bookstore. Here are some local used bookstores worth checking out:
• MCPL Friends of the Library, locations in Wheaton and Rockville
• Wonder Book, locations in Frederick, Hagerstown and Gaithersburg
• Second Story Books, locations in Dupont Circle and Rockville
Another sure way to find high-quality books for children is to peruse the winners of the Newberry Medal and Honor, awarded annually to books which make distinguished contributions to American literature for children. The list is available online at ala.org.
Planning Your Literary Staycation
First, before deciding on a book, make sure to check out a book review or summary of your top choice. That way, once the read-aloud is over, you already have a head start on planning a family-friendly adventure that will tie in to the book’s setting, time period, theme or genre.
With many museums, monuments and historic landmarks in D.C., a low-cost or free excursion with some connection to the family read-aloud book will be easy to plan. Come up with a few suggestions, and then meet as a family to discuss which one is the most appealing to everyone. Allowing the children to be part of the planning will ensure they are engaged and enthusiastic about going.
Looking for something already planned out for you? Read on for an exciting literary staycation idea.
Ancient Korea Staycation
WHAT TO READ: For your first family read-aloud, select “A Single Shard” (2001, Clarion Books) by Linda Sue Park. This Newberry Medal middle-grade/young adult historical fiction novel (ages 9 and up) is set in ancient Korea, mid-12th century. The main character is an orphaned boy who goes to work as an apprentice to a master potter being considered for a royal commission (to make pottery for the Imperial Palace). With 13 chapters and 152 pages, this novel will take approximately 3-½ hours to finish.
WHERE TO GO: Visit the Freer Gallery, a Smithsonian museum specializing in Asian art, including pottery from ancient Korea. Conveniently located on the Mall, at Jefferson Drive and 12th St. S.W., Washington, D.C., the Freer is accessible by Metro on the Blue Line, exiting at the Smithsonian Metro Station. When traveling by car, check the Smithsonian’s website for nearby parking garages.
WHAT TO SEE: Be sure to study the celadon-glazed stoneware bowl, created in the 12th century, the same time period as the setting of the novel. Bonus: Visit the Peacock Room, named for a mural painted on the wall of a dining room after a financial feud between artist James Whistler and his patron, James Leyland. The walls are lined with Asian pottery — it’s a visual feast for the eyes.
DINING KOREAN-STYLE: After touring the museum, grab a quick meal at a nearby Korean eatery such as TaKorean — think Korean BBQ in a Mexican taco. Or, check out Rice Bar, where you can design your own bibimbap, Korea’s national meal-in-a-bowl of rice and toppings.
HANDS-ON ACTIVITY: To cap off this experience, paint your own piece of pottery or make a mosaic at All Fired Up, with locations in Cleveland Park and Bethesda.
EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES: For your gifted and talented reader, enrich the family read-aloud with materials from Reading is Fundamental Literacy Central at rif.org/literacy-central or Penguin Random House at penguinrandomhouseaudio.com.
How to Have a Successful Family Read-Aloud
• Be consistent with time of day and length of reading so everyone can settle into a pattern. A family read-aloud can take place mid-morning after swim team practice, late afternoon when temperatures are soaring or after dinner when everyone is winding down after a long, hot day.
• Encourage the family to get comfy, whether it is on the couch, bed, floor or a beach towel on the lawn.
• Institute a “no device” rule: no smart phones or tablets, with the exception being if the book is being read aloud from an e-reader.
• Put out some snacks and beverages to settle even the most fidgety ones in the family. For the littlest ones in your read-aloud audience, at least initially, put out some small (and quiet) toys to keep their hands busy until they fall under the spell of the story. For your older readers, give them a print copy of the book to read along as you read aloud.
• Channel your inner actor and “perform” rather than just reading the book.
For a deeper understanding of the benefits of a read aloud, check out these two books: “The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition” by Jim Trelease and “The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids” by Sarah Mackenzie.
Newberry Medal and Honor Books
For a list of all Newberry Medal and Honor books from 1922 to the present, visit The Association for Library Service to Children’s website, ala.org.
Recent Newberry Medal Winners:
2018: “Hello, Universe” by Erin Entrada Kelly
2017: “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” by Kelly Barnhill
2016: “Last Stop on the Market Street” by Matt de la Peña
2015: “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander
2014: “Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures” by Kate DiCamillo
2013: “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate
2012: “Dead End in Norvelt” by Jack Gantos
2011: “Moon Over Manifest” by Clare Vanderpool
2010: “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead