My childhood nooks and crannies tucked themselves into lingering places: the treehouse perched high in our three-pronged magnolia tree, the rope hammock secured between towering ancient oaks, the window seat sequestered at one end of the family den. Each place gathered me into a new space of being. All included reading, playfulness, imagination, and wonder as a common denominator.
Dark chocolate walls surrounded my childhood window seat, a cave hidden away from the world. The window seat cushion—freshly covered with a botanical fabric—held just enough plumpness for my fourth-grade body to stretch out along the long stretch of a summer’s afternoon. Lightning flashed its sizzle over the side yard, a lush slant of green tumbling into the pebbled driveway. Across the way in the woods, polliwogs and salamanders hunkered down in the drift of a meandering creek. Cardinals hid high in the pink-flowering mimosa tree. Nature knew to slow down in the downpour.
If I snuggled in just so, back angled upon two pillows, body canted toward the window, thin sheet draped loosely around my ears, I could almost shut off the noise of pesky little sisters who traipsed in and out. Opening a book in my cave became a transport system into lands far beyond the little yellow house on the corner of Collier Place and Spring Valley Road.
Launched into the land of Story, words whispered into terrain fertile for my imagination to grow. Along the way, penguins, prairies, and pigs became close friends of mine. I laughed at the antics of children and animals. I sobbed when tragedy weaseled its way into the plot of a beloved character’s life. Gasps, giggles, and grief showed up as I wandered through the land of Story. Always the lilt of words, the lift of winds whisked me far from that childhood room into the vast room of wonder. The lushness outside wasn’t the only thing that grew on those rainy summer afternoons.
Throughout my growing-up years—1950s and1960s—the ticket to summer reading arrived in the form of my cherished Ida Williams Library card. Back in 1902, the Carnegie Library of Atlanta was founded. Our local branch, a white-columned neo-classical red-brick structure, might have looked like a simple library building; it held universes within it.
Summer exists for play, as any child well knows. And what adult doesn’t wish for a return of those carefree days amid all the responsibilities of daily life? We try our best to replicate those childhood summers with travels or vacations, some of which do allow for playfulness rather than mere entertainment to show up.
I’m here to tell you that our carefree summer days have not vanished. They exist again in a myriad of ways through our summer reading. Reading builds a playground for the mind. Stories give room for delight to break in as wild and wonderful as being a child at play. The gift given through books broadens our view of the world and ourselves. We are always part of more than we even realize for every story is set within the bigger Story of God. And “Every story whispers His Name,” as author Sally Lloyd-Jones subtitled The Jesus Storybook Bible.
Stories companion us on the journey of life and give us space to become child-like and playful. Even now, as summer storms roll along in our local weather forecasts, I look forward to playful afternoons, lost in a book.
Both reading and play exercise memory, focus, imagination, knowledge, and the brain itself. Not every reader grows up to be an author or writer, yet all of us see our writing improve with a good side of reading. And if you are wanting to grow as a writer, read, read, read.
Stories stir up much in us, things seen and unseen. George MacDonald says,
“In very truth, a wise imagination, which is the presence of the spirit of God, is the best guide that man or woman can have; for it is not the things we see the most clearly that influence us the most powerfully; undefined, yet vivid visions of something beyond, something which eye has not seen nor ear heard, have far more influence than any logical sequences whereby the same things may be demonstrated to the intellect. It is the nature of the thing, not the clearness of its outline, that determines its operation. We live by faith, and not by sight.”
It’s time to let your imagination join your summer days. Maybe it’s been a long time since you picked up a book just for the fun of it. Perhaps you are at a loss for how to get lost again in the playfulness of summer reading, no matter what the weather.
No, you are not obligated to choose something only off the list of the latest NYTimes bestsellers nor do you have to restrict yourself solely to the classics recommended by scholars of all things scholarly. And, no, you do not need to create a book report on each and every book.
Welcome your playful side to the delight of summer reading. Read simply for the fun of it. Discover a new tale; return to a favorite one.
Find the wonder of childhood and the joy of adventures again as you open the covers of a book. However, you’ll have to find your own nook or cranny. Mine’s full.
Explore ways to expand your summer reading adventures:
- By the pool
- In a hammock
- At the shore
- In window seat
- Beside a creek
- In a tent
- In the car
- On the airplane
- Around the campfire
- At breakfast
- Atop a mountain
- Under the stars
- In a swing
- Read where you’ve never read before
- Read in your favorite spot
Read books about:
- Where you live
- Where you will travel
- A new hobby
- The opposite of what you normally read or write about: so if you write fiction, then read nonfiction. If you normally read fantasy, read poetry.
- A variety of genres: poetry, fantasy, children’s literature, novels
- Topics within the Dewey Decimal System’s 10 main groups
- 000–099, general works
- 100–199, philosophy and psychology
- 200–299, religion
- 300–399, social sciences
- 400–499, language
- 500–599, natural sciences and mathematics
- 600–699, technology
- 700–799, the arts
- 800–899, literature and rhetoric
- 900–999, history, biography, and geography
- Another era using the copyright date
- “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” ― C.S. Lewis
- The source of a movie, play, or television series
- Times surrounding your particular life: childhood, teen years, college years, each decade of your life—books about where you were born, went to school, where you currently frequent with a visit, where you want to retire
- Ideas you disagree with to clarify your thinking
- The experiences of folks of different ages such as your friend, neighbor, child, grandchild, grandparent, or yourself
Be generous with others and yourself as you enter again the door of Play to discover the land of Story:
- Leave a book as a tip when you go out to eat or meet with a service provider.
- Give gift cards to local bookstores for birthday gifts, baby showers, to someone who is grieving, to the new neighbor that just moved in across the street, and don’t forget to give one as a surprise to someone you enjoy. I’ve been known to buy an extra gift card or two to stick in my own wallet as a treat for a rainy day.
- Support authors you enjoy by buying their book then donate a copy to your local library branch or to the little library in your neighborhood.
- Befriend your local booksellers and listen to their recommendations.
- Keep a shelf full of what story to read next.
Books and play birth the imagination. They invite us to the landscape of wonder as they whisper, “You are here now and you can return here again and again and again in your imagination.”
If you wonder where I am as the summer storms roll in, I’m lost in a book. How about you?
- Bogel, Anne. I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018.
- Bustard, Leslie, Thea Rosenburg, Carey Bustard, eds. Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children. Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2022.
- Lopez, Kristen. But Have You Read the Book?:52 Literary Gems That Inspired Our Favorite Films. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2023.
- Trelease, Jim and Cyndi Giorgis. Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook: Eighth Edition. New York: Penguin Books, 2019.
- The Rabbit Room