Once the obligatory summer vacation to the beach is but a sandy memory, don’t let the dog days of summer get you down. Here’s a plan for a great out-of-school field trip that will engage your children (without a textbook or worksheet) and teach them about different parts of the world and historical periods. Best of all, this literary staycation 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 (new or used).
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 that make distinguished contributions to American literature for children. The list is available online at ala.org.
Planning Your Literary Staycation
First, before finalizing a book, make sure you have a general understanding of the synopsis. 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 Baltimore and its surrounding areas, a low-cost or free excursion with some connection to the family read-aloud 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.
Medieval Europe Staycation
What to Read: For your first family read-aloud, select “Catherine, Called Birdy” (1994, Clarion Books) by Karen Cushman. This Newberry Honor middle-grade/young adult historical fiction novel (ages 12 and up) is set in England starting in 1290, and the narrative is told through diary entries of the main character. With 169 pages and 13 chapters — each named for a month beginning with September 1290 and ending with September 1291 — this novel will take approximately three-and-a-half hours to complete.
Where to Go: Visit the Walters Art Museum, located in the historic Mount Vernon Cultural District. Ample on-street parking surrounds the museum as well as a parking lot at Centre and Cathedral streets.
What to See: The Walters’ permanent collection includes a fascinating study of the medieval world from the Eastern Mediterranean to Western Europe, with a wide range of medieval art in many media. Be sure to check out the arms and armor rooms for items from the 13th century, the same time period as the setting of the novel.
After the Museum: Book an afternoon or evening performance at Medieval Times Castle, located in the Arundel Mills Mall. Weekend performances are at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., and the ticket price includes dinner — eaten in true medieval style, with not a fork or knife in sight. Watch knights in armor joust, duel and compete in hand-to-hand combat in an arena-style venue, complete with thrilling displays of horsemanship and falconry.
Alternate Reading Selection: For your gifted and talented reader in the family (or a reader who prefers a male protagonist with a dog in tow), select “Adam of the Road” by Elizabeth Janet Gray (Puffin Books, 2006). Also set in 13th-century England, this 1943 Newberry Medal winner is a longer read at 320 pages and is suitable for ages 8 and up. This middle grade/young adult historical fiction novel will take about six hours to read aloud.
Um … when exactly are we supposed to read as a family?
OK, so we’ve given you what may feel like an impossible task, haven’t we?
If you’re serious about reading together, 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. Here are some other tips:
• 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 smartphones 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.
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
For a list of all Newberry Medal and Honor books from 1922 to the present, visit the American Library Association website, ala.org.
Michelle Blanchard Ardillo is a middle school language arts teacher who reads aloud every day in her classroom. Follow her at @michardillo on Goodreads or on her website atmichelleardillo.com.