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Summer books: Skip the blockbusters, let kids’ imaginations grow

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) In this 2000 file photo, Emma Haworth, left, reads Charity by Lesley Pearse, next to Scott Provan who is reading The Book of Images by Rainer Maria Rilke in Central Park.

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When I was a kid, every summer had a book.

The summer I turned twelve was the summer of "To Kill a Mockingbird." Sixth grade was over; seventh grade loomed. Scout, Jem, Dill, and Boo Radley remain inextricably bound in memory with our plaid sofa, popsicles, bare feet, and lazy hours in the world of a fictional Maycomb, Ala., childhood. The film version was wonderful — from it I retain an affection for cigar boxes as treasure troves. However, it is the cadence and color of the words on the page that more persistently color my imagination.

Which is to say that a series of summer books is an emblem of my childhood, and my idealized notion of what summer should be like.

Every summer had such a book. I remember the summers of classics like J.R.R.Tolkein, Solzhenitsyn, Thomas Hardy, Willa Cather, Mark Twain, George Orwell. Lest my reading habits seem too high falutin', I admit to interludes of Micky Spillane and Dick Francis, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein. Am I dating myself?

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