Have your kids been enjoying a traditional Huck Finn summer here in the Yukon? Splashing barefoot at Ear Lake, building tree forts in the greenbelt and generally cavorting late under the midnight sun?
Sadly, last week’s frigid weather reminds us summer is already fading and school looms. Even more alarming, we need to think of something for our little darlings to do if they can’t be sent outside for 16 hours a day.
Which brings up summer reading.
One of my children was given a summer reading list to complete by September. Against teenage expectations, it has turned out to be a great experience. So here are some suggestions to create your own family reading list.
Some suggested titles follow, but first a few principles. First of all, keep it fun. Choose books you and the kids will enjoy. Secondly, set a target. Tell the kids they need to read three books off the family list by a certain date, and that you’ll do it too. Finally, spread the choices among a few genres. Include a recent wizard or vampire book if you want, but also make sure a literature classic is on the list and a bit of nonfiction.
In terms of modern “young adult” literature, the most popular choices include publishing giants such as Harry Potter, the Twilight vampire series and the Greek-myth-based Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. All are good summer reads.
I haven’t read any of the following series, but my teenage sources are enthusiastic about them: the dystopian Hunger Games trilogy, the fantasy Eragon series and Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy. For historical adventure, Pullman has also written the Sally Lockhart series set in 19th-century London. Adult series such as Patrick O’Brian’s popular Master and Commander series can also be a refreshing change from dragons and myth.
It’s good to also work in a few literary classics, especially the shorter and more accessible ones.
After the Vancouver and London riots, Clockwork Orange, by Stanley Kubrick would be a timely read.
At the other end of the social spectrum is Emma, by Jane Austen. This is an interesting read since afterwards you can watch Clueless with Alicia Silverstone, a version of the novel set at a modern-day California high school. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Catcher in the Rye also look at the challenges of growing up.
For the adventure-minded, Kim, by Rudyard Kipling, JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped or even The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, are great choices.
For meatier reads, you can’t beat Dumas and the Three Musketeers. Kingfisher also produces well-written and very accessible condensed versions of the Odyssey, King Arthur, and Beowulf. The Puffin Classics version of Tales of the Greek Heroes is a great primer on Greek myths for young people who enjoyed the Percy Jackson series.
As for nonfiction, my 15-year-old was gripped by Endurance, the story of Shackleton’s epic adventure in Antarctica. For young people interested in food and nutrition (which should be all of them), there’s Fast Food Nation. The Big Short and Moneyball, by Stephen Lewis, are both fascinating and highly readable nonfiction looks at the word of economics, the first covering the financial crisis and the latter looking at pro baseball. For students interested in history, The March of Folly, by Barbara Tuchman, is a riveting review of disastrous decision-making over the centuries; probably good reading for teenagers watching the news and wondering how adults keep making such dunderheaded decisions.
Finally, a couple of Yukon choices. Jack London’s Call of the Wild remains a ripping read. Krakauer’s Into The Wild is also set in the North and touches on themes of youthful alienation and survival in the North. (And, if you don’t mind, I’ll also plug my own Aurore of the Yukon series of historical adventure novels set in the Yukon.)
As a parent, it is satisfying to see the children enjoy reading. But there’s a fringe benefit. It gives you an excuse to read some of these great books too.
If you do, you won’t be alone. Around 20 per cent of Harry Potter readers are adults.
On another matter …
My recent column entitled Francophone School “Jackpot” Hits a Nerve hit a nerve itself. I received record feedback in print, telephone and on the street, especially from anglophones.
There are too many opinions to address in a column, and many of the opinions are unprintable anyway. But three questions of fact came up that I will address.
Andre Bourcier, president of the francophone school board, noted the Constitution provides francophones with the right to an education in French (as I had pointed out) but also in French institutions -“instruction in minority language educational facilities provided out of public funds,” is how section 23 of the Constitution puts it. Others have pointed out I should have also mentioned section 59 of the Constitution limits minority education rights for anglophones in Quebec and, therefore, francophones do in fact have some very unique rights in Canada.
Bourcier also says that I wrote, incorrectly, Emilie Tremblay School was only at 40 per cent capacity. I actually said, “The government pointed out in its arguments that the Emilie Tremblay building is 40 per cent empty.” It may be dangerous to rely on facts from the Yukon government, but the source of this information was clearly provided to readers.
Finally, Bourcier said my facts were “puzzling” on funding per student being 50 per cent higher at Emilie Tremblay than schools like Whitehorse Elementary and FH Collins.
Documents from the Department of Education show that in September 2009, Emilie Tremblay had 25 staff with 153 students. Whitehorse Elementary had 40 staff for 416 students and FH had 59.15 staff for 580 students.
This works out to 16.4 educators per 100 students for Emilie Tremblay, with FH Collins having 10.2 and Whitehorse Elementary 9.6, as I said in my article.
Since 84 per cent of the public school budget is personnel cost, and teachers are paid similarly in the two systems, this implies that if Emilie Tremblay has 16.4 educators per 100 students and Whitehorse Elementary 9.6 then the spending per student at Emilie Tremblay is more than 50 per cent higher. If Whitehorse Elementary received the same funding per student, it would be able to hire 28 (yes, 28) more staff.
Of course, if Bourcier wins his case on appeal then Emilie Tremblay will need additional staff for the new facilities. According to the judgment, these include an “area for plastic and visual arts, an area for theatre arts (music and theatre) … area for traditional industrial arts, an area for modern industrial arts (computer and technologies), a functional cafeteria/canteen… an area for teaching special needs children, an area for home economics, a student radio area” and other facilities.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.