Ah, how well I remember wanting to be Mary Lou Retton. So what if I had no gymnastics experience? So what if I didn't know a round-off from a back handspring? My father had welded two bars for me, and I spent every day outside swinging on them and flipping over them on my stomach. I was SURE I was the next Mary Lou. Like thousands of other little girls, during the 1984 Olympics, I cried because my parents wouldn't send me to Texas to train.
Watching Simone Biles be so brave about her own struggles with pressure has turned my young tears into gratitude, and my wishes into empathy. Though I have never been an Olympic gymnast, I have learned you don't need to be an elite athlete to hit a wall.
And boy, have we hit it.
As summer marches on, and the new school year gets closer, the blow-up pool no longer holds any charm for my kids, using the weed-eater no longer makes them feel grown up, just tired of chores, summer math on the iPad isn't a novelty anymore, just tedious — and reading, well, that has started to seem like a chore too.
To be fair, it's reading new books that seem like a chore. The super-hot and humid days we've had this summer seem to have sapped every bit of energy from my kids, so it's a constant battle to get them to read something new. When it's reading time, it's the well-worn pages of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or New Kid that make an appearance. Only my youngest, who is just entering a new level of reading, is tearing her way through her unread The Boxcar Children.
The wall: a very real phenomenon. And there is lots of advice on how to conquer it.
Okay, I've got that. I'll admit, I'm guilty of throwing new books at my kids they aren't excited about reading because I think they SHOULD be reading them. Bad strategy. I must start slower, and luckily there are some new books I KNOW my kids will be excited to read.
Clash by Kayla Miller
This fourth installment of Miller's graphic novel series (Click, Act, Camp) finds Olive, still in the sixth grade, but with a new problem, a new problem whose name is "Natasha."
Clash hits home for me and my oldest daughter because both of us have experienced having a new kid in class who breezed in and taken our friends away. Nat does all she can to exclude Olive and makes an extra effort to make Olive feel bad about herself. Oh, the memories! Honestly, Olive does a much better job of handling the situation than I did when I was in middle school, and Clash is sure to be a new favorite in my house.
Marathon runners are not the only people who have to build up their endurance, readers do as well, and sometimes a fast-paced novel that makes you forget you're reading a novel can get you in the right frame of mind for a longer run.
Maya and the Robot by Eve. L. Ewing, illustrated by Christine Almeda
This debut middle grade book from essayist, poet, and comic book writer Eve L. Ewing, is the perfect read for kids who need a push to pick up a chapter book. Highly illustrated and easily relatable, Maya and the Robot combines friendship struggles, teacher problems, and yes, science, to tell the story of how fifth-grade Maya finds ways to adapt and thrive when everything seems wrong.
For someone who remembers the struggles of one's younger years, there can never be enough books about handling what can be a tough time. "Maya and the Robot" is fantastic addition to the genre and has the bonus of not just being about the internal struggles of the main character but offering fully formed familial relationships and community as well.
Something Stinks! by Jonathan Fenske
Every night I read chapter books to my kids. I sit down in the rocking chair while they all pile on the bed, and I read one (or two, maybe sometimes three depending on whether teeth-brushing time went smoothly) chapter of a book that I have chosen. While most nights my kids are happy to hear the next installment of what happens to Anne Shirley or Cassie Logan, there are nights when I read the room and see that my kids need a break, they need something fun and dare I say it, something with a bit of "yick."
Enter Something Stinks!.
Let me say that my kids, no matter how old they get, never tire of Walter the Farting Dog. Nothing makes them laugh like gas, whether real or literary, and sometimes we just have to end the day with a laugh. Something Stinks! offers a much-needed break in the Gilbert Blythe saga, and the skunk at the center of the story is so misled, so clueless, that my kids can't help but scream with laughter.
There are all kinds of walls to hit, and as parents or caregivers, we will surely hit a lot of them. Just when we think we've gotten things under control, something happens to stop us in our tracks. Fatigue, boredom, stress, pressure, overachieving, all those things throw up walls in front of us, even as children, and even as readers. Sometimes we fight through it, and sometimes we take a breather, and that's not a bad thing.
Not for Simone Biles and not for the rest of us.
Juanita Giles is the founder and executive director of the Virginia Children's Book Festival. She lives on a farm in Southern Virginia with her family.