Summer reading pleasures

Summer reading!  What a pleasure to step out of our school-year routines and explore something a little different.  summer reading

This month we head northwest to Alaska, taking Cynthia’s parents for a three-generation cruise through Glacier Bay National Park. We start in Juneau, Alaska’s capital, and cruise through the islands and bays to Sitka, Alaska.

A dream trip we have planned for years.  We look forward to our time together as a family in nature, and then to our return to you and our community at A Step Ahead.  Until we meet again, happy summer reading!

Our family’s summer reading traditions

As we enjoy time with family and friends and a changed routine, summer reading connects us to each other and to our surroundings.

Cynthia changed careers and jobs seven years ago to enable us to have more family time together.  We began a tradition of reading the same books assigned to our boys by their schools for summer reading.  We loved the richer conversations and shared ‘insider’ jokes we could have by talking about the books as we read them.  (And, perhaps, it kept our boys a little more focused on their reading?)

Last summer, among other things, we read Animal Farm, To Kill a Mockingbird and Frankenstein with our high school son. We re-learned how creepy the ending of Animal Farm is, how much we’d like Scout’s freedom at her age, and how ghastly our own attempts at creation would be.

With our middle-school son, we read The Boy Who Saved Baseball and The Giver.  We talked about baseball while watching and supporting Grandpa’s Cubs, never dreaming that 2016 would be the year. We shared our like-dislike view of the giver, admiring his gift and rejecting the idea of a controlled world without freedom of choice.

But, mainly, we talked.

While we travel in Glacier Bay, we’ll have plenty of time for reading this year’s school-assigned summer books along with our boys. Stay tuned to our August newsletter for reviews and thoughts on this year’s school-assigned reading experiences.

Summer reading choices set in the places we go

The other side of our tradition is to read books about the places we visit, before we leave on vacation.  Profiled below are our picks for this year’s vacation, with our thoughts after reading them. They are organized from books for our youngest readers to those for everyone. Needless to say, reading these books has stepped up our level of excitement!  We are ready to pack our fleeces and binoculars and rain coats and hit the road!

For younger readers

summer reading

We begin with John Muir and Stickeen: An Icy Adventure with a No-Good Dog.  Written by Julie Dunlap and MaryBeth Lorbiecki, this illustrated story captures one of John Muir’s many life-threatening adventures.

This time, Muir and a dog belonging to a fellow traveler find themselves much further out on the glaciers than they anticipated.  Of course, that’s when the storm hits.

Muir and Stickeen show both grit and bravery in the face of long odds and eventually return to warmth and safety.

“The last morning in Glacier Bay was as wild and dark as an angry grizzly.”



For middle grades

Next up is the middle-school adventure Frozen Stiff.  Sherry Shahan’s vivid and rapidly-moving adventure centers on two inexperienced kayakers trapped in the Alaskan wilderness by a freak of nature.

summer readingParent alert! The two main characters are kids who sneak out to the Russell Fjord for a weekend of camping while their mothers are away in Juneau. When the Hubbard Glacier “surges,” blocking outflow from the Russell Fjord, a rapidly rising water level catches them by surprise, washing away a kayak and nearly all of their supplies.

Shahan’s writing describes not only the area’s natural beauty, but also the mud, mosquitoes, and colorful characters the kids encounter on their journey.

“Her cousin slammed the cabin door as always.  He was as quiet as a bear breaking into a grocery store.”



Loving dogs as our family does, it’s only natural that our next pick was Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey. A teen-aged boy, a dog, an adventure, why not?

Main character Andy Evans stumbles upon the snow-covered wreckage of a small plane and is shocked to find a survivor.

Should he put the gravely injured dog out of his misery? The look in the animal’s eyes says he’s not ready to die.summer reading

And so the journey begins. It is filled with trials and suspense, love and life.

There is plenty to love in this one.  If you love dogs and adventure stories where all ends well, give yourself a treat and read this book!


“No more mysteries,” Martha said. Then she put her head down and quietly began to cry.


For teens and adults

Our final two picks turned out to be stories that were both sweet and very sad.  We recommend these stories for teens and young adults, and for the rest of us, too.  The first one is I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven. The story is set in the remote Pacific Northwest in an ancient Native American village.  Hunting and fishing are the primary sources for food.  Many things have not changed in centuries.summer reading

But some new ideas have crept in from surrounding areas.  Among them are labor-saving inventions (like prefabricated housing) and dangers of addiction (alcoholism in particular).  The younger generation is disenchanted with the traditional way of life.

Into this swirl of change comes a new minister to the village.  He has many lessons to learn, not only about the people around him, but also about himself. Ultimately, the story turns on the transformational power of love in the midst of life and death.

We were really touched by this sweet story and quite sad to turn the last page.  We felt like we had made some new friends.

“Here every bird and fish knew its course. Every tree had its own place upon this earth. Only man had lost his way.”


Our last choice is A Wolf Called Romeo, by Nick Jans.  A true story, the book recounts the unlikely six-year friendship between a truly wild wolf and the people and dogs of of Juneau, Alaska.

summer readingThis wild wolf, nicknamed Romeo, returned again and again to Juneau, interacting with those who lived there, especially their dogs.  Romeo lived on the edges of the community, inspiring fear at first, moving to acceptance and trust, and then to love.

Ultimately, the book’s ending reminds us that we do not live in a fairy tale after all.  But for a time, we had Romeo.

“The wolf, instead of watching from the tree line as he had several times with me, angled toward us at a trot. Then he broke into a bounding lope, snow flying beneath his paws, jaws agape. I drew Sherrie toward me and reached for Dakotah’s collar. My vision sharpened, and synapses crackled. I’d seen my share of wolves over the years, some point-blank close, and hadn’t quite shifted into panic mode. But anyone who claims he wouldn’t get an adrenaline jolt from a running wolf coming straight in, with no weapon and no place to run, and loved ones to defend, is either brain-dead or lying…”

Happy summer reading!  We’ll see you back in North Carolina soon!

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