FEATURE — Summer in some places is too hot to do just about anything except for reading under a tree. This is according to my dad, from whom I’ve taken the cue to instill in my boys the habit of summer reading.
Not just any book will do, they must read some books that they might not choose for themselves, books that will make them think.
In hot San Antonio, Texas, where my dad spent his middle school summers, he and my Uncle Jack would take their baseball mitts and cold iced tea and park themselves under a tree until the sun set and they could breathe again. They would usually read sports fiction or a series about a collie dog named Lad they’d borrowed from the local bookmobile that came around every few weeks.
In my house, I typically find my boys squirreled away in the basement with their summer books. They have the luxury of air conditioning that my father did not, and they take full advantage of it. I remind them of this when they complain that I make them read:
“At least you’re not reading under a hot Texas tree.”
They also complain that I signed them up for a summer book club, protesting to the tune of “These books are stupid!” and “Why can’t I just read what I want?”
But deep down I know they like it. Or at least they should. These books, among some other brain-building activities like the board game “Wings of War” are what’s standing between them and the dreaded summer slide into too much laziness, too much screen time; playing six hours a day of Fortnite holds no such promise.
Plus, with a book club, they’re getting exposed to some books they otherwise wouldn’t read. This week, one of the required books was “The Button War” by Avi.
Billed as sort of a WWI-era “Lord of the Flies,” the book tells the tale of Patryk, a young Polish boy, and his group of friends who fall into a competition to get the best button from the soldiers who are occupying their village. The boy who gets the best button becomes king of the group; and the king wields a special cane … and all the power goes with that cane.
The caveat of the competition is that the button has to be taken, not gifted.
As a result, the boys find themselves in peril, both from the soldiers and from who they themselves become in the competition.
Patryk protests throughout that the button war is too dangerous, and he doesn’t think any of them should keep doing it. But he is goaded into continuing by one of the other boys, Jurek, who Patryk suspects of malevolent intentions. If this Jurek wins he will lord over them all.
Patryk tells himself he must compete – and win – to save them all from Jurek. But with every new button he steals, Patryk becomes more complicit in the competition, a competition that leads to the death of at least one of his friends.
As my middle boy read “The Button War,” he’d have regular outbursts at Patryk: “Just don’t do it! Who cares if Jurek wins?”
So we talked about his frustrations. We talked about how sometimes the story we tell ourselves about why we do certain things doesn’t matter as much as what we actually do.
We talked about the responsibility you bear for a group’s actions when you are a participating member of that group, even when you think your motives are pure or even if you don’t fully understand the motivations of the others in the group.
We are responsible for what happens around us in our name.
When the book club selected “The Button War,” children were not being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border in the name of immigration enforcement. But that was indeed happening when my boy read this cautionary tale. And it couldn’t have been more appropriate.
It made him think. It made me think.
It made us think together about our role in this current immigration enforcement issue, and the many other significant issues both here and abroad.
Thank heavens for summer reading.
Now, back to Texas.
Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News. Any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.
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