The past few weeks I've felt 10 years younger by re-establishing old friendships with ... favorite childhood books.

In sheer abandon, I have rediscovered the delight of reading a book just for fun and getting a little unexpected moral fiber in the diet as well.

Maybe, like me, you have fond memories of a few special books from your youth. I distinctly remember the first time I read "Harriet the Spy," by Louise Fitzhugh, the story of a young girl who plays detective and learns about life along the way.

Suddenly, I wanted to only eat tomato sandwiches, too (which were actually quite good) and began writing in a journal, a habit that created an entire box full of journals and that I happily continue to this day.

Her detective work inspired me to make that my life's work, and I would in all seriousness tell people this was what I would be when I grew up. To practice, I began sneaking around and spying on my family (which my mother found quite enjoyable). And finding myself without fingerprinting ink, I substituted with a watercolor set and proceeded to fingerprint my entire family.

The books I read back then weren't just fun to read but ingeniously shared moral life principles in humorous ways. When I was having a tough summer one year, my parents bought "The Phantom Tollbooth," by Norton Juster, which shares the story of a young, bored boy who finds a purple tollbooth in his room.

He uses his little motor car to enter a different world in fabulous lands such as Dictionopolis (where they eat their words) and the Doldrums (and how to get out of them).

As the boy goes on an unexpected quest, he learns about life lessons through his choices, such as landing suddenly on the Island of Conclusions. When asked how he got there, the others reply, "Why of course, you jumped." He proceeds to learn a wonderful subtle lesson about jumping to conclusions in opinions or judgments in life.

Over the past few weeks, I'm again sharing these great reads with my children. We're doing summer read aloud, which means in the evening we pull out a huge blanket, grab a snack and all gather to hear someone read a great story. Some of our favorites that work well for families with young teens on down are books such as "Superfudge," the "Ramona" series and "June B. Jones."

If I'm not sure about the next great book, I go to Jim Trelease's classic, "The Read Aloud Handbook," with hundreds of age-appropriate recommendations. I find that my children, once started, fully get into the swing of it (our last reading time it was almost to fist-a-cuffs for who was to read next).

My two eldest sons had us all laughing with their voices for "The Best/Worst School Day Ever," by Barbara Robinson, with those annoying Herdmans. If you're not sure your children will like it, give it a shot for an evening by the campfire.

And wondrously, all books aren't just for reading. One of my sons found "The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookiee Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes," by Robin Davis. It's fabulous! It also includes fun recipes for Hoth Chocolate, Boba Fett-ucine and Princess Leia Danish Dos (cinnamon rolls in the shape of her hairdo).

Using this recipe book on his day to cook lunch, my son chose Galaxy Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Yoda Soda (totally yum). Not only was he learning to cook something new, he chose the recipes, listed the ingredients, and at the store he found where they were for purchasing.

I would say that's about five LIFESkills right there, which means I can feel absolutely stellar as a parent, having done nothing more than say, "Great job." All from a great summer read! This week, pull out a favorite old book and feel the connection. Feel free to send our family some of your suggestions. Meanwhile, I'm already excited to open the next old Nancy Drew!

LIFETip: Choose two great juvenile books — one for a read-aloud with your children and one just for you.


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