Summer Reading List Top Picks
It’s the summer or very close. Tomorrow is our last day of school. Some years my kids have summer reading homework but this year everyone is scott free. Still, I want them to read for pleasure this summer which will take some coaxing, especially for PickyKidPix who needs a school assignment as a motivation to read.
Since I live in Boston or thereabouts, we do have seasons and, being born and raised in California, summer in New England sure beats snow, sleet and torrential rain. Our summers have been pretty consistently filled mostly with a slower schedule of extracurriculars (no Spanish, Chinese, flute, karate, guitar and soccer games!) and replaced with trips to the ice cream parlor (for a “cool down”), day camps, dim sum and outings outside.
This summer will be a first for us as the two oldest have insisted on going to sleep away camp. I’m not sure if I will like a quieter house but their younger brother is looking forward to being an only child for a few weeks. Their summer camp schedule was crafted individually for each of them to explore their interests that include soccer, cooking, and lego robotics. I also hope that my son passes the deep end test this year too as I am tired of being on DefCom 5 anytime he’s near the water.
As for summer reading, my kids have ALL told me that there is nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, at all to read in our house. As usual, the cobbler’s kids are barefoot but in our case, they have lots of shoes to choose from, they just don’t seem to want any of the myriad of choices presented to them. So typical, right?!
My strategy is to get them to read books set in the summer. It’s sort of fun to see what other experiences the characters in these books have during the same period of time as my kids. In each of these books, there is something special about each summer that my kids can relate to either as something that is similar to their own experiences or sympathetically as something that they have to imagine.
In any case, thank goodness that it’s summer time! And let the reading and chilaxing begin! What are your kids reading and doing this summer? Is there just ONE thing that you want your kid to accomplish this summer? Please share!
p.s. I have finally indexed all my book lists: List of Lists/All 300+ of My Book Lists.
Summer Reading List: 20 Great Books for Kids Set During the Summer
The Epitome of Summer
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee
When James and Eamon go to a week of Nature Camp and stay at Eamon’s grandparents’ house, it turns out that their free time spent staying inside, eating waffles, and playing video games is way more interesting than nature. But sometimes things work out best when they don’t go exactly as planned.
In this moving and hilarious celebration of young boys, childhood friendships, and the power of the imagination, Marla Frazee captures the very essence of summer vacation and what it means to be a kid. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Nature camp on the summer agenda? Or camp with friends? Then you MUST read this charming and hysterically funny picture book. It has sly humor for kids and parents alike. And I think it reflects Marla Frazee’s kids’ experience so it really rings true.
Little Bear’s Friend by Else Holmelund Minarik
Little Bear meets Emily, a human girl, and her doll. ‘Once again Little Bear proves himself to be as wistful and tender a little creature as exists in the child’s library. [Easy Reader, ages 4 and up]
I love the Little Bear series deeply and passionately! In this easy reader, the summer is ending and Little Bear’s new friend Emily has to leave to return to her house to start school. Isn’t that the epitome of summer?!
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Dog Days by Jeff Kinney
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
Because of a bet, Billy is in the uncomfortable position of having to eat fifteen worms in fifteen days. The worms are supplied by his opponent, whose motto is “The bigger and juicier, the better!” At first Billy’s problem is whether or not he can swallow the worm placed before him, even with a choice of condiments from peanut butter to horseradish. But later it looks as if Billy will win, and the challenge becomes getting to the worm to eat it. Billy’s family, after checking with the doctor, takes everything in stride. They even help Billy through his gastronomic ordeal, which twists and turns with each new day, leaving the outcome of the bet continually in doubt.
A classic that kids still enjoy. This short and easy chapter book has an old-fashioned appeal when kids could bike to each other’s house and knock to find a friend. No scheduled play dates. And, as boys will be boys, this bet is a funny one with a surprising outcome. This might not be your kids’ summer, but it’s a fun one to read about. You might even end up adding a new protein item to your menu. (Or not!). This book has a lot of boy appeal!
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
In the summer of 1977, Victoria Leonard’s world changes forever when Caitlin Somers chooses her as a friend. Dazzling, reckless Caitlin welcomes Vix into the heart of her sprawling, eccentric family, opening doors to a world of unimaginable privilege, sweeping her away to vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, an enchanting place where the two friends become “summer sisters.”
Now, years later, Vix is working in New York City. Caitlin is getting married on the Vineyard. And the early magic of their long, complicated friendship has faded. But Caitlin begs Vix to come to her wedding, to be her maid of honor. And Vix knows that she will go—because Vix wants to understand what happened during that last shattering summer. And, after all these years, she needs to know why her best friend—her summer sister—still has the power to break her heart. [Young Adult, ages 14 and up]
An epic and poignant YA summer read even if you don’t summer on Martha’s Vineyard but even better if you do!
That Summer by Sarah Dessen
For fifteen-year-old Haven, life is changing too quickly. She’s nearly six feet tall, her father is getting remarried, and her sister, the always perfect Ashley, is planning a wedding of her own. Haven wishes things could just go back to the way they were. Then an old boyfriend of Ashley’s renters the picture, and through him, Haven sees the past for what it really was, and comes to grips with the future. [Young Adult, ages 12 and up]
We are now just discovering Sarah Dessen and this book seems like the perfect pick for my oldest who is 12.
Perfect for Going into 6th Grade/Middle School
A Million Miles From Boston by Karen Day
School’s out! That means Lucy is off to her favorite place: Pierson Point, Maine, where she spends summers with her family. And as she tries to forget her worries about starting middle school and about Dad’s new girlfriend, Lucy can’t get there soon enough. Pierson Point is where she feels most like herself, and where memories of her mother, who died when Lucy was six, are strong and sacred.
But this summer, nothing is the same. Ian, a boy from home in Boston, comes to Pierson Point with his family. Ian is loud, popular, and mean. He and Lucy can’t stand each other. To top it off, Dad wants his girlfriend to become a bigger part of Lucy’s life.
Karen Day’s engaging novel shows that people aren’t always what they seem and that friendship can be found in the most unusual places. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
We were lucky to have Karen Day as the book club guest for Music Lovers as her group of friends entered middle school and faced tough transitions and anxieties. This is the perfect summer chapter book for any girl entering 6th grade.
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightening by Danette Haworth
Spunky, headstrong Violet Raines is happy with things just the way they are in her sleepy backwoods Florida town. She loves going to the fish fry with her best friend, Lottie, and collecting BrainFreeze cups with her good friend Eddie. She loves squeezing into the open trunk of the old cypress tree, looking for alligators in the river, and witnessing lighting storms on a warm summer day.
But Violet’s world is turned upside down when Melissa moves to town from big city Detroit. All of a sudden Violet’s supposed to want to wear makeup, and watch soap operas, and play Truth or Dare! It’ll take the help of Violet’s friends, her Momma, a few run-ins with lightning, and maybe even Melissa, for Violet to realize that growing up doesn’t have to mean changing who you are.
Another entering 6th-grade gem, I love all the characters and the fact that, though they all love each other, they still experience friendship issues as they sort through the complications of a boy/girl friendship and triangulating a best girl friendship from 2 to 3.
Books that Spend the Summer in the Civil Rights Movement
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
John Henry swims better than anyone I know. He crawls like a catfish, blows bubbles like a swamp monster, but he doesn’t swim in the town pool with me.
He’s not allowed.
Joe and John Henry are a lot alike. They both like shooting marbles, they both want to be firemen, and they both love to swim.
But there’s one important way they’re different: Joe is white and John Henry is black and in the South in 1964, that means John Henry isn’t allowed to do everything his best friend is.
Then a law is passed that forbids segregation and opens the town pool to everyone. Joe and John Henry are so excited they race each other there…only to discover that it takes more than a new law to change people’s hearts.
This stirring account of the “Freedom Summer” that followed the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 powerfully and poignantly captures two boys’ experience with racism and their friendship that defies it. [advanced picture book]
The summer doesn’t necessarily mean fluffy reading. The Civil Rights Movement is presented in a simple but powerful way in this advanced picture book.
Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
A Mississippi town in 1964 gets riled when tempers flare at the segregated public pool.
As much as Gloriana June Hemphill, or Glory as everyone knows her, wants to turn twelve, there are times when Glory wishes she could turn back the clock a year. Jesslyn, her sister and former confidante, no longer has the time of day for her now that she’ll be entering high school. Then there’s her best friend, Frankie. Things have always been so easy with Frankie, and now suddenly they aren’t. Maybe it’s the new girl from the North that’s got everyone out of sorts. Or maybe it’s the debate about whether or not the town should keep the segregated public pool open.
Augusta Scattergood has drawn on real-life events to create a memorable novel about family, friendship, and choices that aren’t always easy. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
I like how a child can relate to this compelling of the Civil Rights Movement as it’s told from the point of view of a girl who just wants to have her birthday party, AS USUAL, at the town pool which is now closed so that it doesn’t have to desegregate. Trying to make sense of right from wrong makes this summer a pivotal one for Glory.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Set during one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, One Crazy Summer is the heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 in search of the mother who abandoned them. It’s an unforgettable story told by a distinguished author of books for children and teens, Rita Williams-Garcia. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
The Civil Rights Movement is most often told as an event taking place in the South, so this chapter book’s setting of the Black Panther Movement in Northern California already interests me. And there are layers and layers of additional stories that make this chapter book one to read. And it’s won every award on the planet if you need further proof. But I’d read alongside my 9 year old just to help give context since it’s also a gritty, realistic story.
Surf’s Up Kids’ Books
Dude, Fun with Betty and Dude by Lisa Pliscou
Whoa! Dude! Learning to read surf-speak has never been so easy, or so much fun! It’s, like, totally radical! (If you need a little extra help, check out the non-bogus glossary at the back of the book.) For beach boys and surfer girls of all ages.
This is the cool surfer dude update on those old-fashioned Dick and Jane easy readers. Betty is a righteous surf bunny. Dude is a way cool guy. Bud, the dog, has chowed Dude’s burrito. Most heinous Bud! I’m from So. Cal. so it’s essential that my kids learn the righteous lingo should they dare to show their faces on the beaches of Cali to surf. Essential cranking reading for us! [easy reader for righteous little dudes and dudettes]
Summer Family Vacations Books for Kids
Dumpling Days by Grace Lin
There was no day that dumplings couldn’t make better.
Pacy is back! The beloved heroine of The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat has returned in a brand new story. This summer, Pacy’s family is going to Taiwan for an entire month to visit family and prepare for their grandmother’s 60th birthday celebration. Pacy’s parents have signed her up for a Chinese painting class, and at first, she’s excited. This is a new way to explore her art talent! But everything about the trip is harder than she thought it would be–she looks like everyone else but can’t speak the language, she has trouble following the art teacher’s instructions, and it’s difficult to make friends in her class. At least the dumplings are delicious…
As the month passes by, Pacy eats chicken feet (by accident!), gets blessed by a fortune-teller, searches for her true identity, and grows closer to those who matter most.
Installment three of the Pacy series. Pacy and her family spend the summer with relatives in Taiwan. This is a great multicultural chapter book to explore via armchair travel the sights and food of Taiwan. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.
The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget.
Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, this is a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day.
There were more than 10 eerie similarities between The Penderwicks at Point Mouette and Karen Day’s A Million Miles from Boston but all three books are set during the summer and make an excellent summer read. The idea of a summer-house, either renting or owning, is new to me. We don’t have that in California so all three books are fun to experience East Coast culture. [chapter books, ages 8 and up]
Harry by the Sea by Gene Zion
Harry, a friendly little dog on a visit to the seashore, is mistaken for a sea serpent when a big wave covers him with seaweed. ‘Very few children can resist [the stories about] Harry. The ridiculous but somehow plausible situations capture even the most reluctant reader.’ —SLJ.
If you make a trip to the beach AND are allowed to bring your dog along with your kids and beach umbrella, please read this charming picture book!
Books with Kids Who Have A Difficult Summer of Transitions
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Mark the tenth anniversary of Kate DiCamillo’s cherished story with a beautiful gift edition featuring the author’s signature stamped on the cover.
Millions of people around the world are devoted to the novels of Kate DiCamillo — and it all began with Because of Winn-Dixie. Ten years ago, this unforgettable novel about a lonely girl whose life is transformed by her friendship with a scruffy dog was awarded a Newbery Honor. Since then, it’s become a runaway bestseller in more than twenty-five countries and has been turned into a major motion picture. Now readers can experience Kate DiCamillo’s debut novel in a collectible signature edition that celebrates her ten years as a beloved storyteller.
If I could only pick one book as my favorite children’s chapter book, this would be it. Everything about this book is perfection. Each chapter could stand alone as a short story. Every character is richly nuanced and REAL. The sum is so much greater than the parts and it’s actually a fairly short chapter book that even an 8-year-old could handle.
Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles
When Ruby’s grandmother, Miss Eula goes to visit her new grandbaby in Hawaii, Ruby is sure that she will have a lonely, empty, horrible summer without her in boring old Halleluia, Mississippi. What happens instead? She makes a new friend, saves the school play, writes plenty of letters to her favorite (and only) grandmother . . . and finally learns to stop blaming herself for her grandfather’s death. Not too bad, for a nine-year-old. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Deborah Wiles somehow manages to create a funny chapter book that revolves around an emotionally scarring event affecting Ruby’s entire family.
Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech
Dallas and Florida are “the trouble twins,” shuffled around all their lives, longing for a loving place to call home. Tiller and Sairy are an eccentric older couple restless for one more big adventure. And Ruby Holler is the beautiful, mysterious place that changes all their lives forever.
Born at Midnight by C. C. Hunter
One night Kylie Galen finds herself at the wrong party, with the wrong people, and it changes her life forever. Her mother ships her off to Shadow Falls—a camp for troubled teens, and within hours of arriving, it becomes painfully clear that her fellow campers aren’t just “troubled.” Here at Shadow Falls, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, witches and fairies train side by side—learning to harness their powers, control their magic and live in the normal world.
Kylie’s never felt normal, but surely she doesn’t belong here with a bunch of paranormal freaks either. Or does she? They insist Kylie is one of them, and that she was brought here for a reason. As if life wasn’t complicated enough, enter Derek and Lucas. Derek’s a half-fae who’s determined to be her boyfriend, and Lucas is a smokin’ hot werewolf with whom Kylie shares a secret past. Both Derek and Lucas couldn’t be more different, but they both have a powerful hold on her heart.
Even though Kylie feels deeply uncertain about everything, one thing is becoming painfully clear—Shadow Falls is exactly where she belongs…
If you think Twilight is a little too much for middle school girls, then this is the perfect series. Same vampire/werewolf/assorted supernaturals in a realistic modern-day setting.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.