The Ultimate Children's Summer Reading List

Guest post by Beth Vuolo Gousman, School Librarian

Despite being a school librarian, I frequently draw just as much of a blank as you do when faced with the rows of shelves at the library. Yes, even my child turns down my selections sometimes. The biggest thing to remember is not to give up. It would be wonderful if every teacher in America were able to inspire a love of reading, but the biggest predictor of whether your child will be a voracious reader is dependent upon what they see the adults in their lives reading. Turn off the screens (or power up the Kindle, as the case may be) and dive into some absorbing summer reads. Without further ado, here’s my ultimate children’s summer reading list.

Children’s Summer Reading List: Top 10 Picks

1. Emma J. Virjan’s Pig in a Wig featuring rhyming text in a madcap adventure for the newest of readers. Rhyming text is helpful to the newest of readers, because it helps in predicting what’s coming next.  If the illustrations offer further clues, all the better. Her second book in the series, What this Story Needs is a Hush and a Shush, makes for the perfect sendoff for bedtime. Pig just wants to go to bed, but the universe appears to be against her. Your child will laugh themselves to sleep.  Grades K-1.

2. What if working out a math problem before bed became second nature, much like a bedtime story?  That’s the premise behind Laura Overdeck’s Bedtime Math series. The third book, entitled The Truth Comes Out, is targeted towards the largest range of any book on this list, with three potential levels of questions, depending upon the audience’s math ability.  Despite the title, it need not be relegated to bedtime–the problem solving could just as easily be done on a long road trip.   If you want to “try before you buy” check out the archives for daily math problems. Grades K-5.

3. Early chapter books are a tough lot. So many of them suffer from plodding plot lines and can best be described as repetitive drive.  Mo Willems is best known for the hilarious Elephant and Piggie series. Diva and Flea, about a fancy dog and alley cat, is a far departure from this genre. It’s a creative reminder that outside appearance is not an indicator of how much two individuals might find in common.  How did Mo Willems and Tony Terlizzi pull off this feat?  Find out. Grades 2-4.

4. What would happen if there was a princess who could change into a ninja to protect her kingdom?  She’d be the Princess in Black, of course.  In Princess Magnolia’s third adventure, it’s not immediately obvious that her monster alarm has not malfunctioned, when she arrives in a field of bunnies, but she quickly learns things are not as they seem. LeYuen’s perfectly matched watercolor and ink illustrations make Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde an empowering read not to be missed. Learn more about the princess! Grades 1-3.

5. The series My Weird School Daze by Dan Gutman tops my list of recommendations for readers new to chapter books. This week, a new nonfiction edition was published that focuses on sports. Guiness Book of World Record fans, take heed!  My Weird School Fast Facts: Sports is a veritable treasure trove for the child who lives to start conversations with the phrase “Did you know…?” Grades 2-4.

6. Sarah Pennypacker is best known for the Clementine series, featuring a plucky third grade, a la Ramona Quimby. This spring, she has published two works that offer something different. On my children’s summer reading list is Waylon! One Awesome Thing! is a spin off from the  Clementine series, aimed at 2nd-4th graders. Waylon is feeling torn as the most popular boy in 4th grade is dividing the class into 2 cliques, and his sister, who he has always counted on, has drifted into her own world, one that he’s not a part of.  There are so few books that handle exclusion so well, and Pennypacker is able to get into kids’ heads in a way that brings an adult reader right back to an age long forgotten. Grades 2-4.

7. Pax is the story of a boy and his pet fox, both of whom are trying to make their way back to one another after being separated against their will.  Each chapter flips from human to fox viewpoint.  It sounds like a far shot when described, but it’s a real accomplishment that Pennypacker is able to pull this off convincingly.  There was a significant waiting list for Pax at my school, built entirely upon word of mouth of fifth grade boys. Grades 4-8.

8. How much does your reader know about the Iranian hostage crisis?  Firoozeh Dumas presents her middle school life as historical fiction in It Ain’t So Awful, FalafelNewport Beach in the late 70s and early 80s was quite lacking in diversity, but thanks to Dumas, there’s no shortage of laughs as she tries desperately to make her immigrant family fit in in Southern California, including changing her name from Zomerod to Cindy. In a recent interview, Dumas noted that there is never a news story about a well-adjusted immigrant from the Middle East. Do your children a favor and present this tale of racism and bigotry, interwoven with a message of kindness. Grades 5-7.

9. Eighth grader Nick Hall couldn’t be more excited about the soccer championship he’ll be playing in Dallas in just a few weeks. But sometimes life doesn’t turn out like you planned.  Booked author Kwame Alexander won the Newbury last year with his novel in verse about basketball. There’s a message in here about it being cool to be smart that’s a great reminder for all students. Great choice for the reluctant reader-abundant white space and a fast read. Check out more ideas for reluctant readers.  Grades 6-8.

10. Got a worrier at home? Genie’s mom does. As Brave as You explores life with a fearless older brother until an unexpected incident with their blind grandfather changes two boys’ lives forever. Ten-year-old Genie and his almost fourteen-year-old brother Ernie have been sent to spend the summer in Virginia. Every younger sibling needs a reminder that despite their convictions, an older sibling does not always have the answer. Nuanced characters and an ear for language set Jason Reynolds’ first middle-grade novel apart from the pack, though his previous work for young adult audiences has received significant accolades, including the John Steptoe award for new talent.. And this book to your children’s summer reading list for Grades 4-8.

What books are on your own ultimate children’s summer reading list? I always love to get new ideas from parents and kids. Comment below!

Children's Summer Reading List Beth Vuolo Gousman has been a librarian at Montclair Elementary, a K-5 public school in Oakland, CA since 2011. She also serves as a reviewer for the Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California, and has served as a moderator for the Bay Area Book Festival. Beth holds a Masters of Library and Information Science from San Jose State University, and a Bachelor’s degree from Colgate University.  Her favorite school memory is winning the Halloween costume contest as the Energizer Bunny.