We are coming to the end of July, a time when stores begin putting up ‘Back to School’ Sales, Summer days seem to slip through our fingers like quicksand, and we realize how much the routines of the year have slipped to the wayside. Everything normally set in routine has been turned on its head or, at the very least, nudged out of alignment. But one of the things which, over the years, I have noticed to slide the most is . . . Reading.
Whether it’s nightly storytime, or weekly library runs, or even a pre-teens perusal through a kindle. Whatever level of reading existed before the onset of June has been washed away in a sea of summer activities, upside down schedules, or just endless amounts of computer time.
So, in the effort of getting back into the habit of books and reading, here are some of my all-time favorite recommended summer reads. The books are in reverse order by age and all have links to where you can find these books for yourself included in the title.
TEEN Book Recommendations
I have to say that, while not a fan of the star crossed romance, it is difficult to find a teen book that does not, at least to some degree, feed off that timeless drama. So here, below, are my best picks.
The Night Circus – An endless winding story that crosses time and shadows and mystery and magic, The Night Circus was something that I discovered as an adult and absolutely devoured. Written in 2011, it quickly became a best-seller, but somehow seems to have slipped past the mainstream. While the multiple perspectives and non-linear storytelling make it a fascinating mystery, it can be a bit confusing for readers who prefer straight up and down storytelling and so may not appeal to younger teens or those who have difficulties with reading.
Odd Thomas – By far one of my favorite fictional characters of all time is the irreverent fry cook who can’t be bothered with the keepings of popular society and just wants to flip pancakes, spend time with his girl (the incredible Stormy Llewellyn) and help the souls of the lingering dead… oh, and Elvis is there. The Odd Thomas series is at a bit of a higher reading level, particularly in regards to vocabulary, but not to the point where it would a barrier for most teen readers. The first book is a bit dark at times, and touches on some adult themes, but avoids being overly graphic. The darkness is interspersed with anecdotes of ghosts pretending to pick their nose, remarks on the nature of celebrity, and occasional appearances by the King of Rock and Roll. It is definitely worth a read but, do yourself a favor, DO NOT watch the movie until after you’ve read the book (major spoilers!).
John Green – Okay okay, so John Green is an author and not a book, but seriously, you could pick up any one of a half dozen titles and become instantly absorbed. While the ‘Fault in Our Stars’ might be a bit heavy for summer reading, it is heartbreakingly beautiful. ‘Paper Towns’ is odd and offbeat and unendingly honest about the teenage experience. ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ is a funny breath of fresh air kind of teenage mystery, and definitely my pick for summertime. ‘An Abundance of Katherines’ is bizarre but engaging, though ‘Looking for Alaska’ should probably be skipped by underage teens due to some explicit content.
Warm Bodies – Again, tried to avoid star crossed lover trope, but this one is okay because, you know, the zombies make up for it. And, again, it is probably best recommended to skip the movie before the book as, hello, spoilers? The book itself is not terribly graphic, but depending upon the readers’ imagination could provide enough fodder for a solid case of the heeby-jeebies and is probably better for the 16+ crowd. Really though, who doesn’t love a good Shakespearean zombie story?
PRE-TEENS (11-13) Recommended Middle Grade Reading
The great thing about pre-teen or YA authors is that, most of the time, if they have one great book then they have half a dozen. So finding an author you like usually means you have a handful or more to choose from the next time you are not sure what to read.
Ransom Riggs – The Miss Peregrins series starts out with the bizarre tale of a grandson trying to learn about his grandfather… who he suspects was secretly killed by invisible monsters which only he can see. From there, things get really weird. The stories are creepy, compelling, unusual, and, well, peculiar. A world that is hidden from others by magic and a time bubble and, oh yeah, there’s Nazi’s? Due to the creep factor, the books might not be for all readers, but do not contain any particularly graphic content aside from an occasional crude joke and are not at a particularly high reading level, making them reasonably suitable for those 12+.
Diana Wynne Jones – Author of Howl’s Moving Castle, the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Fire and Hemlock, the House of Many Ways, and a dozen other amazing titles. Her books fall firmly into the ‘fantasy’ genre, but traverse a wealth of worlds. They are at times a higher reading level more suited for older pre-teens and tweens, but none the less are compelling and twisting and fascinating. Most of her books have been made into movies, TV shows, or animated films at one point or another, but I would strongly suggest reading the books even if you’ve already seen some of those. If you think you know these stories… you don’t know anything yet. Good for most readers ages 12 and up.
Brian Jacques – I will be the first to admit, the first time I read ‘Redwall’, I didn’t get it. Then again, I was 8, and it was probably at completely the wrong reading level for me. But a few years later I read ‘Mariel of Redwall’. A few things had changed; 1) the books were now at a more appropriate reading level for my age, 2) the story started off with a stronger action sequence, 3) the main character was a girl. I spent an abhorrent amount of my allowance money purchasing every copy in the series I could find (but hey, I’d just given up my Pokemon habit, so I could swing it). These days, you can find multiple copies of most of Brian Jacques titles, not just the 22 books in the Redwall series, at most libraries and more second-hand stores than you might think. So hopefully it won’t cost you two weeks allowance to maintain your new habit. Good for ages 10 and up depending on the reading level.
Margaret Peterson Haddix – ‘Among the Hidden’ is the first book in the Shadow Children series. And, unfortunately for me, was the only one that existed when I first discovered it at the age of ten. The book stuck with me though. So much so that when I spotted it at the library while with my babysitting kids I squealed so loudly that both girls looked back at me like I had just grown a second head.
Since then, I have demolished more than a dozen Margaret Peterson Haddix books, including the seven in the Shadow Children series and several from the half dozen other series’s she’s written.
‘Among the Hidden’ is the story of an illegal 3rd child who spends most of his days hiding in fear of the Population Police, until, of course, he spots another 3rd child hiding in one of the new houses that have just been built across the way. From there… well, you’ll just have to find out for yourself. Relatively low reading level makes this a good for those 10+.
Book Recommendations for Elementary Grad and Young Readers
I’ll be honest, I struggle to remember most of the titles I read before about the 4th grade. As an avid sci-fi and fantasy fan, most kid’s books just… didn’t do it for me. Most of the books I was recommended were predominantly mysteries and the occasional fairy story when I was growing up. There were, however, a few exceptions.
Animorphs – my first introduction to SciFi, these books were the hit of every scholastic book drive my school ever had! I mean come on, alien invasions, the ability to turn into any animal you want at will? Our playground was full of teams of Animorphs trying to outfox the Evil Yeerks. I was always an Animorph of course… Cassie, if you want to be specific, because she wanted to be a vet… ok, I may have been a bit obsessed. But seriously, all of the books were thrilling, engaging, had twists and turns, and a variety of really great characters to relate to. Because of the Alien Invasion factor, I’d hold off until maybe 4th grade for these unless you know your child is particularly resistant to imaginary invasions when things go bump in the night. Ages 10+
Magic Tree House – Unsurprisingly these books are still a popular choice today. The combination of magic and mystery along with (mostly) historically or scientifically accurate details, they are one of the few that successfully manage to ‘sneak-teach’. With dozens of titles, it is easy to pick and choose depending on a child’s specific interests. Got a kid that’s obsessed with dolphins? There’s a Magic Tree House for that. A kid that loves mummies? There’s a Magic Tree House for that. A kid who wants to be an astronaut? Well, I think you get the picture. Ideal for independent readers 4th grade and up, though I recommend starting with co-reading even younger. Ages 10+
Animal Ark – this is the first book series that I can ever remember reading. With titles like ‘Puppies in the Pantry’ and ‘Kittens in the Kitchen’ perhaps it’s not surprising as to why these books would appeal to young readers. The simple language and occasional pictures make these great for independent readers just starting out. Though some content can be upsetting to more sympathetic readers, I can safely say that everything always turns out all right in the end. Good for 2nd or 3rd grade and up depending on reading level. Ages 8+
Wayside – with several books under similar titles, the Wayside collections is less like a chapter book than it is a collection of short stories with reoccurring characters. Most of the stories are relatively short, the language simple (though the occasional odd word makes an appearance) and there are sporadic illustrations. Wayside makes particularly good bedtime stories because, since the chapters never really relate to one another, there are no ‘cliff hanger’ type moments. Great for 2nd – 3rd grade and up, but also good to start as co-reading. Ages 7+
Geronimo – I’ll be honest, Geronimo and Thea Stilton weren’t exactly around when I was a kid, but my babysitting girls loved them. The characters are endlessly endearing, there are both male and female main character options (though there are more of Geronimo than of his sisters), the stories are cute and the language (with the exception of cheese-related puns) is easy enough for most second graders to handle on their own. The text is printed in a variety of constantly changing funky fonts which forces kids to practice word recognition on a different level and, more importantly, just looks really fun! Almost every page has some kind of brightly colored illustration and, due to the variety of titles, can be selected to accommodate various interests. I would start these books as early as 1st grade (co-reading) and letting your child try out maybe a sentence on every page to start with depending on the reading level. Not necessarily recommended for bedtime, however, as the stories do build from chapter to chapter and contain the occasional cliff-hanger. Ages 6+
Perfect Picture Book Recommendations
When it comes to younger readers, the book itself is really immaterial to the time spent snuggled up in your lap looking at pretty pictures and just being there together. That being said, there are a few books that always make the recommended reading list for me.
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever – An all time classic, there’s not much of a story to go along with this one. Most of the content is as it says on the tin – a Word Book. Highly illustrated pages with individual items spelled out beside them. The pictures are detailed and interesting enough to maintain a kids attention on a single page for ages, while giving you a good opportunity to try and get kids familiar with the some of the smaller words. There is a short story going on in the background though, if you do want to use this book for a ‘story time’ reading, and a few other books with similar themes by the same author.
Where the Sidewalk Ends – This one is a bit of a personal favorite. A collection of short silly poems, some more meaningful than others, with at least one funny-looking illustration per page. I spent hours curled up in my mom’s lap as she read the rhymes and did the silly voices. The poems are short, sweet, and to the point so that even when it’s getting way too late there was always time for “just one more…”
Now, you may have noticed that there are a few notable series left out of this list. Things like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Eragon, etc… The reason for that is simple. You already know them. You’ve seen them, read them, or at the very least seen the movies. If for some unknown reason these bestselling classics have somehow managed to escape your attention, there’s an entirely new list I have for you… but that’s for another day.
For now, grab the kids, hit the library or the bookstore, or even the app on your phone, and pick up something to read. You’ll be surprised how much you missed it…
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