Text copyright © Katie Mohar. All rights reserved.
Summer vacation. What comes to mind when you hear those two words? For me, it’s green grass, sunshine, ice cream, and alternating memories of excitement and boredom. The periods of boredom, however, didn’t last long. I had a summer reading booklist to engage my imagination.
As a girl, I loved sunny summer days – perfect for playing outside. But I also loved rainy days – perfect for curling up with a book and a bowl of fresh popcorn. Rain or shine, summer is ideal for reading. With no school in the mornings, kids can keep books by their bedside and read until parents call “Lights out!”
Here are 15 fabulous titles (including several series!) for your family’s summer reading booklist. The books are listed in alphabetical order rather than by preference. This list is not exhaustive and simply offers a place to start exploring the magical power of books and setting reading goals for your kids. For more resources, read my column with five tips of get a child to love reading and my post on building a children’s home library.
1. Adventures of the Northwoods series by Lois Walfrid Johnson. Boys and girls alike may enjoy these mysteries and adventures set in the backwoods of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan during the early 1900s. Fun to read aloud as a family. (Johnson wrote additional series that you may enjoy, or prefer, to this series.)
2. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This classic story is uniquely told from the perspective of a horse. Black Beauty’s noble character is inspiring – and the book’s themes of friendship, loyalty and love are universal. Know that there are some difficult scenes where horses are mistreated. I came away with a new respect for horses and their contributions to our world.
3. The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Four orphaned children learn to survive together and solve exciting mysteries.
4. The Chronicles of Narnia seven-book series by C. S. Lewis. Many people are familiar with book two in the series: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – but there are six more books to explore! Lewis is at his best when he deftly weaves wit and humor into his tales. I often found myself laughing out loud at the banter between characters. Note that Lewis did not write these books chronologically, and it’s sometimes obvious in the way they flow together.
5. The Chronicles of Prydain five-book series by Lloyd Alexander. Fans of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Rick Riordan and J. K. Rowling will love following a young boy named Taran and his friends on a high fantasy. Inspired by Welsh folklore and mythology. Book two in the series took a Newbery Honor and book five is a Newbery Medal winner.
6. The Hardy Boys mystery series by Franklin W. Dixon. These fast-paced mysteries are engaging with appealing characters. Frank and Joe Hardy are brothers and amateur sleuths. The books are very similar in style to the Nancy Drew mysteries (below). The original books are more timeless than the derivative works written more recently.
7. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. A must-read before reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit specifically for a younger audience. The book is a standalone adventure that also is the ideal introduction to Tolkien’s fantasy world known as Middle Earth.
8. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. The story of 12-year-old Karana, on a California coastal island, and her courageous survival. Winner of the 1961 Newbery Medal. I loved this book as a young girl. Many children fantasize about adventuring alone without realizing the incredible stakes. O’Dell brings nature’s beauty and power to life in a way that is hard to forget.
9. Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle. A young boy in the Middle Ages finds himself caught in the middle of a volatile feud – and chooses to lead with courage.
10. Nancy Drew mystery series by Carolyn Keene. The books written prior to 2003 are more timeless. It’s not necessary to read these books in order. It can be amusing that teenage Nancy has seemingly unlimited funds at her disposal for her cases. Tip: fans of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys may also enjoy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
11. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. Summer vacation is the setting for this charming tale, making it ideal for your child’s summer reading booklist. This is the first book in a series.
12. Redwall series by Brian Jacques. My brothers loved these books growing up. The series follows the adventures of talking animals dwelling in Redwall Abbey and Mossflower Wood. The books contain violence, so I recommend that parents read them first to assess their comfort level.
13. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. The touching story of siblings Caleb and Anna as they welcome their father’s new wife, Sarah, after their own mother dies. A Newbery Medal winner that speaks to both children and adults, this is book one in a series. Love, humor and pain come together in a simple, authentic way on the wild prairie.
14. The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White. The antiquated language in this book is challenging. However, young people – especially those familiar with J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series – may find much to love in this enduring Arthurian classic. Humor is woven throughout. Latin phrases are used for spells. And the philosopher Merlyn owns a sassy young tawny owl named Archimedes that talks. I particularly like the version with illustrations by Dennis Nolan.
15. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I love this book. It’s a timeless tale of friendship and courage to read and re-read at any age. If you’re looking for the audio book, I recommend the version read by Shelly Frasier. It takes talent to speak like a toad, a mole, a badger and a rat!
I hope you enjoy reading these books together as a family! Let me know what you think about this summer reading booklist. Remember to check out my social media pages like Instagram and Twitter for additional reading picks throughout the year!