Did you just finish the Reading Rainbow theme song? Did ya? Did ya? Did ya?
(What the HECK is with the dog turning into the star, BTW?)
Well, after having the privilege of fist-bumping LeVar Burton at Phoenix Comicon this May, I’ve had a wave of nostalgia for my summers spent reading. Something about being able to being able to dive into another world made record-breaking summer temperatures simply slip away.
As a mom, I’m realizing the power of books to engage the minds of my kids, who might otherwise be developing a massive case of cabin fever. And as a teacher, I know how valuable summer reading can be. I don’t mean the summer reading that comes on that dreaded yellow sheet from the high school (because every eighth grader wants to read Dickens on their break…right…), but the kind that provides an escape from the house that feels smaller with every move the thermometer makes. Particularly for reluctant readers, series can be a huge part of learning to love reading. Once you and your kids find a world you love, you can spend oodles of time moving through the series.
I’ve organized my list roughly by target age range, but don’t feel bound to that. I’ve read all of these books as an adult and enjoyed them. Grab that library card and go crazy!
My older daughter is enamored with Mercer Mayer’s books about (you guessed it) little critter (guinea pig? hedgehog) who narrates special days in his life. The joy comes from the obvious discrepancies between how Little Critter describes his day and the illustrations, which show a lot more chaos than the protagonist would like to admit. These are perfect for young kids beginning to assert some independence, but feeling a little discombobulated in an adult world.
The Froggy books are perfect to read aloud with preschoolers- they love when they can predict some of the repeated phrases in the books, and if you’re willing to pronounce the sound effects, you’ll be sure to get some giggles.
Growing up, I loved these books about an amateur detective with a photographic memory. They’re perfect for elementary aged readers who can handle smaller chapter books.
At one point, we had two pets named after characters from these short books. Hank is a cowdog with a strong sense of justice, a hopelessly inept sidekick, a few nefarious enemies, and a dangerous love of bacon. The humor translates fabulously to an audio copy- perfect for day trips!
Upper Elementary/Young Teen
Don’t let the movie sour you on this book (really not one of Anne Hathaway’s finest moments) that gives a new take on the Cinderella story. Ella (never mind the cinders) is the recipient of a curse that forces her to be obedient, but doesn’t squelch her spunkiness.
It was hard to pick my favorite of Gordon Korman’s series- they all are quick, well-written, and full of action. This particular one is about siblings who have to rescue their parents, but his others cover being abandoned on island, scuba diving, and climbing Mt. Everest. I frequently recommend them to my students who view reading as boring, and they usually end up finishing the whole series.
Even as an adult, I love reading anything by Sarah Dessen. I chose The Truth About Forever as one of my favorites, but I’d recommend any of them. All of her books take place in a few imaginary, but completely believable, Southern towns. She writes about first love, family, and finding out what kind of a person you want to become.
This was one of those that I couldn’t put down (here’s my public apology for being Grumpy Mom to my kids after I stayed up most of the night reading it). It’s a bit like The Hunger Games, in that it focuses on a teenage girl surviving in a dystopian future, but I wouldn’t at all call it a clone. Tris, the protagonist, makes a seemingly split-second decision that fundamentally affects her identity and puts her at the center of a civil war in her society.