Top 10 Summer Reads – An Ocean of Possibilities!

By Dr. Shawna Della Cerra, Ed.D

The summer season is known to cause a pronounced dip – or ‘slide’ – in children’s reading skills. With an abundance of distractions and a shake‑up of routine, getting children to read over the summer season can be a significant challenge.

With a bit of thought and preparation, summertime can be the perfect time to enjoy fun and meaningful family summer reading. Along with the Top 10 Summer Reads, here are some great vacation activities to keep the magic of reading alive:

  • Cooking together
  • Read to relatives
  • Everyone Reads (ER Time)- Family-time reading
  • Read books ahead of summer trips
  • Act out the stories
  • Incorporate comics, riddles, and joke books into your road trips
With an ocean of book possibilities to read, here are the Top 10 Summer Reads that will compliment the various summer vacation activities.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

by Chris Grabenstein

For those of you who are already signed up for a summer reading program or are just planning on visiting the library, you’ll revel in reading Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids (if not the teachers), and a passionate fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative game maker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind building the new town library. When Kyle Keeley learns that the world’s most famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello, has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on opening night, Kyle is determined to be there! Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. Soon the participants learn the tricky part isn’t getting into the library … it’s getting out. Kyle and the other kids must catch every clue and solve every puzzle to find the hidden escape route because, when morning comes, the doors stay locked. The stakes are very high!

In this cross between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Night at the Museum, Chris Grabenstein uses rib-tickling humor to create the perfect tale for his quirky characters. Readers will become enthralled as they solve puzzles along with the characters. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library offers crafty twists and turns for the ultimate library experience.

Madeline the Mermaid

by Holly Andreason and Julie Awerkamp

Vacations to the ocean always make me wish to see a mermaid burst out of the water. Oh, to be as beautiful as a mermaid! But, do mermaids see their own beauty?

Madeline is so special, as she is the only pink mermaid. She doesn’t understand why she can’t be like all the others because she struggles with her self-confidence. That is, not until a new friend comes along and helps Madeline realize her unique beauty.

Swim along with Madeline the Mermaid. Follow her through the waves of beautifully illustrated pages as Madeline swims through an ocean of self-discovery. Dive deep into conversations centered around self-importance, self-worth, friendship, and character traits. You’ll realize just how mer-mazing you are!

How to Code a Sandcastle

by Josh Funk

If you are not one to swim in the ocean, you may enjoy building sandcastles. This exuberant story comes from the computer science nonprofit Girls Who Code, which introduces readers to computer coding concepts. How to Code a Sandcastle is a convivial story that includes basic coding vocabulary. This book will inspire budding coders to try their hand at this fun hobby.

Pearl has been trying to build the perfect sandcastle all summer, but out-of-control Frisbees and mischievous puppies keep getting in the way! Pearl and her robot friend, Pascal, have one last chance, so they are going to use code to get the job done. Utilizing fundamental computer coding concepts like sequences and loops, Pearl and Pascal work to break down their sandcastle problem into small, manageable steps; if only they can create working code. Author Josh Funk and Illustrator Sara Palacios use humor, relatable situations, and bright artwork to introduce kids to the fun of coding. You’ll want to discover if this could turn out to be Pearl’s and Pascal’s best beach day ever!

*Also look for How to Code a Rollercoaster.

Hop Vroom Skitter

by Debi Novotny

Road trip! Childhood memories flash in my mind as I reflect on driving in the back seat of our family’s Ford LTD as we traveled to Rocky Point. The desert view went on for miles, and the beauty made me wonder about the animals that lived in that habitat. The desert memories resemble the illustrations in Debi Novotny’s Hop Vroom Skitter.

Tortoise has just woken up after sleeping through the winter. He is very hungry and heads out to look for food. Along his way through the desert, Tortoise meets up with Jackrabbit, Hummingbird, and Packrat. As he struggles to eat some delicious-smelling food, Tortoise notices how his friends have special skills, which makes him feel down. It’s not until the desert rain brings water to the dry ground that Tortoise realizes what a special gift he possesses and is able to share with others.

Hop Vroom Skitter is more than just a desert story. Novotny and Rose have beautifully written and illustrated a colorful picture book that encompasses the beautiful themes of friendship, self-worth, compassion, and trust. Isn’t summer a great time to refresh and recommit to self-love? This book is perfect for reading to those seeking to understand their own special gifts. Similar to a tortoise, sometimes we have to dig deep to see our strengths.

My Awesome Summer

by Paul Meisel

Oh, the summer days exploring outside. Do you have a favorite insect or flower you like to look for? Growing up, my friends would go out looking to fill their bug catchers. One that is great at camouflaging itself is the praying mantis, for it is one of nature’s most fascinating creatures. In the story My Awesome Summer, Meisel writes all about the praying mantis.

The praying mantis’ life is one long, eventful summer from its birth in Spring until it lays its eggs in fall. Did you know the praying mantis shares aphids with his recently hatched brothers and sisters? They also dodge hungry birds, shed their skin, and grow wings. My Awesome Summer follows the life of the Praying Mantis through all of its ups and downs.

As the reader, you’ll feel invited to identify familiar plants, flowers, birds, and insects due to Paul Meilsel’s beautiful watercolor illustrations, bursting with realistic and almost photographic detail. Meisel chronicles the life of the praying mantis daily, beginning on May 17th and detailing almost every day until October 17th. He also describes the end of summer, including the moment when Praying Mantis lies down to “take a long nap.”

As the days proceed, readers will learn more about this aggressive and unusual little insect. Readers learn that praying mantises are not born with wings. They will also come to know that praying mantises:

  • Eat each other when they are young and growing,
  • Are one of the few insects able to turn their heads,
  • Shed their skins,
  • Lay their eggs in foam, and
  • Eat other insects.

Meisel does not refrain from sharing the harsh realities of the praying mantis’s life cycle but is sensitive and uses appropriate word choice. A helpful glossary and list of resources at the end of the book are appreciated, as they encourage readers to do more research on their own and provide more beautifully illustrated facts. You will be left fascinated and a little bit wiser.

The Circlemaker

by Maxine Rose Schur

Having time to digest a book written by a favorite author is a wonderful feeling. A book that inspires you to extend your learning is priceless. Maxine Rose Schur’s The Circlemaker had me invested in young Mendel’s life story and motivated me to learn more about the Pale Settlement era. I am in awe of Schur’s ability to both entertain and educate the reader about Jewish beliefs, customs, and lifestyle in a sophisticated style, providing a vivid understanding of Jewish formalities.

Mendel, a young man of 12, grew up in a Russian village during the difficult times of The Pale Settlement. Mendel was a good son but sometimes pushed the limits when he should have been at school. Though Mendel had a dear friend, he also had an enemy, Dovid, who took great pleasure in tormenting Mendel.

Mendel’s world changed when Czar Nicholas’s soldiers entered all the Russian villages and seized the Jewish boys for the military. Mendel knew he was too young to fight and made a desperate attempt to reach the border to flee to safety. By coincidence, one of the men who helped Mendel toward the Hungarian border for the last leg of his journey to freedom pairs him with Dovid, who also happens to be running away from the Czar’s conscriptors.

Throughout the story, Mendel is confronted with having to build a relationship with his arch-enemy, Dovid. As they travel together, Dovid treats Mendel with disdain. What a twist when Dovid finds himself in a life-threatening predicament towards the end of the story and is perplexed that Mendel would risk his own life to save him.

When Dovid asks Mendel why Mendel saved his life, Mendel’s ultimate reaction to the situation is, “I had to close a circle.” He recalls his father’s words, ”All growing things live and die in a circle…My knowledge is part of a circle from my grandfather…to me…and now to you…it is when you give that you gain power…Only then do you become a circlemaker.” This wise response helps the reader comprehend that a circle in life needs to be closed in order to be at peace with oneself. Mendel’s journey – and the courage and kindness he meets along the way – is truly an example to all.

The Little Red Fort

by Brenda Maier

I always get a smile on my face when I see the creative work of my son as he builds a fort in our home. All the dining room chairs and blankets are utilized. It never fails that a guest arrives unannounced when our house looks the “fort-iest.” I have to remind myself that their house has most likely seen many forts. When there is more time at home in the summer, forts are fun to build and keep up for a bit. Why not start your next fort build reading The Little Red Fort?

The Little Red Fort is inspired by the nineteenth-century nursery classic Little Red Hen; however, knowledge of the fable is unnecessary to enjoy this simple tale. Sánchez’s illustrations will entertain your eyes with their texture, pattern, detail, playfulness, and emotion! The Little Red Fort portrays the creativity and ingenuity of a young lady that reminds girls that they can do whatever they set their minds to do.

In only a few lines, Ruby experiences a range of feelings from intense thought to frustration to elation. You’ll adore Ruby, one audacious young lady who finds some old boards and decides to build a fort. She elicits help from her brothers Oscar Lee, Rodrigo, and José, who turn down all her requests, beginning with “Who will help me build something?” Each time she invites help, the brothers respond with such negative answers as “No way,” “Not me,” “I don’t think so,” and “I’m too busy.”

Ruby presses forward headstrong by drawing plans, gathering materials, and building a fort with some adult help. Finally, the fort is completed! Can you believe her brothers want to join in the fun now that she’s done? Ruby turns the tables and quickly says, “Not so fast, I’m going to play by myself.” The guys huddle together and get busy making a mailbox, planting flowers, and painting the fort fire engine red, which adds to the fort. Together, the whole family enjoys chocolate cookies in the little red fort!

The Lemonade War

by Jacqueline Davies

The smiles and energy of kids when drinking lemonade make summertime all the more fun. When you have lemons, read The Lemonade War. The Lemonade War is about friendship, sibling rivalry, honesty, mathematics, and lemonade.

Evan Treski loves his little sister and actually gets along with her…most of the time. Jessie Treski idolizes her big brother. Evan should be enjoying the last few days of summer, but he just can’t get over the news that his brainiac younger sister, Jessie, is not only skipping third grade, but she’s going to be in his class. Now everyone will know his sister is WAY smarter than him. So what’s Evan’s plan? Evan is not going to hang out with Jessie, not going to talk to Jessie, and he definitely won’t run a lemonade stand with Jessie just to give her the chance to show off how good she is at math.

On the other hand, Jessie is over the moon that she’ll be in the same class as Evan. While Jessie is smart enough to skip a grade and go into grade four, the same grade her brother is going into, she knows she’s not the best ‘people person.’ That’s Evan’s gift; hers is math. She thinks this will just make things easier for them. She’ll help Evan with math, and he’ll help her with friends.

Jessie just can’t understand why Evan is suddenly being so mean to her or why he’s refusing to jointly run a lemonade stand. Jessie knows it’s a puzzle, and she likes good puzzles, except when it comes to emotional puzzles. Rather than telling each other how they feel, they embark, in typical sibling fashion, on an entrepreneurial war. They will see what matters more: people skills and flexibility or strategic plans and organization. One of them will win The Lemonade War, but both of them are willing to do almost anything to come out ahead.

The strife between the siblings grows until it erupts into a lemonade-selling competition. Whoever earns $100 first wins AND keeps both their earnings. Evan is determined to win no matter what, even if it might mean cheating, except that he wouldn’t actually stoop to stealing his sister’s money. However, it’s missing. Soooo… who stole her money?

The Lemonade War is an utterly satisfying book. The characters are genuine, and the mixed tension and love between brother and sister are very real. The chapters alternate between Jessie’s perspective and Evan’s, so the reader quickly ends up rooting for both kids, making the competition between them even more tense because even the reader isn’t sure who should win. The theft of Jessie’s money brings a whole other dimension into the story – we, as readers, know who did it, but the characters can’t be sure. So while we’re not left in the dark about the thief’s identity, the thief isn’t brought to justice. At least, not in this book. You’ll have to read the sequel to find out!

Each chapter starts with the definition of a business term in words that make sense for younger kids. That term is also the main focus of that chapter, but it is a great way to teach some new vocabulary. Similarly, there are some great insights into running a business and dealing with people in general. Jessie collects these in her lock box for later use. The book also has wonderful math problems and interesting discussions about how to solve them. It even touches on the notion that different people approach math problems in different ways. It is an effective way to show kids how the topics they are learning are relevant in everyday life.

The Lemonade War will be your main squeeze this summer. It’s sweet to say that, overall, the topic is perfect for the start of summer vacation.

Goldfish on Vacation

by Sally Lloyd-Jones

If you can think of a better fish pun … Let minnow.

Goldfish on Vacation is a vacation in a book. Based on the true story of Hamilton Fountain in New York City, this charming tale of one special summer will delight readers, young and old.

“Sometimes it’s hard being goldfish….Going around and around in circles … And sometimes it’s hard being a child in the summer in the city.” The introduction of Goldfish on Vacation sets the scene of this fantastical story. H, Little O, and Baby Em are stuck in the city for the summer with only their pet goldfish Barracuda, Patch, and Fiss for company. It’s looking like it might be a pretty boring vacation until something exciting happens. Someone starts fixing up the old fountain down the street; the same one Grandpa says horses used to drink from before everyone had cars.

Then a sign appears: “Calling All Goldfish Looking for a Summer Home.” H, Little O, and Baby Em can’t wait to send their goldfish on vacation, and the fish, well, they seem pretty excited too. Have you ever heard of a goldfish parade? Well, one is created in an attempt to release the goldfish in their vacation fountain, which brings all the neighborhood children together. As soon as the day comes, the fountain is surrounded by kids and their fish, ready to start summer. Furthermore, while the goldfish spend their summer months swimming around together in the newly refurbished fountain, the families who own them come daily to visit their fish and enjoy their summer with new fish-owning friends.

The story promotes the importance of outdoor play, friendship, caring for your surroundings, and inclusion. The colorful illustrations are contrasted by monochrome flashbacks of the children’s grandfather. Teachers, parents, and caregivers can use this story as a tool to get children out of the comfort of their normal routine and experience the larger world around them.

I really loved that it’s a true story about neighbors coming together and having fun. What a wonderful book to get us all excited about upcoming summer vacations. May we all come home as happy as the goldfish!

Summer Walk

by Virginia Brimhall Snow

Self-Made Summer Walk Scavenger Hunts

Children are sometimes more comfortable connecting when they’re engaged in activities with you, like coloring, reading, cooking, or exercising. Something about being together side by side helps get the ball rolling on good conversation. What’s summer without going for walks? Whether the walks are around your neighborhood or wherever you’ve traveled, there is much to discover as you stroll. Virginia Brimhall Snow’s book, Summer Walk, will resemble your personal excursions in nature as you discover bugs on a summer walk with Grammy.

In the pages of this book, you will ramble through the woods as you join Grammy and her favorite grandkids on a summer walk. Beautiful illustrations and clever rhymes will guide you as you learn to identify twenty-six different bugs, including grasshoppers, moths, snails, and katydids. Learn how to create a caterpillar habitat, observe your caterpillar turn into a beautiful butterfly, and how to release the butterfly on your next summer walk.

Pack the bags, load the car, and don’t forget the sunscreen and books! Oh, and don’t forget to allow your child to choose books on their own as well. You are ready for summer with these Top 10 Summer Reads. With these, there’s no doubt you will encourage your children to read and develop strong reading skills so as not to experience the “Summer Slide.” Encouraging children to read is critical to helping them stay on track with their academics and retain information and literacy development over the summer break. This can help keep reading interesting and inviting. Reading over the summer is a necessity, but it should also be fun!

Dr. Shawna Della Cerra is the co-author of My Daddy Is In Heaven.

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