Summer days are for enjoying the outdoors, swimming, walking, playing sports. But long summer nights are made for reading, and it’s the perfect time to get kids hooked on good books. Here are some wonderful choices for kids with a variety of interests.
Historical fiction is a middle grade staple. A new release, “How High the Moon” by Karyn Parsons, takes place in the South during the ’40s when discrimination was everywhere and justice for blacks was nowhere. This story is told from various first person perspectives and includes a real historical tragedy. While Ella, a young black girl, was trying to learn who her father was and wanted to go to live with her mother in the North, 14-year-old George Stinney, Jr. was accused of killing two white girls. He was questioned alone, without lawyer or parents, and the police claimed he confessed. There were no documents or proof that he did so, and there was no evidence that he did it. However, he was tried by a male white jury and sentenced and executed within three months. In this story, George is a friend of Ella and her friends. What makes the story powerful are the three narrators and the bleak contrast between how Ella is treated in the South and what she sees when she visits her mother in Boston. It’s a wonderful diverse historical fiction. (Little, Brown)
More diverse historical fiction reads include “Stella by Starlight” by Sharon Draper, about a girl in the South in the ’30s, whose peaceful town is suddenly filled with tension when the Klan burns a cross, and several of the town’s black residents decide to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. This story certainly underscores how many in our country had to fight for the right to vote, but the story is also a wonderful coming-of-age story about a young girl learning that things are not always what they appear to be, as well as how to survive and desperately hang on to her compassion and forgiveness. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
“The Parker Inheritance” by Varian Johnson is realistic fiction with a definite historical component. When Candice’s mother inherits her mother’s house in a small town in the South, they go to live there for the summer. Candice uncovers a mystery, and with the friends she makes that summer, they delve into what that town was like 60 years previously — and the prejudice that existed then and still exists there. It’s gripping but also fun, serious but with plenty of humor. Perfect summer book. (Arthur A. Levine Books)
“Two Roads” by Joseph Bruchac is another historical fiction novel that kids will enjoy even as they learn about the past. Bruchac again demonstrates his brilliance with this novel that inspires as much as it teaches readers about a neglected part of US history, the treatment of veterans after the first World War. The compelling story also shares very much more — including ideas about morality among the hoboes of that time, prejudicial treatment of Native Americans and prejudicial treatment by Native Americans, government wrongdoing, and the importance of family and friends. It’s about a twelve-year-old, Cal Black, whose father puts him in the “Indian School.” It’s a shock to Cal ,who hadn’t known that his father was Native American. Cal is a true hero, and when he realizes that his father is in danger, he decides he has to warn him. It’s about the first protests in Washington, DC, back in the days of the Depression. It’s filled with information that I didn’t know, and I loved learning Cal’s story and how, considering government treatment of veterans back then and now, history does truly repeat itself. (Dial Books for Young Readers)
“Endling: The Last” and “Endling: The First” by Katherine Applegate are two books that should be must-reads this summer by middle grade readers, young adult readers, and adults. Applegate creates a world filled with fantasy animals, magic, truly evil people, noble beasts, and plenty of treachery. But mixed in with the evil, power-hungry humans are some creatures, including some humans, who offer the reader a ray of hope in a dark world. These fantasies are touching and emotional as those seeking power destroy entire species in their avaricious quest for more and more land and conquests. Bryx is a dairne, and may just be the last of her species. When she sets out to find out if that is true, she joins up with some humans and a few other creatures — all of whom become family. Reading about the relationships between this odd family, how they slowly grow to trust each other, and how they support each other is a rich and valuable experience. Like each and every one of Applegate’s novels, this one is a book that should be read by everyone. Its messages of compassion, honesty, justice, and the danger of unbridled greed are as important now as they have ever been. (Harper)
“The Simple Art of Flying” by Cory Leonardo is a wonderfully touching, brilliantly written book that isn’t at all simple. It’s filled with an erudite African grey parrot, a feisty octogenarian, an adolescent wanna-be medical doctor, and a pet store owner who shouldn’t be allowed to own even a goldfish. This middle grade tale is filled with quirky characters — both human and non-human — and offers a sweet message of acceptance and family. And family can certainly include our non-human family members. (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)
“Song for a Whale” by Lynne Kelly is a beautiful book about a girl and a whale who are both lonely and isolated. Iris feels isolated because she is the only deaf student at her school, and her parents don’t want her attending a school for the deaf, which is what she wants to do. She learns about Blue 55, a whale who can’t communicate with other whales for some reason — maybe because he’s a hybrid — and she feels a special connection with him. Fans of Kelly’s first book, “Chained,” will be thrilled with this book that’s just as emotional and gripping and perhaps even more thoughtful, poignant, and poetic.
“Some Kind of Courage” by Dan Gemeinhart is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. It’s about a boy named Joseph who loses almost everything, and then someone sells the only thing left that he loves: his horse. And he decides he’s going to get her back if it’s the last thing he does. It’s a lovely story of determination, grit, loyalty, and bravery that will enthrall middle grade readers. But it’s also a kind of fairy tale. When Joseph sets out on his journey to rescue his horse, Sarah, there are many obstacles along the way. And just as in many fairy tales the hero is tested while on a journey, so is Joseph tested. Will he stop to help a Chinese boy who is all alone in the world and starving? Will he help a woman in pain and stay with her for days even though his horse is getting farther away with every moment of delay? It’s an amazing story and one that readers of any age will love. (Scholastic)
“Wonderland” by Barbara O’Connor is about two girls from different social statuses who become friends one fateful summer. During the hot summer months, they rescue a dog and an old man. Social standing, dog racing, friendship, and compassion are all wonderful topics that will lead to fabulous discussion about this book. It’s about doing the right thing even when others might disagree, about thinking of others and what will make them happy, and about the importance of friendship. (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)
“Code Word Courage” by Kirby Larson is one of her fabulous historical fiction stories that include a wonderful dog. This touching historical fiction novel is set during WWII, and features not just the love of a lonely girl for her dog but also the fabulous, and long- hidden, story of the Navajo Code Talkers. Larson seamlessly weaves in many historical injustices, including the fact that Native American children were taken from their families and punished for speaking their own language. Larson’s writing, in this story as well as in her other novels, “Liberty,” “Duke,” and “Dash,” celebrates the bonds between people and dogs, but all those fine works also celebrate the fact that we are all the same under our skin, and our heritage, our language, and the color of our skin don’t mean a thing when it comes to being an up-stander and doing the right thing. (Scholastic)
“The Queen’s Secret: A Rose Legacy Novel” by Jessica Day George, is the second in a series about a young girl, Anthea, who can communicate with horses. At the start of the series, in “The Rose Legacy,” Anthea, like most other residents of Coronam, thinks that horses are monsters who carry the plague and have caused the deaths of many before they were killed and banished from the country. But she finds out that what she has been told is not the truth, and that the mother she thought was dead is in reality a spy for the king. Anthea comes to realize that the queen is the one who believes in the horses and is their champion. There is much more going on, and in the second book another plague spreads across the country, causing more distrust and fear of the horses. Readers will love meeting the different horses and their riders and learning about the palace intrigue between the horrible king (and Anthea’s terrible mother) and the queen and those who are on the side of right. Definitely read both books as the second book doesn’t work quite as well as a stand alone. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
Action & Humor
Nobody does action and funny like Chris Grabenstein. He has two series that middle grade readers adore. “Mr. Lemoncello’s All-Star Breakout Game” follows the first three Lemoncello books, in which kids team up to solve riddles and puzzles based on books and libraries. Kids love trying to solve the puzzles and rooting for their favorite team to win. Grabenstein manages to develop the main character in each book, not an easy task in a series. The “Welcome to Wonderland” series also has a new book, “Welcome to Wonderland: Beach Battle Blowout.” At the Wonderland Motel, there’s always a contest going on, and P. T. Wilkie and his best friend Gloria are trying to win. Now there’s a competition for smaller family motels in Florida, and they are sure that they can figure out what to do to make Wonderland the best motel in the race. Their plan? To find who secret contest judges are and wow them with Wonderland attractions that they will find irresistible. Will they win? Kids want to find out! Readers can read the first three books in this series, and what better to read at the beach or pool but a series about a Florida motel, lots of sand and water, and kids having fun? (Random House)
Two graphic novels, both about finding one’s place in a new situation, are fabulous examples of why no one should say that graphic novels aren’t “real” books. Both books offer huge insights into the plight of those starting over, and both feature illustrations that perfectly enhance the plot and dialogue. “Pie in the Sky” by Remy Lai (Henry Holt) is a fascinating story about a family moving to Australia and how, when one doesn’t speak the language, others seem like aliens (from Mars). The humor and the plight of the oldest boy in the family is lovingly depicted. “New Kid” by Jerry Craft (Harper) deals with race and issues of class when a boy leaves his neighborhood school to attend a private school. This novel is humorous, touching, and above all — eye opening. Both books are about feeling isolated, and about the importance of friends and family. They are about how inside, we are all the same, with the same insecurities, no matter how much money we have or how little, or what language we speak. And that being rich in family is much more important that being rich in material possessions — all lovely themes which would lead to meaningful class discussions.
“We’re Not from Here” by Geoff Rodkey is a rollicking scifi story about a group of humans who have left a dying Earth and have been invited to live on another planet. The problem is that after decades of travel in suspended animation, they awake to find the invitation rescinded. They are out of food and air. What is there to do? The main character’s parents finagle a trial stay, and what happens when this human family joins the other species on the planet is filled with humor, suspense, and some scary moments. There are, in fact, several levels on which to enjoy this story. There is the pure science fiction element about life on another planet with aliens, but there is also the cautionary tale of our possible destruction of Earth and the message that we should all be able to learn to live together, no matter what our differences. In the story, the aliens are quite different from each other and from the humans, but what we have in common is what brings all those beings together in the end. (Crown Books for Young Readers)
“The Revenge of Magic” is the first book in James Riley’s newest series about books of magic that have been buried with mysterious magical monsters around the world. In the very first scene, while visiting Washington, DC, Fort Fitzgerald and his father are at the Lincoln Memorial when the ground starts shaking and a gigantic monster bursts through the ground. Fort’s father tries to rescue others and ends up being taken by the monster, while Fort flees. When Fort ends up at the Oppenheimer School, where kids who fit a certain profile are taught to fight these monsters, he is determined to get revenge on the creatures who killed his father. Gripping from the very first page! (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)
“Operation Frog Effect” by Sarah Scheeger is wonderful to read but even more wonderful to listen to. For those planning a car trip, or anything that might be improved by listening to this wonderful book, put this one at the top of your list.
“No Fixed Address” by Susin Nielsen is a touching and heart-wrenching book about a boy who becomes homeless when his mother’s depression spirals out of control. The issues in this story are important and potentially eye-opening for many students. (Random House Children’s Books)
“The Truth About Martians” by Melissa Savage is about a crash in 1947 in the desert of New Mexico. What really happened when a newspaper reported that an alien disk had crashed? While the US government first reported that it had captured a spacecraft, and the news was on the front page of many newspapers, the story quickly changed. Many people had already seen strange metal pieces with even stranger purple markings. In “The Truth About Martians,” Melissa Savage decides to write about what might have happened if some children nearby not only saw the spaceship but decided to investigate the crash. The story is fascinating, with complex situations and characters. (Crown Books for Young Readers)
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