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It’s the middle of July, and the neighbor kids are gone on vacation. The pool and the sprinkler are no longer novel, and the heat is melting your children’s imaginations. Now is the perfect time to introduce them to some good books. Rather than listing the newest books on the market, here are some tried-and-true books from our family shelves.

Picture Books and Early Readers

If you are looking for picture books with creative concepts, any of the following will fit the bill. Flotsam, by David Wiesner, is wondrous without words. An old camera is found floating in the ocean—what will develop? In Chris Van Allsburg’s quirky The Z Was Zapped, each letter of the alphabet meets its well-illustrated fate. Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson, is a classic story of a boy literally drawn into an adventure.

Animals are always popular in my house. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, by Eric Litwin, features the coolest cat around. If you want to see the author and illustrator reading the book (and singing the song), check out the YouTube video. Mercy Watson, Kate DiCamillo’s troublesome but loveable pig, recounts a series of humorous adventures. And Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie dream team will keep kids laughing through all their titles. Lisa Tawn Bergren’s God Gave Us You and God Gave Us Two share the love of parents for their children through a family of polar bears.

If you’ve got some “girly girls,” they probably already know all about Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor. They might also like The Princess and the Pig, by Jonathan Emmett—a fun take on old fairy tales. And David Shannon’s Alice the Fairy is about a very real girl playing make-believe.

A Bit Older

I have warm, sweet memories of reading picture books to my little ones, but when they got to be about 8 or 9 is when the real read-aloud fun began. My kids loved the weird world of Roald Dahl, particularly The BFG and Danny, the Champion of the World. Donna Jo Napoli’s tale of the Frog Prince, The Prince of the Pond, is funny and also gives a lot of facts about frog life. Beverly Cleary’s classic The Mouse and the Motorcycle is a bit dated, but still captures the imagination.

For those who have read Harry Potter or Percy Jackson and are casting about for something else, the Peter Pan prequel Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson might be just the thing. The Sisters Grimm books by Michael Buckley brings two modern-day girls to the land of the Grimm stories. And Avi’s Poppy books are always a hit.

Frank Cottrell Boyce’s book Cosmic introduces readers to Liam, who is 12, but who looks 30. Liam finds a way to be the chaperone for a group of kids taking one of the first civilian flights into space.

In The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling, the boy protagonist is named John Midas. You might get where this is going.


Now for the teens. They can’t spend all their time at the mall or online. And there truly are books they might lose themselves in. Any of Gary D. Schmidt’s books—Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, The Wednesday Wars, and Okay for Now, to name a few—would make summer better. Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest is a great historical novel that features a young girl staying in a new town while her father is far away.

Shannon Hale’s good vs. evil fantasy novels, like her Bayern series and The Princess Academy, feature strong young women facing tough times. Good news—The Princess Academy: Palace of Stone comes out next month!

My son almost dropped out of our family for a few weeks this year reading the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld. Leviathan is a steampunk alternate history story about World War I. And Hunger Games fans might like to reach back for an earlier dystopian novel, Sharp North by Patrick Cave. If nothing else, they’ll feel a little cooler after reading about a fictional ice age in northern Europe!

Walter Dean Myers’s novel Monster is written in a screenplay format by the teen main character, who is being charged for his part in a convenience store shooting. Is he innocent or guilty? What does it even mean to be guilty? Great book. Once Was Lost, by Sara Zarr, is another kind of reality novel altogether. In this beautifully written story, Samara is a preacher’s kid whose mother is in rehab, and who has some questions for God.

Comic and Graphic Books

Remember Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes? Now’s the time to introduce them to your kids for hours of roadtrip giggles. Ditto for Bill Amend’s Foxtrot books. Got a 10- or 11-year-old reluctant reader or a graphic novel fan? Try Into the Volcano by Don Wood. Excitement, danger, and mystery await in these lavishly illustrated pages. For the girl with some attitude, Rapunzel’s Revenge is an Old West take on the Rapunzel story. Shannon Hale wrote this with her husband, Dean, and it was illustrated by a completely unrelated Nathan Hale.

There are many, many more opportunities to match your child to the perfect title. Just ask your local bookstore clerk or librarian! And if your kids tell you they are bored, introduce them to some new friends this summer in the pages of great books.

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