What are you reading this summer?

June 10, 2014 | Posted in: Elementary, Middle Years

When you hear of parents and children reading together, you almost always picture a mom or dad with a toddler on their lap enjoying a book with pictures or rhymes, à la Dr. Seuss. We know early reading helps young children master the language, improve concentration, and strengthen speech and logical thinking skills – all good things.

If it’s so important to read together at that early age, then why not later on, as our children get a bit older and have more liberty to choose their reading material?

It turns out to be so. Children’s literacy and language arts expert Diane Frankenstein says that parents should become more, not less, involved when kids start to read independently.

“A child’s reading will improve the more they enjoy reading, and they will enjoy reading stories that tap into their curiosity and interests, stories where they care about the characters and what happens to them,” Frankenstein said.

While teachers encourage students to keep reading over the summer, I got to thinking about how I might challenge my own kids to explore some new books with me over the next three months.

We all enjoy a good story in my family. My wife and I have read with our children since they were very young. We want them to be exposed to, and to appreciate, good literature and storytelling. And, we want their mastery of literacy skills to develop as they grow.

So, we’ve introduced our own summer reading challenge. We will read a selection of books together, and talk about what we’ve read as we go. It fulfills our underlying educational agenda for our kids and ensures a summer of fun reading for everyone.

There are only a few basic rules.

  • This is for fun. There is no real timetable, no predetermined number of books to read, and no penalty for going slow. “Children need comprehension – not speed – to be good readers,” Frankenstein said.
  • Each child makes his or her own independent choices about what to read. (It’s on me to keep up with both of them.)
  • However, half of the choices must come from a list of suggested books we’ve compiled with the help of my library media specialist friend Edie Wilcox from HFM BOCES and our local librarian. And, the titles picked from the list have to be first-time reads.
  • We all commit to reading at least 30 minutes every day (easy for the girl, more of a challenge for the boy, our more reluctant reader).

What will we read?

I’m a bit older and was concerned that the books I loved as a kid might be less “cool” (I don’t even know the “in” term used today) than when I originally read them. However, Edie, my library media specialist friend from HFM BOCES, assured me that many of my favorites are still popular.

Beyond creating the list and offering some subtle suggestions, we let the children choose the books.

We are big fans of classic literature, so the list leans a bit that way. That doesn’t mean that the stories are boring. They are classics after all. It does mean that certain titles may feature language that is a bit more formal (less slang and contemporary jargon) than others.

We try to include different genres in the list, so the kids get to choose from biographies, historical fiction, poetry, mystery/adventure, fantasy/science fiction and non-fiction.

Our summer reading choices (approximate grade range: 4-8)

Here is our list for this year, significantly edited from the long list of possible high-quality choices. We found almost all of these at our local library. Some are more challenging than others, but that’s why we’ll read them together. A handful of titles that my children read in the past year have been included. They voted for these titles to be added back in so other kids their age would have a chance to choose and enjoy them.

  • A Horse and His Boy (a favorite from The Chronicles of Narnia series) by C.S. Lewis
  • Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  • Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (First of series)
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • Christy by Catherine Marshall
  • Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat that Touched the World by Vicki Myron
  • The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig
  • Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit
  • Football Genius by Tim Green
  • From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  • Helen Keller by Margaret Davidson (biography)
  • The Hessian by Howard Fast
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (And then, hopefully, The Lord of the Rings trilogy)
  • Island Of Hope: The Story of Ellis Island and the Journey to America by Martin Sandler
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (One of my favorites as a boy)
  • King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
  • Leonardo’s Shadow by Christopher Grey
  • The Lightning Thief (A Percy Jackson adventure) by Rick Riordan
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (nine book series – a family favorite)
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  • Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America by Sharon Robinson
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Sounder by William Armstrong
  • Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (The illustrated version of this poem is a frequently reread family favorite.)
  • The Story of the Treasure Seekers by Edith Nesbit
  • This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger
  • Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom
  • When the Tripods Came by John Christopher
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • Woodsong by Gary Paulsen

A note about Shakespeare:

Some people might cringe to see a Shakespeare play on a list of summer reading choices, no matter what age group the list addressed. Our family tackles one play each summer, reading from simplified versions, either The Children’s Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit or Tales from Shakespeare by Charles Lamb. These condensed, prose versions of some of Shakespeare’s greatest works are ideal introductions for the kids. In addition, the reading helps prepare us all to enjoy Saratoga Shakespeare Company’s annual production in Congress Park each summer.


Tom Antis has been a communications specialist with the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service since January 2008. He and his wife, Julie, have two children, ages 10 and 11, who have each committed their library card number to memory.

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