Best summer reading for kids and parents who love children's literature


20110525 Summer books


As the promise of summer vacation nears, many book fans gravitate toward adventure and sci-fi stories as they find more time for pleasure reading.

Some readers, such as our 17-year-old daughter Leah Sauter, are looking forward to newer titles that are part of a series. Despite a crush of year-end schoolwork, she's deep into "Rip Tide," Kat Falls' sequel to "Dark Life" - a 2010 thriller in which the coasts have been inundated because of climate change and people are homesteading in undersea farms. She also hopes to read all four books in Veronica Roth's popular "Divergent" series - kind of like the way Netflix viewers binge-watch a TV show.

"Oh, and 'Anna and the French Kiss,' I've been wanting to read that," she said. "John Green said it was really good."

That would be the John Green, author of 2012's marvelous "The Fault in Our Stars" and a favorite of many local librarians. Green's writings are a solid summer selection of Sylvia Tag, head of the Children's Literature Interdisciplinary Collection at Western Washington University. Yes, WWU has a library of children's literature - and it's open to the public.

"... For the 10 people out there who haven't read "The One and Only Ivan" (intermediate) by Katherine Applegate or "The Fault in Our Stars," (teens) by John Green - read them now," Tag said via email last week.

"For middle readers, ages 8-12, summer reading is an opportunity to immerse in an author's works," Tag said. "Jennifer Holm is a great author for girls. 'Turtle in Paradise' is historical fiction set in Key West, Fla., in 1935. Relatives, scorpions, buried treasure - what's not to love?" she said. After that, she suggested Holm's "Penny from Heaven."

For boys, Tag recommends anything by Jon Szeisk, writer and founder of the website.

"Szeiska keeps pumping out his Guys Read books: sports, thrillers, humor and mysteries. They are the ideal length for a short, grab-and-go summertime reading. The themes come in collections or as individual stories in thin paperbacks," she said.

"For older readers, I found 'Everyday' by David Levithan to be one of the most fascinating books of this year. The concept of waking up each day in a different person's body is so provocative. This is a great book for teens and parents to read together."

For nonfiction, Tag remains a fan of "Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon," by Steve Sheinkin. It was this year's Newbery Honor and National Book Award finalist and it reads like a spy thriller.

"After finishing 'Bomb,' you can answer the 'What next?' question with 'The Notorious Benedict Arnold,' another gripping nonfiction by Sheinkin," Tag said.

As a classic summer book, Tag suggests "A Wrinkle in Time," by Madeline L'Engle, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its publication.

"Pair it with 'When You Reach Me' by Rebecca Stead (2010 Newbery Award.)," Tag said. "If you don't have a favorite author to read, then how about exploring a genre? Science fiction might be considered a passé genre - there was a time when we had to imagine that the world fit on a quarter-inch microchip," she said. "Other classics include 'The White Mountains Trilogy' by John Christopher, the 'Foundation' series by Isaac Asimov, or the 'Earthsea' trilogy by Ursula K. LeQuin."

Tamar Clarke, teen services librarian for the Whatcom County Library System, starts her summer suggestions with "The Selection," which she calls a less-violent cross between the "Hunger Games" and the reality TV show "The Bachelorette."

"It's decadent reading, but with a strong female central character, America Singer, who isn't persuaded by the lavish lifestyle and promises of wealth and fame," Clarke said via email.

One of Clarke's favorite books this season is "False Prince," which she said is full of intrigue, swordplay and plot twists the reader won't see coming.

Also on Clarke's list is "The Reluctant Assassin" by Eoin Colfer, which she said is for Artemis Fowl fans and all others who love a good steampunk sci-fi; and "Dodger," by Terry Pratchett.

"I loved this story of a street urchin living in Victorian England who spends his days searching for trinkets, money and other lost treasures in England's sewers," Clarke said of "Dodger."

For vacation car travel, Clarke likes "Ender's Game," by Orson Scott Card, which she said has been called "a space age 'Lord of the Flies.' "

"Audiobook would make this a great road-trip family experience," Clarke said.

"(For a) classic summer re-read, I love anything by John Green," Clarke said. "He is a genius," she said, pointing out that Green's writing is best for older teens because he deals with more mature themes.

Even so, my wife and daughters enjoyed the audio version of Green's "An Abundance of Katherines" during a day-long drive to California last year.

For the youngest readers, Bethany Hoglund, head of the children's library at the Bellingham Public Library, starts with a list of new picture books that she said are "fun and engaging":

-- "Open This Little Book" by Jesse Klausmeier, illustrated by Suzy Lee, which is about friendship and the power of literature.

-- "Ribbit!" by Rodrigo Folgueira, illustrated by Poly Bernatene, which is about a group of frogs in a pond who discover a surprise visitor.

For second- through fourth-grade readers - kids just getting into chapter books - Hoglund likes "Lulu and the Brontosaurus" by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith, about a girl who wants the lumbering dinosaur for a pet.

"When her parents say no, she takes off alone in search of one," Hoglund said. "Illustrations ... help bring Lulu's quest to life as she searches high and low for a brontosaurus, only to be rather surprised by the brontosaurus' idea of pets when she finally finds one."

She also likes "The Adventures of a South Pole Pig" by Chris Kurtz, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt.

For older readers, Hoglund suggests 2012'a "Lincoln's Grave Robbers," by Steve Sheinkin, which like "Bomb," reads like a crime thriller.

"This is the story of the ultimate heist: Steal Abraham Lincoln's body from his grave for a hefty ransom," She said. "This crazy scheme went down on election night, November 7, 1876, but it is not a simple tale. It is one filled with wild criminals and Secret Service agents, counterfeit money businesses and grave robbing. This is a story from American history you won't find in a textbook, but will definitely want to read about."

Hoglund also notes that Bellingham writer Clete Smith has just released "Aliens in Disguise," the third installment of his series.

"We find ourselves back at the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast with David and Amy," Hoglund said. "This summer, the two find themselves trying to thwart the efforts of two UFO watchers, disguised as aliens, from sneaking into the bed and breakfast, blowing its cover to the whole world. Can they keep their secret safe?"

What's on my summer list? "Code Name Verity," "Rip Tide" "The Fault in Our Stars," "Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes" and "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children."

Leah Sauter's name was corrected June 6, 2013.

Robert Mittendorf is a Herald copy editor and page designer. Contact him at 360-756-2805 or at

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