At long last I have gotten together my top ten picks in a variety of areas for your reading enjoyment. They are designed to give a kick-off to your summer reading. As with any list, please remember that the grade levels assigned to them are suggestions only. Only the reader knows for sure what is the most appropriate book for the moment.
Much thanks goes to Jessica K., the helpful parent who put it all together for me.
The Chicken of the Family by Mary Amato. Typical sibling teasing comes to a head when older sisters convince the youngest that she is actually a chicken.
That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell. Little girls know the love of a special toy and Emily Brown is not willing to give hers up to a spoiled queen. Enjoy the humor, explore the illustrations, and listen to the moral.
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee. When two boys go off to spend time with one boy’s grandparents, they find that there are many ways to have fun, especially old-fashioned fun.
Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French It is impossible not to love this troublesome wombat that just wants to live a good life of sleeping, eating, and burrowing.
Egg Drop by Mini Grey. Everyone knows an egg can’t fly, but this little egg wants to try anyway, with predictable results and lots of humor.
Waiting for Winter and Learning to Fly by Sebastian Meschenmoser. Both of these titles are great stories, but it is the illustrations that keep me coming back again and again.
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. This familiar fable is told through magnificent illustrations without a single word. Children of all ages will spend hours exploring the pictures and retelling the story through their own words.
Duck! Rabbit! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Two unseen people discuss that familiar optical illusion that looks like a duck from one angle and a rabbit from the other.
Epossumondas by Colleen Salley. In these updated retellings of old folk tales, an opossum’s doting human mother loves him, even as he makes mistakes.
Chester by Melanie Watt. Every time this author tries to create a picture book, her cat Chester grabs a red marker and writes his version of the story on top of it. Laughs are guaranteed, whether you are cheering for the cat or his beleaguered human.
EARLY READERS SERIES
Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold. Buzz has a pet fly that is much smarter than the average fly. The cartoon-style illustrations add to the fun of these easy-to-read and even easier to enjoy books.
Minnie and Moo by Denis Cazet. Everyone loves these crazy cow friends and the amazing and often silly adventures they have.
Houndsley and Catina by James Howe. A dog and cat are good friends in these gentle and humorous stories.
Zelda and Ivy by Laura McGee Kvasnosky. Each of the titles in this series includes three short adventures of these friendly fox sisters.
Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. Everyone knows Frog and Toad for good reason—these books are classic early readers that kids and adults adore.
Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. Fiction with some non-fiction thrown in there. Jack and Annie go on time-travel adventures in their tree house. The accompanying research guides—which cover everything from rain forests to mummies—are a little more difficult to read, but jam-packed with facts and information.
Mr. Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant. A man and his cat have ordinary and extraordinary adventures in this beloved series.
Dr. Seuss—pick any of the wonderful titles he has written! No one should miss the fun of reading Dr. Seuss, especially aloud. There are so many good books from this author, who wrote the first easy readers and continues to be the model for this genre.
Commander Toad by Jane Yolan. Stories about this space-traveling toad are not quite Star Wars, but are close.
Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik. This classic series is heartwarming and familiar,as Little Bear discovers his own solutions to everyday situations. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
FIRST CHAPTER BOOKS--GRADES 1-3
Poppy—series by Avi. The animals in these books have very real personalities. They will be enjoyed by listeners in the early grades and by competent readers of all ages.
Ivy and Bean—series by Annie Barrows. Ivy and Bean don’t really want to be friends, but when their mothers are out of the way, they find out that they are perfectly suited to have many adventures together.
Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn. Mice live in the boarded-up pantry of an old mansion. Their adventures have just the right balance of fears and fun.
Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley. These reptilian friends have adventures and disagreements, but never lose sight of what is important.
Mercy Watson—series by Kate DiCamillo. Mercy Watson is a very spoiled pig. Her wild adventures are accompanied with bright illustrations.
Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi. When Kenny discovers a dragon near his house, he is the only one who doesn’t want it to be destroyed.
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet. This classic fantasy story of a family dragon takes a boy—and the reader—to far away lands. This book is as enjoyable to read today as it was when I was a child.
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner. While the heartbreaking end may be difficult for some children to bear, this is a strong story of a boy trying to save his family by winning a dog race.
The Hinky Pink by Megan McDonald. This retelling of an old folk tale is filled with lovely illustrations and new energy.
Clementine—series by Sara Pennypacker. Clementine is a typical girl with spunk and energy. I like her better than either Junie B. Jones or Judy Moody.
UPPER ELEMENTARY FICTION--GRADES 4-6
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. Imagine being a young boy living on Alcatraz and knowing that Al Capone is in one of the cells just beyond the big wall. The resultant story has humor, adventure, and some good discussions of social issues.
Toby Alone by Timothy de Fombelle. While there is a strong ecological moral in this book, it is also a great adventure of a young boy whose entire universe is a tree. He realizes that he must fight those who are heedlessly destroying their home in the name of progress.
The 21 Balloons by William Penne DuBois. A retired teacher decides to find perfect solitude by floating off in a giant balloon. That seems like a great idea, until he crashes into Krakatoa, where he discovers a booming civilization.
Baseball Card Adventures—series by Dan Gutman. Joe, the narrator of these stories, can travel back in time to meet the player on his baseball cards. The stories have adventure and a lot of history. Look for players like Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantel, Shoeless Joe, and many more. Perfect for summer!
Chet Gecko Detective—series by Bruce Hale. Chet is a third-grade gecko that loves eating and solving mysteries in these wry parodies of old-fashioned detective stories.
Strawberry Hill by Mary Ann Hoberman. You could read this as a simple story of a girl moving to a new town, but there are many more things going on, including her need to defend herself against anti-Semitism.
The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. Here is an enchanting story of magical travel between worlds—and what happens when someone escapes from one and must be brought back home.
Savvy by Ingrid Law. A 13th birthday is a big event in the Beaumont family because that is when one’s magical talent is made apparent. The family is facing hard times when Mibs turns 13, and she struggles to discover her savvy and how she can use it to help the family.
Alcatraz V. The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson. Everyone in Alcatraz’s family is named after a famous prison, but not everyone knows that they all have special powers that will help them fight the evil librarians who control all knowledge. You will be eager to read the other stories in this series as well.
Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder. As a lover of Edward Eager books, I am delighted by this clever magical travel book that reminds me of those classic tales.
MIDDLE SCHOOL FICTION
Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. In 1793, Philadelphia was hit with an outbreak of yellow fever that killed more than 5,000 people in just a few months. This is the realistic story of how one girl survived.
The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. The buzz about this series is well justified. The dystopian world occupied by Katniss and her friends includes a televised yearly battle to the death between teens from all the sections of the country. (The last book in the trilogy is due out this summer.)
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. Buxton is a city in Ontario, just across the river from Detroit, which was created for escaped and freed slaves. Elijah, the first child born in Buxton, is a typical kid when we meet him, but later he must face harsh realities about life across the border. While this is often laugh-out-loud funny,the ending will bring tears to your eyes.
Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory is known for the fire that killed many of its workers. This well-researched and fascinating novel looks at the lives of three young women with ties to the factory, and how their lives cross during the strikes and after the fire.
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks. Both Twilight lovers and those who make fun of it will enjoy this parody of vampire romances. It is bloody and funny and perfectly weird.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly Calpurnia. Tate is 11 years old at the turn of the 20th century. Everyone around her wants her to learn to be more “feminine”. Except her grandfather, who supports her interest in the natural world.
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. This dark novel imagines a world in which the moon has been pushed out of orbit by a meteor and catastrophic changes ensue. It is told through the eyes of a teen-age girl in rural central Pennsylvania.
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Schusterman. Like the imperceptible schwa sound in spoken English, Calvin Schwa is rarely noticed. Along with Antsy Bonano and a cast of quirky friends, they find a way to use this hidden talent for some wild hijinks.
Erratum by Walter Sorrels. What if you had the power to determine your own life story? Would you risk chases with strange creatures and other bizarre happenings, in order to find the life you were meant to follow? This fast-paced science-fiction novel will prompt you to ask many questions, while taking you on an action-packed journey.
The 13th Child by Patricia C. Wrede. Everyone with ties to magic knows that the seventh son of a seventh son has powerful magic — but what of the 13th child? In this mix of historical fiction and magical fantasy, the 13th child must prove that she is not bad luck, on the boundaries of the unexplored West.
NON-FICTION AND POETRY FOR ALL AGES
Orangutan Tongs: Poems to Tangle Your Tongue by Jon Agee. Read these tonguetwister poems out loud and as fast as you can.
Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune, and Swimsuit History by Shana Corey. This highly illustrated biography uses humor and compassion to introduce a little known woman who had a big impact in her time.
Moonshot! The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Flocca. This book combines basic information with myriad colorful illustrations and some interesting side notes.
How to Scratch a Wombat: Where to Find It, What to Feed It, and Why it Sleeps All Day by Jackie French. The author lives in the wild Australian outback and uses stories of the wombats—who shared her family compound—to tell the natural history of this friendly little critter.
A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing and Shout—collected by Paul B. Janeczko. As with other books in the series, bright illustrations add to this collection of works and offer an enjoyable introduction to poetry.
What Mr. Darwin Saw by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom. Bright, colorful illustrations show the reader what Darwin saw on his travels and help to explain his observations.
What Are Cats Made Of? by Hanock Piven. Following on the author’s other works about athletes and presidents, this book is filled with facts about cats. You will find that the real draw, though, is the wonderful collage illustrations.
Knuckleheads by Jon Scieszka. Growing up in Flint, MI, Jon Scieszka and his brothers had many adventures, which are recounted here with great humor.
If America Were a Village: A Book about the People of the United States by David J. Smith. Several years ago, there was a book that looked at the statistics of the world by imagining a world village of just 100 people. Now we have a similar look at what and who make up America today.
P is for Pakistan (and others in the World Alphabet series)—various authors. This series has an alphabet of relevant terms for each country it explores, along with bright photographs to complement the text.
Tintin by Herge. If you remember Tintin from your childhood or even if you have never heard of him, you will want to introduce your children to this comic classic.
Babymouse series by Jennifer C. Holm and Matthew Holm. While these books are too pink for many, they contain stories that ring true with anyone who goes to school.
Magic Pickle by Scott Morse. It is hard to resist a pickle with heroic magical powers.
To Dance: A Memoir by Siena Cherson Siegel. Aspiring dancers will agonize along with the author of this memoir, as she struggles to succeed at a prestigious ballet school.
The Bone Series by Jeff Smith. Adventure in the comic book tradition have readers of all ages caught up in this story of a quirky critters and swashbuckling adventures.
Jellaby series by Kean Soo. A little girl makes friends with a strange creature and they set off together for grand adventures and a quest for missing loved ones. You will join the throng waiting for the next entry in the series!
Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires. Cat lovers will immediately recognize their own feline friends in Binky, as he battles alien bugs to try to save his humans.
Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm, Rich Tommaso, and Gerald Early. The graphic format suits this story of sharecroppers in the south, baseball, and the inequities that are leveled by a well-played baseball game.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Without words, Tan takes the reader into the world of a recent immigrant. The artwork is hauntingly amazing.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. This is a story for mature readers, who are willing to take a closer look at prejudice and teen angst. The mix of realism and fantasy make this a truly remarkable book.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Two strong Parisian women—a concierge and a young girl who lives in her building—find that they can not share their interests and intelligence with most people. The novelist gives each of these closet intellectuals a voice. The writing is beautiful, sometimes complicated and often profound.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave. Since the cover of this novel warns that there are surprises that you should not know before you begin to read, I will only tell you that it takes places in Nigeria, an alien detention center in England, and a posh London suburb.
The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. The life Doig describes in Eastern Montana at the turn of the 20th century is harsh, but he finds the beauty that lies just below the surface.
Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Set in Seattle in 1946 and 1986, this story is of the clash of cultures and of friendship. It reminds one of the foolish mistakes we all make—as individuals and nations.
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. If you were to ask me my favorite book of 2010, this would probably be it. Set in India, during the height of the opium trade, it features characters from myriad backgrounds, all of whom ring true.
The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Hu. Set in the 1930s and 40s, the story of Johnny Lin, a Malaysian orphan who rose to wealth and power with his Harmony Silk Factory, is told by three different people who were part of his life—a very bitter son, his wife, and a British man who knew the family socially. This book is out of print, so get it at your local library.
The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. This novel imagines a future time when a “cure” for autism has been developed. The narrator wonders whether gaining the tag of normal is worth losing the insights and creativity that his autism offers.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. This slender novel is narrated by a Japanese housekeeper taking care of a former math professor. Her charge has suffered an accident, leaving him with only 80 minutes of short-term memory.
The Seamstress by Frances de Pontes Peebles. This story takes place in Brazil, during the first half of the 20th century, when the inland areas are plagued by roaming bandits. Two young women use their talents with a needle—in very different ways—to find a means to survive.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. This Pulitzer-winning book collection includes nine short stories about people from India who have immigrated to the U. S. and those they left behind. Some of the best of the genre.
The Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle. This National Book Award winner presents history in our back yard, as it looks at Detroit in 1925 and the upheaval that ensued when an African-American doctor tried to buy a house in a previously all-white area.
Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. If you have a child or work with children, at least one of the chapters in this book is sure cover a topic that resonates with you. The discussions range from talking about race to why children lie, IQ testing to the effects of praise, sibling rivalry to teen angst and more.
The House at Sugar Beach: In search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper. Cooper recounts her fascinating life—growing up as a member of Liberia’s elite, fleeing the country to settle in the American South, becoming a journalist—with a generous helping of Liberian history and politics.
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. We all have heard about the horrors of life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but seeing it through the eyes of one family adds more depth to that picture. Eggers offers a powerful story by looking at the experiences of a Syrian immigrant and his American wife following the storm.
The River of Doubt by Candice Millard. Teddy Roosevelt dealt with his hard times by going on dangerous adventures. Following his loss as a Bull Moose candidate for President, he set off to explore a remote section of the Amazon. The resulting story is full of intrigue and adventure.
Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson. Most people have heard about Greg Mortenson and his Three Cups of Tea. In this book, he takes his work into Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Stitches: A Memoir by David Small. While he is best known as an award winning children’s book author and illustrator, this graphic memoir by David Small tells of his growing up with cold, troubled parents and a battle with cancer. It gives new appreciation for his loving and gentle children’s books.
Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough. This is a biography of Geoffrey Canada, who founded the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Promise Academy Charter Schools to provide a viable educational path for a generation growing up in poverty. It tells the story of how his own experience has inspired and informed his community service, while documenting the transformative work his organization is doing in Harlem.
Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man’s Attempt to
Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation or How He Became Comfortable
Eating Live Squid by J. Maarten Troost. If you like travel books with a generous dose of humor, this book is for you! Troost sees the incongruous and the amazing at every turn of the road less traveled.
The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln through His Words by Ronald C. White, Jr.. What makes this book so fascinating is that it not only provides a unique view of Lincoln’s life and ideas, but also how he worked to revise his words and ideas to make them perfect.