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June 1, 2010


Recommendation Reading by Grade Level:


The summer before preschool is all about discovering a love for books—books that tell silly stories, teach kids how to express themselves in constructive ways, and inspire conversation.

Our team searched the shelves high and low for brand new titles that do just that. Here are our picks for a solid gold summer of reading with your preschooler. We have a hunch that they’ll become cherished additions to your bookshelf the whole year round.

Our 2010 Preschool Summer Reading Picks

Pigs to the Rescue by John Himmelman. It seems every time someone on the Greenstalk family farm has a problem, a boisterous herd of pigs is there to lend a hoof. But sometimes their response is a bit, um, overzealous. One small leak in Mrs. Greenstalk’s garden hose, and the pigs bring a veritable tsunami of water which leaves her drenched and her flowers waterlogged. This super silly book has Chaplin-esque physical comedy written all over it. It’s all good fun, but it’s also a great way to introduce your child to cause-and-effect, a foundation for storytelling. Many of the key details are told in colorful, cartoon-style images, which means preschoolers can use the pictures to help them read the story. A hilarious, and substantial, reading experience. (Henry Holt, $11.46) Where to buy

Sally’s Great Balloon Adventure by Stephen Huneck. Sally is a black lab with an inquisitive nature, and when she smells chicken, she follows her nose … even when it takes her into a hot air balloon! Colorful woodcut prints and a simple storyline make this a sweet adventure for young children, and the tongue-in-cheek sense of humor will entertain parents, too! Whether your child is a fan of Sally, or is new to the series, she’s sure to love this lab’s latest escapade. (Abrams, $11.03) Where to buy

Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. What would happen if the kids put the parents to bed? In this playful tale of bedtime role reversal, it’s time for lights out, but mom isn’t quite ready. She sulks in the bathtub, hems and haws when it’s time to pick an outfit to wear tomorrow, begs for an extra bedtime story, and stalls for a few extra minutes. By the time she’s all tucked in, her daughter is exhausted, and she still needs to put daddy to bed! A seriously cute read from one of the best picture book authors working today. (Bloomsbury, $11.55) Where to buy

The Falling Raindrop by Neil Johnson. This simple story, about a raindrop hurtling down from the clouds, will have your child on the edge of his seat. At first happy, then increasingly concerned, the raindrop learns the importance of appreciating the moment, as he misses out on the beautiful sights around him because he’s worried about what comes next. Luckily, he has a second chance, as he becomes steam and rises up again! A great introduction to states of matter (and states of mind), this books is a wonderful addition to any young child’s library. (Tricycle, $10.19) Where to buy

Let’s Do Nothing by Tony Fucile. Frankie and Sal have played every sport ever invented, painted more pictures than van Gogh, and baked enough cookies to treat a small country. There’s absolutely nothing left to do. Except… nothing. Can these energetic preschoolers sit down and remain as still as statues for ten whole seconds? This thoroughly entertaining book, from the animator of such favorites as Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, hits just the right notes for read-aloud bliss. Super silly, laugh out loud fun! (Candlewick, $11.55) Where to buy

Our 2009 Preschool Summer Reading Picks

Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace. Little Oink is a true embarrassment. Instead of making his room a proper pigsty, he insists on cleaning up after himself. All his parents want is for him to unmake his bed, throw his clothes on the floor, and cover his toys with mud at the end of the day, but he just can’t seem to make a proper mess! This silly book throws a little reverse psychology into the “clean up your room” debate. A fun romp for summer. (Chronicle Books, 2009, $14.99) Where to buy

Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban. Is there a best way to be mad? All of mouse’s friends seem to think so. Rabbit hops. Bear stomps. Bobcat screams. Although they try to teach him, mouse can’t seem to get it right. If only he could find his own way to be mad, he might feel a whole lot better. Preschoolers, are still learning the best way to express themselves appropriately, will get a kick out of coming along for this journey through anger etiquette. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009, $16.00) Where to buy

Little Chick by Amy Hest Whether. Little Chick is impatiently waiting for a carrot to grow, trying to fly a leaf kite, or reaching to catch a star, Old-Auntie is there to encourage her through life’s challenges. Beautifully rendered in pencil and watercolor by Anita Jeram, who previously teamed up with author Amy Hest on the New York Times best-selling Kiss Good Night, this book reflects a talent for capturing the attention of young readers through simple, humorous stories, with a focus this time on intergenerational bonding and the spark of childhood wonder. (Candlewick, $17.99) Where to buy

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems. In a world where no one would ever be caught with clothes on, one mole rat dares to don duds. Three-time Caldecott Honoree Willems doesn’t disappoint with this wonderful tale of what it means to be different, and the power of being yourself. A great springboard for talking to preschoolers about courage, friendship, and the beauty of originality. And lots of fun to read, too! (Hyperion, 2009, $16.99) Where to buy


In kindergarten, kids typically take their first steps towards reading on their own. This summer is the perfect time to lay the groundwork for that process, by showing kids that reading is a fun adventure, and that any time is a good time to crack open a book. “The summer is a great time to read with your child in all kinds of situations: spend time at the library; take books to the beach; snuggle up with books at bedtime,” says Mildred Vasan, an editor and literary expert for GiftLit, an online retailer of hand-selected books. “Making reading a fun, cozy and enjoyable time that you and your child spend together will help build a lifelong love of reading.”

At, we get books all year long. We’ve combed our shelves for favorite titles that will turn your child on to reading, and show her how wonderful books can be.

Our 2010 Kindergarten Summer Reading Picks

Hot Rod Hamster by Cynthia Lord. Built for a need-for-speed, rough-and-tumble kind of kindergartner, this fast-paced car-racing tale will leave kids smiling from start to finish line. Filled with colorful illustrations and snappy writing, this junkyard Cinderella story about a hamster and his search for the perfect hot rod, will delight any Cars-obsessed, animal-loving kid. A smokin’, souped-up story about burning rubber and the triumph of a little hamster underdog. (Scholastic, $11.55) Where to buy

Magnus Maximus by Kathleen T. Pelley. Magnus Maximus measures extraordinary things, from the itchiness of an itch to the number of fleas on an escaped circus lion (consequently detaining the lion and making Magnus a hero!) So intense is his focus on counting the little things that he doesn’t fully experience the beautiful things that pass his way…until a new friend helps to show him how. This great lesson about taking stock of the things that really matter, is wrapped up in a beautifully-imagined story. Ink and watercolor illustrations portray Victorian England convincingly, complete with details both funny and sweet. An instant classic! (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $11.55) Where to buy

The Jungle Grapevine by Alex Beard. It’s another beautiful day in the jungle, but when Bird misinterprets Turtle’s comment on the way to the watering hole, and Elephant passes the information on to Snake, rumors begin spreading like wildfire! Is there really a drought and a flood? How will the animals stem the tide of misinformation? This clever and creative storybook is an engaging page-turner for young readers, with colorful illustrations that bound off the page. A fun reading safari! (Abrams, $11.53) Where to buy

The Story Tree by Hugh Lupton. These seven tales span the globe in terms of origin, but they all have something important in common: vibrant characters and plenty of repetition. This makes them a perfect choice for kinders! The Little Red HenThe Three Billy Goats Gruff, and several of the other stories will likely be familiar to parents, but these well-known folktales are retold for a reason—their rhythms and repetitions encourage kids to shout out the refrains, and in the process, learn how stories are structured and what makes them tick. A beautifully illustrated collection with tales from all over the world. (Barefoot Books, $15.59) Where to buy

Farm by Elisha Cooper. This beautifully told and illustrated book is at once lively and peaceful, chronicaling the events and quiet moments of life on a farm with graceful language and images that soothe, but never bore. Tractors, crops, animals and farmers all play a part in this wonderful book, which captures the rhythms of rural life and gives a feel for the sights and seasons of a working farm.(Scholastic, $17.99) Where to buy

Our 2009 Kindergarten Summer Reading Picks

The Travel Game by John Grandits, illustrated by R.W. Alley. Tad is not a big fan of afternoon naps. His Aunt Hattie coerces him to go to his room with a game she’s created: Each afternoon they spin the globe, Tad plops his finger down with his eyes closed, and they “go” wherever they land. Using an illustrated encyclopedia for story fodder, Hattie whisks them to the boat city of Hong Kong, the wilds of the Amazon, or the streets of India– all without leaving the comfort of their home. Written by the former art director of Cricketmagazine and illustrated by the artist behind the Paddington Bear series, not only is the story a keeper, but it just may inspire kids to pick up a globe and try their own version. (Clarion, 2009, $16.00) Where to buy

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. Take an optical illusion, add two kids who love to argue (sound familiar?), sprinkle in delightful illustrations, and layer a smart, well-written text across it all. You’ve got Duck! Rabbit!, a simple but surprisingly elegant picture book that kids will want to read again and again. The plot centers around a simple sketch– is it a duck or a rabbit? Yes, on both counts, depending how you look at it. Kids will love taking sides and they might even change their minds by story’s end. (Chronicle Books, 2009, $16.99) Where to buy

A Book by Mordicai Gerstein. There once was a family that lived between the covers of a book. When the book was closed, it was night inside. When the book was open, it was day. One morning the girl in the book asked something that had been bothering her: if they were all characters, then what was their story? Dissatisfied with the answer, she sets out to discover whather story is about. Drawn with shadows and perspective that make the reader feel as if he’s peering in on a 3-D world, this picture book moves from fairy tales to pirate tales, in search of a plot that feels right to the girl. Young readers along for the ride become characters in the book, too. A very special way to engage kids in the reading process. (Roaring Brook Press, 2009, $16.95) Where to buy

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. One day, while out exploring his drab, gray city, Liam finds an abandoned railway track with some wildflowers still clinging to life. He decides to help these plants survive, by taking on the role of gardener. Soon the curious garden begins to thrive and once it starts to spread, other city-dwellers become inspired to pitch in and help, so that over time, the once dreary city becomes a green paradise. This magical book is a celebration of nature, introducing kids to the idea of environmental stewardship and community service. A great read-aloud during the blossoming summer months when your child’s curiosity about the natural world is at its peak. (Little Brown, 2009, $16.99)Where to buy

1st Grade

Even though your child is beginning to read on her own, sitting down together with a book is still an important part of her development as a reader, and it’s a perfect summer activity! “Even if your child can read, we would encourage you to share the summer reading experience,” says Helen Huber, a veteran librarian and elementary school teacher, and a literary adviser for GiftLit, an online retailer of hand-selected books. “Your modeling of fluency and your oral expression enhances their experience of the story and their reading skills.”

Many kids entering first grade are still taking baby steps with reading. Others want to read simple books on their own. If you’re feeling flustered trying to find books that both you and your child can enjoy, we’ve got you covered. We’ve cracked open hundreds of new titles to bring you this list of fail-safe first grade favorites for summer.

Our 2010 First Grade Summer Reading List

A Birthday for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. Bear does not like birthdays. So, in the name of party-lovers everywhere, his friend Mouse goes undercover, delivering balloons, slipping bright red notes through the window, and even dressing up as Santa in the hopes of changing Bear’s mind. Can the world’s grumpiest birthday boy resist the big chocolate cake that arrives on his doorstep unannounced? Kids who loved the fantastic picture book, A Visitor for Bear, but who’ve grown since its release, will love this early chapter book from the same team. Just the right balance of lighthearted illustrations and more complex text to keep emerging readers occupied. (Candlewick, $15.99) Where to buy

Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade by Stephanie Green. It’s time for Posey to start first grade, and she’s finding the approaching changes a bit intimidating. For one, she won’t be able to wear her pretty pink tutu on the first day of school. Or will she? This adorable story about growing up eases kids’ concerns about starting “real” school and shows them they really can make a difference, even in an adult-run world. A little advanced for most incoming first graders to read by themselves, this book makes a wonderful bedtime story when shared together, especially as summer draws to a close. Get your little one hooked on reading with this offering, because it looks like the start to a delightful series! (Penguin, $12.99) Where to buy

Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet. Every day while her mother spends hot hours in the sun at the tea plantation, Tashi plays and shares fruit with her monkey friends. When her mother falls ill, Tashi tries to take her place on the plantation in order to pay for a doctor, but she is too small and the overseer sends her away.  The monkeys come to her rescue, with a basketful of magical “cloud tea” from high in the mountains, bringing the story to a sweet and fulfilling end. Beautiful, full-page illustrations captivate the imagination, and turn this original folk tale into an unforgettable film-like escape. A tale of love and devotion, the wonders of nature, and…tea. Take turns reading this aloud with your child, and you’re bound to spark a love of books. (Candlewick, $15.99) Where to buy

How to Clean a Hippopotamus by Robin Page. Why do crocodiles let plover birds sit in their mouths? What does a coyote get out of a friendship with a badger? And just what is the best way to clean algae from a hippo’s skin? This book explores one of the great mysteries of nature: animal symbiosis. In clear, yet scientifically accurate language, readers get down to the nitty-gritty of nature’s most unusual partnerships. The authors don’t shy away from unsavory details, such as the helpful way wolves tear open carcasses for the vultures. However, first graders tend to love these gory details, and if it helps get them fired up about science, that’s a good thing. The graphic novel format, with wonderful cut paper illustrations, helps to make the subject come alive. A great non-fiction read for summer. (Houghton Mifflin, $10.88) Where to buy

Andy Shane and the Barn Sale Mystery by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, illustrated by Abby Carter. This easy chapter book has an old-fashioned flair– it feels sweet and gentle, and most of all, unplugged. At its heart are Andy and Granny Webb, knee-deep in preparing to celebrate their un-birthdays. Andy wants to get Granny the best present ever, but his piggy bank is empty, so he spends the week collecting things his neighbors no longer want, then announces a Barn Sale. When his friend accidentally sells Granny’s favorite pair of binoculars, it’s up to them to deduct who bought them. But the real mystery here is how Jacobson manages to weave in lessons of kindness, materialism, and true friendship, without seeming the least bit preachy. (Candlewick, $14.99) Where to buy

Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures: The Mount Rushmore Calamity by Sara Pennypacker, created by Jeff Brown. It’s been 45 years since kids first got a glimpse of Flat Stanley, a regular boy smushed to just a half-inch thick by a falling bulletin board. Being flat is tough, but it makes being sent through the mail a breeze, and the original series sent Stanley on some truly fantastic adventures. This book marks the first in a series of new exploits for the first grade favorite who can fly like a kite and slip under door cracks, and bestselling author Pennypacker doesn’t disappoint. Not only will kids get a giggle over all the entertaining situations Stanley finds himself in, but they’ll get a little taste of geography, too, as Stanley traverses the country, and the globe. First stop: Mount Rushmore, where he prevents a rock slide, saves his brother from the bridge of Lincoln’s crumbling nose, and searches for gold. Flat out, fun! (HarperCollins, 2009, $15.99) Where to buy

2nd Grade

It’s tough to get kids practicing their academic skills over the summer months when all they want to do is have fun, but get them into a good book, and they won’t even notice they’re keeping their literacy skills sharp, they’ll just be engrossed in a great adventure!

“Summer reading is a time to enjoy the skills that children have worked so hard throughout the year to develop,” says Alicia Bell, a children’s librarian, member of the California Young Reader Medal Committee, and a literary advisor to GiftLit, an online retailer of hand-selected books.  “Free from the pressure of deadlines and classes, the richness of literature can become more comfortable, familiar and fluent. By the time they are back in school in September, new skills will have become a solid tool set.”

In search of some engrossing summer reads for your second grader? Look no further. We’ve combed the shelves for this list of brand new titles that will exhilarate, fascinate and, yes… educate.

Our 2010 Second Grade Summer Reading Picks

Magical Ms. Plum by Bonnie Becker. When a new crop of students enters Ms. Plum’s classroom in September, they’re not quite prepared for her unconventional way of teaching, or the fact that when students agree to fetch an eraser or a pen from her supply closet, they invariably come back with a miniature animal perfectly tailored to their personalities. Whether it’s a cat to purr a worrier’s cares away, or a parrot to show a know-it-all what it feels like to be constantly interrupted, the creatures from the closet nudge Ms. Plum’s students to play nice, be patient, look closely, and learn more of life’s other lessons. So is it Ms. Plum who’s magic, or the closet itself? Readers not quite ready for novels, or those who love listening to a tale read aloud, will love ambling through this chapter book to find out. (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $12.99) Where to buy

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. Images of stars with tails keep showing up in the most unlikely places: in the sand, in the sky, even in a pattern of shells. Moomintroll and his friend Sniff decide they need to figure out what’s going on., and so begins an unpredictable adventure brimming with muskrat philosophers, trouser-munching crocodiles, silk monkeys, and Snufkins. Few Americans have heard of author Tove Jansson, but in Finland, she’s a national hero and her books are as beloved as Winnie the Pooh or Alice in Wonderland. This grand adventure, full of unexpected twists, brings her work stateside, and not a moment too soon. Full of whimsical illustrations, delightful characters, and just plain wonderful writing, this is a book for every child’s library. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $7.99) Where to buy

Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Whether she’s fighting off swamp monsters with the help of underwater blender breathing apparatus, or using sonic-boom juice boxes to fend off a league of librarians attempting world domination, Lunch Lady is the perfect mix of spunk and sweetness to get the job done right. The unlikely heroine of this hilarious series of graphic novels flips burgers by day, but fights crime by night! Filled with fun, comic-style illustrations, and especially well-suited for reluctant readers, these books are presented in no particular order, so kids can start with whichever title strikes their fancy. (Random House, $5.99) Where to buy

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden. Full of excitement, but never scary, this tale of a virtuoso cricket and his cat and mouse companions is like an unexpected hug: warm, comforting, and the stuff of childhood memories. This grand adventure won a Newbery Honor, but that was way back in the 1960’s, so we’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of it. That said, if this book is new to you, run (don’t walk) to snag a copy. A fantastic read-aloud for kids up and down the age spectrum, this story of a street-smart city mouse and the country bumpkin cricket who arrives accidentally in the Times Square subway station is pure magic. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $6.99) Where to buy

Scream Street: Fang of the Vampire by Tommy Donbavand. You can’t always judge a book by its cover…or its title: this may look too scary for your second grader, but it is decidedly more exciting than scary. Luke has developed a bad habit of turning into a werewolf, that’s why his family was sent by the government to live on Scream Street, a housing project for vampires, witches, zombies, and ghosts. He’s making some cool friends, but his parents are terrified. Trying to get them home turns about to be a heap of trouble; to find the exit he must collect six powerful relics while being hunted down by an evil landlord. It’s a good thing his ghoulish friends come out to help his cause. With colorful characters and a strong message about the power of friendship, this is a great book for summer reading. Stay tuned for other books in this fantastic new series. (Candlewick, $5.99) Where to buy

The Sisters 8: Marcia’s Madness by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. Featuring talking cats, special powers, and a healthy dose of humor that’s even witty enough for parents to enjoy, this suspenseful mystery is sure to get a thumbs-up from fans of Lemony Snickett. The heroes? Eight sisters whose parents have gone missing, and who are bound and determined to get them back. This book is the fifth in the series, so kids may wish to start from the beginning, but there’s enough of a re-cap to catch readers up. And because this series is written by a family of authors, including an eight year-old, expect super kid-friendly dialogue. Bizarre and intriguing, yet still lighthearted, this book will leave your thrill-seeking reader begging for the next adventure! (Houghton Mifflin, $4.99) Where to buy

Our 2009 Second Grade Summer Reading Picks

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell. All kids sometimes wish that their parents would leave them alone. In Ottoline’s case, her parents have done just that. While they traverse the world, collecting interesting things, Ottoline and her best friend, Mr. Munroe (a small hairy creature from a bog in Norway), look after her parent’s collection of emperor’s hats, portable fishbowls, and leaking cups. When a series of lapdog burglaries sweeps across the city, Ottoline decides she’s just the girl to crack the case… This book’s breezy style, wonderful sense of humor, and quirky illustrations are spot on for this age group. Plus, with the next chapter book in this new series, Ottoline Goes to School, set to hit stores in late June, there’s a second installment almost ready to devour! (HarperCollins, 2007, $6.99) Where to buy

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great by Gerald Morris. For the kid in your life who can’t get enough of swords and such, comes a humorous take on one of the most famous knights of all time…Sir Lancelot. This silly romp has its share of adventure and escapades, but also explores the downside of being King Arthur’s most trusted knight, for example, having a trail of swooning marriage prospects and never being able to fit in a much-needed nap. Full of heart, humor, and plenty to keep the giggles going, this slim book is sure to please. (Sandpiper, 2008, $4.99) Where to buy

The Crane Wife by Odds Bodkin. If you’ve got a second grader who seems wiser than her years, this book might be just the ticket. A gracefully paced Japanese fable about a lonely sail maker and the mysterious woman who becomes his wife, the book does not move with the wham bam of today’s typical stories for kids. Yet it is full of atmosphere, secrets, and intrigue. Spun as tight and light as the sail of wind woven by his magical wife, the plot billows to its inevitable conclusion. Your child will likely hold her breath as the moral comes into sight. (Voyager Books, 1998, $6.00) Where to buy

The Dragon in the Sock Drawer by Kate Klimo. Ten-year-old cousins Daisy and Jesse have checked their houses for Narnia-like wardrobes and collected every magical-looking object they could get their hands on, but so far, they’ve remained boringly adventure-less. That is, until the rock Jesse finds on High Peak hatches and a helpless green baby pops out of it. A little research reveals that they are newly minted Dragon Keepers, but it also reveals that it’s up to them to keep their new friend safe from Saint George, an ancient dragon slayer who’d love to get his hands on this new specimen. (Yearling, 2008, $5.99)Where to buy

The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. This book may be a mom’s worst nightmare, but it’s a second grader’s dream. Full of the potty humor that typically gets kids sent to their room, it’s a truly silly story of two trouble-making boys who turn their grumpy principal into a jockey-clad superhero. Pilkey’s illustrations add much to the humor and the kid-appeal can’t be underestimated. While parents may wish their child wasn’t quite so keen to follow the adventures of an underwear-clad hero and a villain stopped in his tracks by rubber doggy doo, we say any series that has kids begging to read more is a great way to entice new readers to pick up a book. And if your kid likes this one, there’s a whole series waiting to fill his summer… (Scholastic, 1997, $5.99) Where to buy

3rd Grade

The summer before third grade is an exciting time for readers—they are able to read longer, more involved books with chapters and complex characters. “Third graders are in the nascent stages of developing their reading preferences,” says Deirdre Hockett, Vice Chairman of the Board of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and co-founder ofGiftLit, an online retailer of books hand-selected by experts. “Use the summer as a time to explore different genres and authors to find out what books really engage your child.” Stumped on where to find engrossing books for your burgeoning reader? We’ve got you covered. We’ve combed the shelves for new summer titles.

Our 2010 Third Grade Summer Reading Picks

The Unusual Mind of Vincent Shadow by Time Kehoe. A sweet and ingenious boy. An eccentric inventor. A contest of wit and creativity. Sound familiar? This wonderful book has all the delicious plot trappings of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, except this tale is all about inventing the most amazing toys you’ve never thought of. A water gun that never runs out of a water. A windless kit. Bubbles that can record sound. These ideas all come to Vincent in blinding visions that everyone else thinks is epilepsy, until he has the opportunity to show his gift to the world in a contest hosted by legendary toymaker Howard G. Whiz. An awesome story that’s just begging for a sequel. (Little, Brown and Company, $10.19) Where to buy

Noonie’s Masterpiece by Lisa Railsback. For the sensitive or art-loving kid, it doesn’t get much better than this whimsical, thoughtful hardcover about a little girl with a big imagination. Whether she’s showcasing her ingenious body painting or elaborate performance art, Noonie’s masterpieces generally go misunderstood, especially by her “temporary” family–the aunt, uncle, and cousin she’s been living with since her mom died. Noonie knows she could be the next Vincent Van Gogh or Frida Kahlo, if only she could get her dad back in the picture. She devises a plan: win the Grover Cleveland Art Contest, and her dad will simply have to come home. The problem? Classic artist’s block. This touching book teaches kids that a brilliant artist never quits. It’s not action packed, but for the right reader, the poignant storyline and splendidly eccentric illustrations make it downright magical. (Chronicle Books, $18.99) Where to buy

Hank Zipzer, The World’s Greatest Underachiever: A Brand-New Me! byHenry Winkler. This final installment in an ambitious 17-book series follows the engaging, relatable Hank Zipzer, as he gets ready to graduate from elementary school. Hank is stunned to discover that his two best friends will be attending Anderson, the “genius” school, while he’ll be stuck at MS 245 with all the “regular” kids. But Hank sure doesn’t feel like an ordinary kid! Based on the experiences of Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie in Happy Days, but grew up with dyslexia, this heartwarming story prompts the realization that everyone has their own unique strength, whether it be academic or otherwise. Moving and clever, it manages a gentle, lighthearted approach in dealing with learning differences. (Penguin, $4.99)Where to buy

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz. This is a classic fairy tale with a modern message about knowing when to be tough and when to negotiate. Not long after Flory was born, her wings were damaged when a bat mistook her for a moth. Now she is forced to live as a day fairy in a human garden, getting the occasional ride from the idiotic and always-hungry squirrel. As she grows older, she discovers that not every creature in the garden will bend to her will, and sometimes you have to give more than you get–a great lesson for blossoming egos. Full-page paintings by illustrator Angela Barrett are interspersed throughout the book, and give the reader a hook on which to suspend their disbelief. If you don’t believe in fairies after this, there’s no hope for you. (Candlewick, $11.55) Where to buy

Star in the Forest by Laura Resau. Sometimes when you’re down on your luck, all you need is a great dog. This well-written tale details tough times for Zitlaly: her father gets deported to Mexico on her eleventh birthday and her mother sells the truck to pay for a coyote to bring him back. In the midst of this drama, Zitlaly finds a stray dog tied to a rusted truck in the “forest” of junk behind her trailer. She befriends the dog, names him Star for a marking on his fur, and secretly begins to feed and care for him. On the day Star goes missing, Zitlaly’s family looses contact with her father, and she realizes that Star is her father’s spirit animal. Will her father, and Star, ever find their way home? A big-hearted story your child will remember for a long time. (Random House, $10.79) Where to buy

Our 2009 Third Grade Summer Reading Picks

Melonhead by Katy Kelly. Silly pranks, sweaty feet, and troublesome tree climbing may not be your idea of story fodder, but they’re just the right fuel to get this tale going. Ten-year old Adam Melon is a self-proclaimed expert on famous inventors and the intricacies of toilet paper. When his science teacher announces that every kid in the class will be competing in Challenge America!, an inventing fair, he figures he and his best friend Sam are a shoo-in for first prize. Now they just need to come up with an idea for something explosively cool, without making his mom nervous. A fun read full of pitch-perfect kid humor. (Delacorte Press, 2009, $12.99) Where to buy

Dessert First by Hallie Durand. It’s not always easy being eight. Dessert Schneider finds that out first hand, when her new teacher, Mrs. Howdy Doody, comes into class in her white snowball slippers and urges all her new third graders to learn to march to the beat of their own drummers. For Dessert, that means figuring out her own personal coat of arms, trying to convince her family to eat dessert before dinner, and doing her best to stay out of trouble. If only there weren’t so many temptations! Can Dessert resist? Soon-to-be third graders, especially those who’ve gotten their feet wet with easier chapter books, will enjoy the challenge of reading this confection on their own, while less advanced readers will enjoy it as a read-aloud. Either way, we bet kids will have trouble resisting Dessert! (Atheneum Books, 2009 $14.99) Where to buy

Wishworks, Inc. by Stephanie Tolan, illustrated by Amy June Bates. To distract himself from the struggles of being the new kid at school, Max imagines a great big dog at his side named King. King is the best dog a kid could want–he’s brave, loyal, and intelligent. Unfortunately, he is also highly fictional. When the shopkeeper of a mysterious store called “Wishworks, Inc.” guarantees any wish, you can guess what Max wants. But, when a small, ratty dog shows up at the door, he’s in for more than he expected. A thoughtful and magical read for kids getting into the groove of chapter books and real-to-life characters. (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009, $15.99) Where to buy

Ivy and Bean: Bound to Be Bad by Annie Barrows. Best friends Ivy and Bean are at it again in this fifth paperback installment in the popular series. When the two troublemakers decide that they are going to be so good and pure that wild animals will befriend them, they discover that being good is harder than it seems. Is a little badness a bad thing? Author Annie Barrows’ clever and kid-friendly wit, coupled with illustrations that give a kids-eye view of the world, make these books a hit with readers transitioning to chapter books. (Chronicle, 2009, $5.99) Where to buy

The Sisters Grimm: The Everafter War by Michael Buckley . There’s never a dull moment at Ferryport Landing, where Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, descendants of the Brothers Grimm, continue their adventures as “fairy-tale detectives” in this seventh installment of the bestselling series. In a world where fictional characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, or “Everafters,” are real, it takes everything the sisters have to solve magical mysteries and keep order among the Everafters, even as war is breaking out between Prince Charming’s Everafter Army and the dreaded Scarlet Hand. (Amulet Books, 2009, $5.96) Where to buy

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies. Jessie Treski can do complex math in her head, come up with grownup business plans, and figure out puzzles, but when it comes to understanding people, she’s at a loss. So when a letter arrives from school saying that not only will she be skipping third grade, but that she’ll be placed in her brother Evan’s class, she’s deliriously happy, and can’t understand why her brother isn’t. He declares war…and not just any war, a lemonade war: whoever makes the most money by week’s end gets to keep 100% of the winnings. The stakes are high in this chapter book about sibling rivalry, friendship, and fear, and math and money get a fresh, engaging spin. (Sandpiper, 2009, $5.99) Where to buy

4th Grade

Kids entering the fourth grade are on a roll with reading, and it’s important to keep that momentum going over the summer months. “Research consistently shows that summer reading halts the lag associated with extended periods of non-reading,” says Helen Huber, a veteran librarian and elementary school teacher, and a literary adviser for GiftLit, an online retailer of books hand-selected by experts. “Summer reading helps develop more sophisticated readers and can lead to a lifelong love of literature.”

Looking for a solid gold reading list to kick off the summer? Look no further. We’ve combed the shelves for new titles that have what it takes to engage fourth grade readers all summer long.

Our 2010 Fourth Grade Summer Reading Picks

Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve. This coming-of-age tale is served a la Wizard of Oz, with flavors reminiscent of Roald Dahl and Norton Juster. Eleven-year-old Polly lives on her family farm, but it’s not like any other farm. The rhubarb tastes like chocolate, the bugs can communicate, and it rains at exactly the same time every single day. Then, one day, the rain stops, her brother falls deathly ill, and Polly must use her unique relationship with the farm to bring back the rain and save her brother’s life. A well-crafted fantasy, with a message about the magic of nature that is perfect for the summer months. (Dial Books for Young Readers, $11.55) Where to buy

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. Looking for a heart-pounding but well-written series to keep kids flipping pages frantically all summer long? This page-turner, the first in a three book series, may be just the ticket. Like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or A Wrinkle in Time, this book features a regular child who unlocks a portal to another world. In this case, it’s Henry York, a 12-year-old boy sent to live on his aunt and uncle’s farm when his parents go missing. When strange noises are heard behind his bedroom wall, Henry scratches off the plaster to find ninety-nine mysterious cupboards, each of which leads to another world. But when his cousin goes missing, can Henry figure out how to get her back? This sometimes spooky, sometimes scary, and ultimately pitch-perfect adventure will leave kids biting their nails and begging for more. And good news: the next two installments have already hit the shelves! (Random House, $6.99) Where to buy

A Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup Imagine The Matrix, with sock puppets, and you’ll get the gist of this madcap adventure, full of secret government agents, “three attractive, polite, relatively odor-free children” and their mad scientist father. On the run from the corporate and government suits who would steal their most inventive device, The Cheeseman family must shield their identities as they remain on the lam. Narrated by the bizarre and verbose Dr. Cuthbert Soup, head of the National Center for Unsolicited Advice, this extremely quirky book will keep kids turning pages all summer! A silly, tongue-in-cheek pleasure of a read. (Bloomsbury, $11.55) Where to buy

The Dreamer by Paul Munoz Ryan. This book sketches the childhood of beloved poet Pablo Neruda in lyrical and heartfelt prose, interspersed with poetry and woven together with the uniquely stippled illustrations of Peter Sis. His harsh and overbearing father rejects his pensive walks in the woods, his lively imagination, and his collection of artifacts–the things that make him who he is. As young Neruda grows up, he learns about the plight of the indigenous Mapuche of his Chilean homeland, and realizes that while injustice may be a fact of life, it is something that he can fight…with words. This book grapples with serious themes, artistically handled, and is a celebration of the dreamer in all of us. (Scholastic, $12.23) Where to buy

Once by Morris Gleitzman. It’s 1942 in war-torn Poland, in a cold and crowded orphanage, and 10-year-old Felix has just found a whole carrot in his soup. He takes it as a sign, and embarks on a harrowing journey across Poland to find his parents. Along the way, he encounters Nazis, an orphan named Zelda, and the horrors of war. Narrated by Felix himself, Once gives readers a chance to view a horrific time in history through the eyes of a child. This beautiful story touches on some heavy themes surrounding the Holocaust–death, displacement, starvation–but it does so in a way that is at once gentle and profound. Through and through, a fantastic read. (Henry Holt and Company, $11.23)Where to buy

Our 2009 Fourth Grade Summer Reading Picks

Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run by Michael Hemphill and Sam Riddleburger. Stonewall Hinkleman is a snarky 7th grader whose parents regularly force him to participate in Civil War reenactments as the Bugle Boy. Needless to say, he’s not one bit happy about it. But through a series of uncontrollable events, Stonewall is hurled back in time along with his crush Ashby and her villainous father Dupree, right into the midst of the Battle of Bull Run. Stonewall must stop Dupree from changing the course of history. Along the way, he goes through a series of life-changing (and life-threatening) events. Great for girls and boys alike, this exciting page-turner will transport readers deep into the action of the Civil War. (Dial, 2009, $16.99) Where to buy

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart. Managing to balance a breathless adventure and language that doesn’t talk down to kids is no easy task, but Stewart proves the first time was no accident, with this worthy followup to his original gem. A classic tale of good versus evil, with rich characters, a crafty plot, and plenty of clues young readers can attempt to puzzle out themselves as they race to the end. Underneath all the high-wire action is a story that emphasizes the power of true friendship, loyalty, and courage– and the fact that kids, no matter how young, are capable of great emotion, courage, and brain power, and that being smart isn’t something to be ashamed of, but something of which to be proud. (Little Brown, 2009, $6.99) Where to buy

The Magic Thief: Lost by Sarah Prineas. Do you have a Harry Potter addict in the house? Stop bemoaning the fact that the series is over and grab her a copy of this fantastic alternative. At the crux of the series is former pickpocket Conn, who should have died when he attempted to steal a wizard’s very powerful locus stone. Because he did not, he’s of interest, and the wizard takes Conn on as an apprentice, with the stipulation that he must find his own locus stone within the month. But there’s evil afoot. Conn must discover who’s stealing the city’s supply of magic. In this newest installment, he comes face-to-face with the embodiment of evil itself. A gripping page-turner that will grab kids by the collar. If this doesn’t fire them up for reading, we don’t know what will! (HarperCollins, 2009, $16.99) Where to buy

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester. Piper McCloud is just another ordinary girl: a farmer’s daughter, with two loving but strict parents. Except that Piper can fly.  Once her talent is revealed to her gossip-loving hometown and made public, a chain of events is set into motion. Piper is sent to a school where her gift can be nurtured, and along the way, she meets some other rather extraordinary people. But as Piper knows all-too-well, not everything is always as it seems. This clever and fantastical book is a wonderful cross between X-Men and The Little Princess, making it the perfect summer reading for an advanced reader with a vivid imagination. (Feiwel & Friends, 2008, $16.95) Where to buy

5th Grade

Kids entering fifth grade definitely know what they like and dislike about everything … including books! Getting your child to read over the summer is all about finding just the right book. “Keep your fifth grader excited about reading this summer by helping them find fun and engaging books they’ll love,” says Mildred Vasan, an editor and literary expert for GiftLit, an online retailer of hand-selected books. “Series books are great for this age or stick with a genre that they like.”

Looking for fresh reading options for your fifth grader? Look no further. We’ve combed the shelves for new titles to spice up summer reading.

Our 2010 Fifth Grade Summer Reading Picks

Raider’s Ransom by Emily Diamand. It’s the 23rd century and much of what used to be Great Britain is under water: Scotland has stretched its arms to gobble up more territory, and England is now just Ten Counties barely scraping by. When Lilly’s fishing village is invaded by Raiders and the Prime Minister’s daughter is kidnapped, the entire citizenry is suspected of treason. Armed with her wits, a barely floating sailboat, a mysterious jewel to trade as ransom, and a magical seacat, Lilly sets off on a brave journey to free the little girl. Suspenseful, intriguing, and teeming with pirates, technology, and danger, this book reads almost like historical fiction, even though it takes place in an unexpected future. Great characters, high seas adventure, and a racing plot will keep even reluctant readers interested. (The Chicken House, $12.23) Where to buy

The Shadows by Jacqueline West. When Olive and her parents move into a mysterious old mansion, it doesn’t take long for her to realize that something isn’t right. Maybe it’s the talking cat, maybe it’s the moving paintings … but Olive knows that she needs to solve the mystery of the old house, before it’s too late. Full of magic and mystery, this spine-tingling tale features a spunky heroine and first-rate story-telling.The best part? It’s the first in a series called The Books of Elsewhere, so stay tuned for more installments of magic and mystery! (Dial, $11.55) Where to buy

The Lost Tales of Ga’ Hoole by Kathryn Lasky. Want more Ga’Hoole? This collection of stories that follows the popular 15-book series, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, is just the ticket. The fantasy-filled anthology chronicles the forgotten beginnings–giving followers a final glimpse into the enchanted owl kingdom. Filled with bad guys, heroism, and a lovable main character, it’s mesmerizing from the very first page. But if your kid hasn’t yet discovered the captivating world of Ga’Hoole, it’s best to start with The Capture. And with a 3D film,Legend of the Guardians, hitting theaters in September, it’s set to be all the rage this summer. (Scholastic, $6.99) Where to buy

Simon Bloom: The Octopus Effect by Michael Reisman. Simon Bloom and his friends, Owen and Alysha, are not your normal, everyday seventh graders. Because normal, everyday seventh graders don’t usually play games with the laws of physics. In Simon Bloom: The Octopus Effect, the second installment of this sci-fi series, we find Simon and his friends at it again with their sworn enemy, Sirabetta, who is now more determined than ever to take over all of the Teacher’s Editions of Physics–a powerful collection of knowledge about the physical world. Simon, as the Keeper of the Teacher’s Editions, along with the help of his friends, must travel to the realm of the Order of Biology and use the Octopus Effect to stop her. This hilarious and enthralling sequel to Simon Bloom: The Gravity Keeper will take you to the edge of reason and the edge of your seat. (Dutton, $12.23) Where to buy

Is It Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman. It’s 1937, and life is harrowing for Jews in Germany. Desperate to get their daughter out, Edith’s parents send her to live with a set of American relatives she’s never met. But Chicago couldn’t be more different than her small German village. Bullied at school and worked to the bone by her aunt, she waits anxiously for her parents to arrive. There is no fairytale ending here—far from it—but this spare, well-written historical novel teems with universal themes to which all tweens can relate. Sometimes heartbreaking, always eloquent, this is a fascinating look at one girl’s narrow escape from Nazi Germany as part of the real-life One Thousand Children Project. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $12.23) Where to buy

Charlie Bone and the Red Night by Jenny Nimmo. Unabashedly Harry Potter-like, but still a thrilling and bewitching read all on its own, the Charlie Bone series is a page-turning adventure. With his dear friend Billy, trapped 900 years in the past, and his parents hopelessly off on vacation, Charlie must find a way to put a stop to the evil Bloor family once and for all. There is a will hidden deep within the magical Bloor’s Academy that names Billy the rightful inheritor of the Academy, but the Bloor family, determined to take over the Academy, will stop at nothing in destroying the will. The series should definitely be read as a whole in order to experience the full breadth of what Nimmo’s storytelling has to offer. (Orchard Books, $9.35) Where to buy

The Fizzy Whiz Kid by Maiya Williams. As a sixth grader who changes schools every other year, Mitch Mathis has come up with a few rules for surviving a new school: don’t wear pants that are too short, don’t wear brand-new white sneakers, don’t hang out with the class egghead, and, most importantly, DON’T STAND OUT. Mitch and his parents have just moved to Hollywood, California, and it’s week one at Cecil B. DeMille Elementary. Already things aren’t looking good: he wasn’t named after a famous actor, he got a wedgie on the very first day, and his dad came to career day dressed as a cockroach. Mitch knows something has to change…and fast. Can an open casting call save him from being dubbed the class weirdo for the rest of the year? Snappy dialogue, quirky characters, and lighthearted humor make this sweet story about fitting in a fun and refreshing summer read. (Amulet Books, $9.38) Where to buy

Our 2009 Fifth Grade Summer Reading Picks

The Mousehunter by Alex Milway. Mice may not be too popular in ourworld, but in Emiline’s world, people don’t run from them screaming: they collect them! Mousehunters roam to the far reaches of the earth, seeking out the most unique breeds – from the fearsome Sharpclaw to the rope weaving Rigger mouse. Twelve-year-old Emiline dreams of becoming a famous mousehunter, and one day, fate intervenes when she’s given the chance to join the crew of Captain Devlin Drewshank and hunt down the infamous pirate Mousebeard. What follows is a high sea adventure full of mythical sea creatures, double-crossing pirates, mysterious islands, and of course, incredibly interesting mice. (Little Brown Young Readers, 2009, $15.99) Where to buy

Ranger’s Apprentice Book One: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan. Choosing Day is the most important day in the life of a castle ward– the day when Baron Arald gives each of the ward orphans the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply to be apprenticed to a master craftsperson. When Will gets chosen to become a Ranger, he’s horrified. Mysterious, magical, and somewhat scary, Rangers (particularly his new master, Halt) have always made him nervous. But there’s a lot more to being a Ranger than stalking around in the shadows, and soon Will learns that the kingdom’s safety rests in their hands. Your child will thrill to the unfolding of this heart-poundingly great adventure. And the best news? There are half a dozen sensational followups in the series, once she’s gobbled this one up.Book 6: The Siege of the Macindaw, a race of a read, full of humor, friendship, and nail-biting tension, will be released this August. We dare even the most reluctant fifth grade reader to resist this series! (Puffin, 2006, $7.99) Where to buy

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. It’s the summer of 1899, and 11-year-old Calpurnia Tate does not want to be knitting, cooking, and preparing to be a respectable lady. She’d much rather be a naturalist, exploring the streams and fields of her Texas home with her eccentric grandfather. The only girl in a family of six brothers, Calpurnia has her work cut out for her, as she must contend with piano lessons, a bevy of brothers wooing her best friend, and the societal norms that dictate what girls can and can’t do, all the while trying to get a new species recognized by the National Geographic Society. This delightful and rich debut novel blends historical fiction with a curious, clear-eyed, and extremely funny female protagonist. A straight up great read. (Henry Holt and Co., 2009, $16.99) Where to buy

Toby Alone by Timothee de Fombelle. Toby is only one and a half millimeters tall, but he has some big problems. Toby’s father, a famous scientist, has discovered an inconvenient truth about the oak tree they inhabit–the tree’s lifegiving sap is running out due in part to over-development. Now Toby is on the run from the builders who control things, with a mission to save his parent’s lives and that of the tree itself. For kids just wanting to enjoy a swashbuckling, albeit dark, adventure–it’s all in there, just add imagination. For kids ready and willing for allegory–this tale presents a thoughtful look at the exploitation of natural resources. Originally published in France in 2006 and already translated into 22 languages, this is one huge adventure. (Candlewick Press, 2008, $11.42)Where to buy

39 Clues: Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson. Siblings Dan and Amy Cahill are on a mission to find clues to unlock the secret of their family’s incredible history, and make them the most powerful people in the world. The only catch? They’re competing with a very large, and very dangerous, extended family. In this fourth installment of the acclaimed 39 Clues series, Dan and Amy, betrayed by their cousins and abandoned by their uncle, jet off to Egypt on the trail of another clue. On arriving, they get a message from their dead grandmother. Should they trust the message, or disregard it? Like previous books in the series, this one features a healthy portion of history, and a fascinating multimedia component that includes collectible cards and an online world where your child can get in on the clue chasing. (Scholastic, 2009, $7.79) Where to buy

The Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins. Ludlow Fitch escapes his rotten life in the big city, by flinging himself onto the back of a carriage heading for the remote countryside. He arrives in the village of Pagus Parvus, and gets hired as the assistant to a mysterious pawnbroker– a man who pays people for their deepest darkest secrets. Ludlow’s job is to write the villagers’ secrets down in an ancient leatherbound book. But when the town’s richest man decides the pawnbroker must be stopped, both Ludlow and his mentor are in grave danger. Fifth graders will love this suspenseful tale, but parents, breathe easy– while it’s full of danger and anticipation, its bark is worse than its bite. There’s nothing here to give your child nightmares…just enough danger to keep him under the covers with a flashlight, turning pages like mad! (Feiwel and Friends, 2007, $14.95) Where to buy

Middle School

Remember that look in your child’s eyes the the first time she started to read on her own? Even though the novelty may have worn off your adolescent by now, with the right book in her hand she can rediscover the joy of reading. “Reading books over the summer is like going on lots of vacations instead of just one. Every time you are in a book you are visiting a new place, meeting new people, and having new adventures,” says Martha Jackson, veteran librarian and a literary advisor for GiftLit, an online retailer of books hand-selected by experts. “It’s the greatest ‘staycation’ ever.”

Does your child need a little convincing? We’ve searched high and low for new titles to entice even the most reluctant of middle school readers.

Our 2010 Middle School Summer Reading Picks

The Game of Sunken Places by M. T. Anderson. Your kids have probably read a book where children arrive at a distant relative’s house in the country, only to discover all is not what it seems. But they’ve never read a book quite like this one. This deliciously suspenseful, oftentimes creepy, and surprisingly funny fantasy hurtles forward from the very first sentence, keeping even the most reluctant reader guessing until the final page. The plot centers around two boys, Gregory and Brain, who travel to an uncle’s remote Vermont mansion and discover an ancient board game that plays out in the real world—revealing its spaces as the game progresses. At stake? Only a centuries-old feud between two spirit nations, fighting for control. The boys must dodge ogres and befriend trolls as they negotiate the dark reaches of the heavily forested property and race to win the game before their time runs out. A gripping summer read for any reader. (Scholastic, $6.99)Where to buy

Forest Born by Shannon Hale. The fourth installment in the Books of Bayern, a series by the acclaimed author of Princess Academy, this adventure blends the kind of strong heroines and inventive storytelling that make modern fantasy tales a success. Rin is “forest born,” and can sense the language of trees .. but she senses other powers in herself that could turn her toward evil. When Rin accompanies the Fire Sisters Isi, Enna, and Dasha to protect the kingdom from the threat of a powerful usurper, she must learn to use her powers, or risk letting them use her. A great read with a hefty dash of friendship, romance and excitement, this series is sure to delight. Start with the first book, The Goose Girl, for an added treat! (Bloomsbury, $12.23) Where to buy

Scat by Carl Hiaasen. What do an orphaned panther cub, a wounded soldier returned from Iraq, a Floridian swamp, a missing biology teacher and a would-be arsonist all have in common? They’re all part of Carl Hiaasen’s latest eco-thriller, Scat. When the despised Mrs. Starch goes missing during a fiery field trip to Black Vine Swamp, Nick Waters suspects Duane Scrod Jr. (aka “Smoke”) is involved, and he intends to get to the bottom if it all. Meanwhile Drake McBride, a businessman as oily as his trade, decides to drill for oil in Black Vine Swamp, endangering the protected wildlife in his search for “black gold.” Several plots converge into one gripping story that will delight both teens and adults. Hiaasen’s wickedly witty prose and exceptionally entertaining plot twists don’t distract from his timely and relevant message, which is what ultimately makes this book so captivating. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $8.99) Where to buy

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. With World War II in full swing, the Carver family decides to get out of the city and relocate to a small oceanside village. But something about their new house just isn’t right. The cat who followed them home seems somehow human and the cobwebbed garden of statues just beyond Max’s window seems to shift ever so slightly… or is that just his imagination? Soon Max, his sister Alicia, and their new friend Roland learn of a mysterious death that took place in the house and a dangerous being called The Prince of Mist. Full of spare, evocative writing and a pounding plot, this page turner from the author of the international sensation Shadow of the Windfeels deep, gentle, and frightening at the same time. For a mature middle school reader, it’s a winner. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $10.52) Where to buy

The Case of the Gypsy Good Bye: An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer. This is a great little mystery; the final book of a series featuring the brilliant and courageous Ms. Enola Holmes, who works sometimes in competition with, and sometimes in cooperation with, her more famous brother. Enola also happens to be just 15 years old, making her a perfect heroine for pre-teen girls. In this case, Enola is searching for the missing Lady Blanchefleur del Campo, while also trying to decipher a mysterious message from her estranged mother, and dodging her overbearing brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock. Smart writing takes the reader deep into a dark and elegant Victorian England. The vocabulary is tricky, and may require a couple of trips to the dictionary, but the reader is rewarded with a wry and deliciously witty tale. (Philomel, $10.19) Where to buy

Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman. This book is a great guide to transitioning from middle school to high school, and pre-teens soon to bridge that gap will appreciate the very realistic look at one girl’s struggle to fit in, be herself, and do the right thing. Charlie Heaney wants to start her high school career with a clean slate (read: without the influence of former “frenemies.”) The year starts out well, she makes a new group of friends and scores a freshman column in the school newspaper. But it turns out drama isn’t completely unavoidable, and when she discovers dangerous hazing rituals on the Lacrosse team, she is faced with a difficult moral decision. Told in candid and humorous first-person narrative, this is one protagonist any adolescent can identify with. (Putnam, $12.23) Where to buy

The Farwalker’s Quest by Joni Sensel. When a magical artifact boding of danger arrives in the sleepy seaside village of Canberra Docks, 13-year-old Ariel knows her world is about to change. After two mysterious strangers kidnap her, Ariel unwittingly starts on a quest that will lead her to the truth of the artifact’s cryptic message and introduce her to a few unlikely friends along the way. Featuring talking stones, clairvoyant trees, and one very mischievous ghost, this fast-paced tale of adventure and courage is sure to suck readers in from page one. Endearing characters and plenty of action and suspense make it a great read for boys and girls alike. For those who fall in love with The Farwalker’s Quest, don’t miss its equally exciting sequel, The Timekeeper’s Moon. (Bloomsbury, $7.99) Where to buy

Our 2009 Middle School Summer Reading Picks

The Prince of Fenway Park by Juliana Baggott. It’s been a seriously long time since the Red Sox won a World Series. Eighty-six years, in fact. Rumor has it they’re cursed, and twelve-year-old Oscar Egg can relate, because he feels like he’s cursed, too. When Oscar is foisted off on his usually absent dad for the summer, he finds out that the curse is real, and that the secret to breaking it lies somewhere below Fenway Park. Oscar’s dad and the rest of the Cursed Creatures have been doomed to live out life below the park until the curse is broken. Strange thing is, Oscar knows he’s the one to break it… This book is a homerun for any kid, girl or boy, with an interest in baseball. But Baggott hits it out of the park with a tight plot, fantastic characters, and a riveting story full of suspense. Even if sports are of no interest, your child will find it hard to put this magical book down. (HarperCollins, 2009, $16.99) Where to buy

Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem . Lucy dreams of becoming the next Jane Goodall. Her mom is the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, so you’d think she’d have her pick of adventures. But instead of allowing her to explore the exotic world around her, Lucy’s mom restricts her movement to school and the ambassador’s residence. Sick of living under strict rules, Lucy sneaks off to a local music club and the unthinkable happens…she gets kidnapped. Can her passion for life in the African bush and her knowledge of the animals that live there help her escape? From sleeping in trees to avoid a pack of screeching hyenas, to a close encounter with a pride of lions, this slim book will keep your middle schooler’s heart racing, while providing a fascinating glimpse into a far-flung part of the world. (Chronicle, 2009, $16.99) Where to buy

The Unnameables by Ellen Booraem. 14-year-old Medford Runyuin has never quite fit in on the island where he washed ashore as a baby, where Useful things are valued above all else and Useless things that serve no practical purpose (like seabirds, fun, and artistic expression) are scorned and sometimes forbidden. He is training to become a Carver, but can’t help himself from creating beautiful embellishments that are not only Useless, they are Unnameable. And in the island syntax where cows are referred to as “Great Horned Milk Creatures,” the Unnameable is a serious threat. When a stranger arrives on the island, trailing chaos behind him, the insular island community will have to confront the unnameable in this engaging page-turner that introduces questions of aesthetics and growing up, with plenty of unique characters and plot twists to keep readers guessing until the very last page. (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2008, $16.00) Where to buy

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones. Charmain Baker is smart. But because her parents have sheltered her from absolutely everything, she doesn’t know how to do anything by herself, except eat (huge piles of pasties and pies) and read. When a distant relative gets ill, she’s nominated to watch over his house until he recovers. Trouble is, the distant relative is a wizard. Charmain finds herself in a house with invisible hallways, talking rooms, and mysterious spell books. Full of quirky twists, interesting characters, and unusual plot turns, this sequel to the very popular Howl’s Moving Castle, is a cozy read to stick in a pocket and curl up with when the mood strikes. Imaginative and delightful. (HarperCollins, 2008, $17.99) Where to buy

Peeled by Joan Bauer . Hildy Biddle is the go-to reporter for The Core, Banesville’s high school newspaper. When a break-in and a dead body materialize, the town’s fears of a long-abandoned haunted house begin to stir up all sorts of speculation, and Hildy is on the case. Throw in a less-than-ethical town newspaper reporter, a group of greedy developers, a cute new boy in school, and a possible ghost, and you’ve got a kid-friendly journalistic romp that’s fit for front page news. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008, $16.99) Where to buy

What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire. Three siblings have been surviving on whatever food and water they can scavenge after a natural disaster leaves them stranded. With their parents gone and only a distant cousin there as guardian, the humble party distracts themselves with the cousin’s story of the skibbereen, also known as tooth fairies. The story details the growing pains of one orphaned skibbereen named What-the-Dickens, as he learns of a skibbereen’s life mission: to deliver wishes to humans. On his adventures, he makes the acquaintance of a house cat, a bird, a tiger, a lonely boy, and a fellow skibbereen named Pepper, who teaches him love, friendship, and the ins-and-outs of the job. This quirky story from the author of Wickedmakes for a fun summer read, while also encouraging readers to make deeper thematic links between two story lines–great practice for the literary analysis to come in high school. (Candlewick, 2007, $8.99) Where to buy

High School

Throughout the school year, your teen has used books as one of the primary ways of gathering information and understanding new concepts. Summer is your teen’s chance to read what she wants to read, just for the joy it brings. And, while she might not realize it, she’s also keeping her vocabulary skills and reading fluency in shape. We know getting kids to put down the phone and pick up a book can be a challenge, especially during the carefree summer months, so we’ve looked high and low for exciting new titles for young adults. Here’s our list of favorites to exhilarate, fascinate, and yes, educate.

Our 2010 High School Summer Reading Picks

The Keeper’s Tattoo by Gill Arbuthnott. Nyssa has lived with her adoptive parents ever since she turned up on their doorstep at the age of four. All she had were the clothes on her back, a broken flute, and a strange tattoo on her forearm. Everything changes when a boat of Shadowmen arrive on the island, looking for descendents of a clan they thought had been destroyed. Could Nyssa be the chosen one the evil Alaric has been searching for all these years? This fast-paced tale weaves an imagined age of darkness, treachery, and rebellion with a tone and style reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings. A great choice for boys and girls alike, especially reluctant readers. (Scholastic, $12.95) Where to buy

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. This YA novel does the impossible: it makes a book about relationships, whether romances or friendships, gay or straight, not only readable, but enjoyable for the hard-to-reach high school boy as well as girl. It accomplishes this through an inventive plot, a talented duo of authors, and language that speaks to the way real teens think and speak (not to how their parents might want them to). This means that there’s a fair amount of bad language and frank references to sex, depression, and homosexuality…and that’s precisely why a high schooler might want to read it. Under the candor is a warm and compelling story full of humor and love, told from the eyes of two Will Graysons. One is a depressed gay teen whose only happiness comes from his Internet boyfriend. Another is a straight teen with a penchant for complicated friendships. When the two Wills cross paths, they both head in a new direction in this frank and frequently hilarious read. (Dutton, $11.69) Where to buy

If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Bound for Julliard, teeming with talent, and deeply in love with her family, seventeen-year-old Mia immediately captures the head and heart of the reader. A bloody and brutal car accident changes Mia’s life forever. Everything else falls away and she is left with only one choice–a choice between life and death. This heart-breakingly beautiful novel is not only a fantastic read, but it does something that every good book should do: it touches the reader in a way that is personal and potentially life changing. Forman’s ability to articulate the deepest and most human of thoughts and emotions will keep the pages turning and your heart racing. (Dutton, $8.99) Where to buy

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien. Reminiscent of both 1984 and a Brave New World, this gripping page-turner is a perfect intro to futuristic, dystopian fiction. Set in the 2400’s, the story follows Gaia, a midwife, on her quest to track down her parents and uncover the secrets of the oppressive regime that her family so dutifully serves. But to do so, she must make her way inside the walls of the Enclave. The hitch: with half her face covered in scars, she sticks out like a sore thumb among a government-cultivated population that’s been bred to perfection. Readers accompany the novel’s inspiring heroine on an undertaking brimming with danger, intrigue, and romance. And with lessons about DNA, vocabulary-building, and thinking for yourself, there’s major educational value, too. (Roaring Book Press, $16.99) Where to buy

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. Forced to grapple with her intense grief after the sudden death of her older sister, 17-year-old Lennie tells a coming-of-age story that has a little bit of everything. Beautifully poetic verses, brutally honest narration, and a full spectrum of emotions make this book a heartbreaking masterpiece. Anyone who has ever experienced tragedy, the strength of the bond between sisters, or has lived a day in the life of an adolescent girl will find something to identify with here. But parents should be aware that this book is unabashedly real: it contains a few slightly graphic sexual passages, references to marijuana, underage drinking, and other genuine issues teens encounter. If yours is ready to face these topics in literature, she’ll definitely be in for a treat with more depth than the average high school novel. (Dial Books for Young Readers, $17.99) Where to buy

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkarraman. Fifteen-year-old Vidya is the odd girl out in British-occupied India. While her friends dream of the perfect arranged marriage, she wants nothing more than to head to college. Just as it appears she might achieve the impossible, tragedy strikes, and she’s sent to live in the traditional household of her grandfather, where the men live upstairs and the women are segregated below. Set against the backdrop of World War II and the simultaneous protests of Mahatma Ghandi, this tale of teenage rebellion and finding one’s place in the world will sit just right with teenagers fighting their own battle for independence, but happy to get swept away in a lush setting ripe with charged emotions. An atmospheric historical novel, with a bit of romance thrown in. (Putnam, $16.99) Where to buy

Our 2009 High School Summer Reading Picks

Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji. Seventeen-year-old Pasha Shahed is enjoying one of his last summers at home in a middle-class neighborhood in Tehran. He is like many teens–gently spurning the worries of his overbearing mother, hanging out on the roof with his friend Ahmed, and thinking about his future. Except that it’s 1973, and Iran is under the harsh reign of the Shah. Pasha’s idyllic world begins to crumble when he falls in love with his next door neighbor, betrothed since birth to another man. All of a sudden he finds himself breaking centuries-old Persian traditions, and thrown into the middle of a dangerous revolution. A funny and heart-wrenching, sweet and dark, coming of age love story, set to the true-to-life backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. (Penguin Group, 2009, $10.20) Where to buy

The Compound by S. A. Bodeen. This boy-friendly thriller reads like a summer blockbuster, but has an emotional edge that gives it extra kick. When nuclear attack seems imminent, 15-year-old Eli’s billionaire father rushes the family into “the compound”, a lavish underground sanctuary where they are to wait out the 15 years before it’s safe to come out. But while Eli, his parents, and his two sisters make it in time, Eli’s grandmother and twin brother Eddy are stranded outside. Six years later, dulled by grief and the monotony of life underground, Eli encounters a horrible secret far worse than the family’s dwindling food supply, as he must face hard truths about his father — and himself — in order to save his family. Equal parts dystopian fantasy, detective story, and family drama, this book makes up for its sometimes far-fetched conceits by delivering a rollicking ride to the very end. (Feiwel & Friends, 2008, $16.95) Where to buy

Impossible by Nany Zwerlin. It isn’t until Lucy Scarborough is 17 years old that she realizes the full significance of the secret letter she found on her seventh birthday. The magical past Lucy never knew she had, quickly becomes the reality that she must fight to survive. This fast-paced fairy tale inspired by the song “Scarborough Fair” is set in contemporary times, with just enough interplay between magic and realism to plunge the reader headfirst into this romantic thriller. Mature issues such as teen pregnancy, date-rape and teen marriage run throughout the twists and turns of the storyline, but above all, the story communicates a theme that teens will find deeply satisfying: no destiny is unchangeable, especially where the magic of true love is concerned. (Speak, 2009, $9.99) Where to buy

The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong. This teen thriller, the second book in the Darkest Powers series, is a mash-up of 1984 and Twilight. Chloe is a teenage necromancer who can raise the dead without even trying. She and her supernatural friends have discovered that they are part of an grand experiment: doctors at The Edison Group are altering their gene codes to suppress their supernatural abilities. Now, they are on the run to find someone who can help them, while Chloe begins to learn more about how to wield her own powers. The characters are realistic; each has flaws and insecurities which, when combined with their supernatural abilities, make for great drama! The pages of this suspenseful read will fly by, and your teen will be looking for the next book in the series before the summer is out. Unfortunately, she’ll have to wait until “The Reckoning” is released in May of 2010. (HarperCollins Publishers, 2009, $17.99) Where to buy

Genesis by Bernard Beckett. In the not-so-distant future, young Anaximander is called to undergo the grueling oral entrance exam for The Academy. Through her narrative, she relates the history of her Orwellian civilization, the last outpost of a world decimated by a plague, and guides readers through an edge-of-your-seat exploration of humans and robots, consciousness and thought, morality and the meaning of humanity. At just 150 pages long, this book offers a short dive into a deep subject that’s sure to engage cerebral readers with a thought-provoking and suspenseful exploration of complex issues. Although the philosophical subject matter is heavy, the book’s tightly written narrative and nail-biting backstory will have readers rushing to the final shocking plot twist. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009, $20.00) Where to buy

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 29, 2012 3:54 pm

    I’m late to the party but thank you for including my Melonhead on your summer reading list!
    With gratitude,
    Katy Kelly
    Melonhead and the Big Stink
    Melonhead and the Undercover Operation
    Melonhead and the Vegalicious Disaster – pub date Sept 2011

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