Monday, June 02, 2014

How to Choose Summer Reading Books for Your Kids + Our Summer Reading Lists

The benefits of summer reading for kids are too large to ignore. Encourage your kids to read over the summer by gifting them a pile of books as soon as school is out.

This post is part of an ongoing Summer Reading for Kids series. Click HERE to find ideas for reading activities, reading lists, and reading incentives...and keep checking back for more!

I first started choosing summer reading books for my children in 2011 when I read an article about summer learning loss. Of course, I have looked and looked and cannot find said article again, but it said that if kids read just one book a week during the summer, they have significantly less learning loss and they are much better prepared for the following school year.

That first year, I actually chose all twelve books for my kids. Bad idea! They still wanted to choose some of their own reading material. Duh.

In my excitement to start a summer reading tradition for them, I hadn't thought of that. No matter, they read part of what was in their reading bins, and they read many other books of their own choosing. Each of them read well over 12 books that summer, and I was thrilled.

Studies show that by reading just 12 books over the summer can help lessen summer learning loss and keep kids' minds sharp.

Now I choose 6 or 7 books to go in their reading bins. I don't care if they read all of them or not.

I have incentives in place for them to actually read 12 books over the summer, and they usually read more than that so I am happy.

The books I choose to put in their reading bins are books that they might not have heard of or probably wouldn't choose for themselves. I'd like them to expand their reading options, and so far it has been a great experience for all of us. They usually read and enjoy most of what I put in their bins.

How to choose summer reading for your kids:

1. Google the summer reading lists that many schools issue for each grade. 

I find a wealth of information this way and get a really good idea of which books are right for their age group and reading level. I also find many newer books I haven't heard of, as well as the classics that I already know about. I also Google which books won awards this year and why.

Once I've googled the lists, I also try to google more information about the books I haven't heard of—just to make sure they are appropriate for my kids in topic and reading level.

2. See what's already on your shelves.

We have a lot of books at my house. So, I go through these lists and check off books we already own. I don't necessarily put them all in the pile, but it's good for me to realize what we already have.

3. Make a list of the books you think your kids will like most.

I first make a list of the more interesting books from the lists that I do not own. I try to keep in mind which genres each of my kids like the most, but I also try to pick things that are a little out of their comfort zones, too. 

4. Try to choose a mix of different books.

I like to choose a nice mix of both classics and more modern books, and a mix of thick and thin books. I don't want to overwhelm them with a bin full of big, fat tomes, nor do I want to overwhelm them with all classics.

I also don't want to have the opposite problem occur. I take into account the genres they already love to read, and make sure a couple books I know they will like are included, but I also include other genres to help them branch out and perhaps find new favorites.

5. Finalize your lists and make their book bins!

I usually make up their bins of 3-4 books we already own, and 2-3 books that I purchase new for them. The Maestro often earns a nice Amazon gift card at the end of his school year, and I always use it for summer reading for the kids. This year I only spent 9 dollars out of pocket on 7 new books due to his gift card.

I also head to thrift stores and sometimes garage sales to keep an eye out for the books that are on my lists for the year. I try to make the lists early enough that I have time to find the books at the best prices possible and still have them ready for the first day of summer.

On the first day of summer (usually the day after the last day of school), we have a summer kickoff party where we discuss our plans and goals for the summer. This is when I gift them with their book bins.

I'm pretty sure it's one of their favorite things about that party—they carefully go through their new books and pick the one they want to start with and I can usually find them reading it for the rest of the day.

The benefits of summer reading are much too great to ignore. There are so many great ways to keep your kids reading this summer—start it off right by choosing some appropriate books for their summer reading piles and gifting them on the first day of summer!

Bria was really excited when, in the first week of 7th grade English, she found out she would have to read Animal Farm by George Orwell. She came home and told me that because it was in her bin that summer, she read it and was already that much ahead! Plus, her teacher was pretty impressed that she'd read a book like that on her own already.

This is just one of the benefits of choosing some literature for your kids to read over the summer that they might not otherwise choose for themselves. There are so many good things about expanding their literature horizons!

I find my kids are much more willing to try books they aren't sure about now that we've been doing this summer reading program at home. They don't always love every book, but they like way more books than not.

And best of all, they are learning to love reading!

Our book lists for Summer 2014—9th grade, 6th grade, and 3rd grade:

Summer reading books for a 9th grader—reading list ideas appropriate for a high school freshman

Bria's books (age 13, will be a Freshman in the Fall)(no, I don't want to talk about it.):

Life as We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis 

Bria most enjoys dystopian literature and has pretty much read it all. She recently saw the movie Ender's Game and enjoyed it, so I thought she might like to read the book.

Life as We Knew It is also a good end of the world sort of read (I loved it), and The Maze Runner is one she's just never read for some reason.

The Alchemist is a book I found on many Freshman reading lists, and one that I personally really liked. I had a copy of it once, but lent it out to somebody and never got it back, so it gave me an excellent excuse to buy a new copy. 
For more classic books, The Chronicles of Narnia (she has mentioned wanting to read them), The Great Gatsby, and Tuesdays With Morrie

Summer reading books that are age appropriate for a 6th grader

Chloe's books (age 11, will be a 6th grader in the Fall)(that's middle school, and no, still don't want to talk about it):

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Star Girl by Jerry Spinelli
Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Chloe hasn't really settled on a favorite genre and reads pretty much anything and everything. She also seems to LOVE everything she reads, but that's just how Chloe is.

I got her The Invention of Hugo Cabret because she loves art so much and this book is mostly (amazing) illustration. Dead End in Norvelt and When You Reach Me are both more recently published, both with much acclaim. I've read both of them myself and I know Chloe will really enjoy them. 

Inkheart is one I'm not sure about for her, but it was on a list I saw and also on our shelves, so it went into the bin.  Half a Chance and Stargirl both looked like easy, fun summer reads, and for a classic read, I chose A Wrinkle in Time. It figures heavily into When You Reach Me, so I thought it would be fun to read both books this summer.

Age appropriate summer reading book ideas for a 3rd grader

Sophia's books (turning 8 in July, will be a 3rd grader in the Fall)

About Average by Andrew Clements
Only Emma by Sally Warner
Charlotte's Web by EB White
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Sophia has been much more into reading "big books" this year and has even recently tackled an abridged version of Little Women! She is going to do Charlotte's Web for her Book Club this summer, and a friend of hers is also going to do a book club and chose Pippi Longstocking (not pictured—still on its way from Amazon!). 
The other classic read I chose for her is Sarah, Plain and Tall. Chloe loved it at Sophia's age, and since it's not long or daunting at all, I think Sophia will enjoy it. 

The Candy Shop War may be the biggest book she will have read to date, but I think she will have fun with it! 
The rest (The BFG, Only Emma, and About Average) are fun and easy. I hope to see her reading a lot this summer—she is my most reluctant reader simply because she has so much physical energy inside of her. I'm hoping these books keep her really interested.

What are your kids reading this summer?

More Summer Reading at Overstuffed:
Summer Reading Motivation
DIY Library Bag
Summer Book Club: Wonder by RJ Palacio

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Lara Neves
Lara Neves

Lara is mom to three daughters—two teens and a tween. She loves to share her parenting and homemaking triumphs and failures here at Overstuffed! She was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2015 and has been fighting it ever since. When she isn't working on her mother of the year award, you can find her reading, singing, or taking photos.


  1. Thanks for these ideas. I loved your earlier post that linked to different programs offered around the country too. May I just offer that we recently took a long road trip to Utah and decided to get Inkheart as a book on CD. The whole family listened and my kids couldn't wait to get back in the car and turn it on. The actress, Lynn Redgrave, who does the voices is amazing!!! Even my two year old didn't do too badly and it's somewhere between 14-16 hours. Derek and I loved it too, so it really was a win-win for the whole family. I recommend it to anyone who wants to get away from the portable DVD players for their next road trip.
    On a side note, I had really good luck going to Goodreads and looking at literature aged for my 6th grader. There were some good ideas there as well. I was highly disappointed with Pinterest and amazon--zero luck there.
    Here's to raising readers!

  2. You have some great choices. I loved both Tuesdays with Morrie and Stargirl. Good luck with your summer reading endeavors. :-)


  3. Looks like some great choices. Can't wait till my lil man is older so I can plan a reading list for him!

  4. I want to read Maze Runner.

  5. My kids' elementary school started a summer reading program a few years ago. At the end of each year, we get a few pages that has recommended reading by grade level. Kids have a reading log to keep, and when they return to school they turn it in. If they've read a certain number of hours for grade/age appropriate books from the lists, they are rewarded with a back-to-school gift (usually some school supplies and a new book to read). I love your method of choosing books too! =0)

  6. You have me interested to read Inkheart now! I have the book because I bought it for Bria a while ago. I have started to be more into audio books--they've been great for doing the dishes and other household chores...I feel much more willing to do the work and end up more productive. :)

  7. I haven't read Stargirl yet...(I do try to read everything i want my kids to read). I bought it for this summer, I thought the description seemed really great! Glad to know you liked it. I also loved Tuesdays with Morrie.

  8. You can start now and plan a fun list of what you'll read to him!

  9. I saw the preview for the movie a couple weeks to go and thought it was really intriguing! I want to read it now, too.

  10. I wish our school would do that! Maybe one of the lists I looked at was from your school. :)

  11. Thanks for the resource, Lara. PINNED. Linda Crafts a la Mode

  12. Some great suggestions. Pinning. Thanks! :)

  13. It's so hard to get children to read during the summer. I don't know how you do it but these are such good suggestions. I love it.

  14. My daughter is going into sixth grade and is an AVID reader. She says that after reading Hugo Cabret, you should read Wonderstruck - by the same author with lots of beautiful illustrations. Another good read by Cynthia Lord is Rules. And here are a couple more:
    Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
    Wonder by RJ Palacio
    The Giver by Lois Lowry
    Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

    Have a great summer!

  15. Hi Jazmine- I blogged a little bit about the kinds of things we do to keep the kids reading during the summer:

  16. Hi Beth, Thanks for these excellent suggestions! Chloe has read Rules and Wonder already and loved them. I originally had The Giver on her list for this summer but couldn't find my copy anywhere. I must have loaned it out to someone and not gotten it back, darn it! I will look at the others you've recommended, I always love seeing new book suggestions!

  17. Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers has a section on summer learning loss, if you're still trying to find some numbers on that :)

  18. Thank you! I will look it up.

  19. Ariel and I went to Barnes & Noble Tuesday and picked out a few books for her summer reading. She has to read A Wrinkle In Time for school--lucky for her we read it together earlier this year! She loved it!! She also recently loved reading Tuck Everlasting.

    For her summer reading, she's starting with Breathing Room, Popular, and Code Name Verity. A little fiction, some non-fiction, and a lot of variety!

  20. Made From PinterestSat Jun 07, 07:52:00 PM

    I love the idea of choosing some 'required reading' books for your kids each summer as well as letting them choose books they want to read, too! It's so important to keep them reading through the summer!

  21. Great choices! Chloe also loved Tuck Everlasting--she came down to my bedroom one Saturday morning after finishing it and retold the entire book to me. I loved that.

  22. Amen. I love nothing more than to see my kids reading a lot in the summer.

  23. cariwritesforyouSun Jul 06, 11:52:00 PM

    All three of my kids are little bookworks this summer. I love it! (Thank you summer reading program!) These are great lists.

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  25. Two book series my kids love (they are also fun to read out loud as a parent) are "Creature in My Closet" by Obert Skye and "Raymond and Graham Rule the School" by Mike Knudson and Steve Wilkinson. Both series will make your kids laugh. I think they would work well for reluctant readers (especially boys). They are easy for younger kids but fun for the older kids.

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  27. Meredith StanleyWed Mar 04, 11:02:00 PM


    I don't know if you've already read the book "Treasure Hunters" ( but it's got some great pictures too, and it's in the reading range for Chloe. It's a fun story and I enjoyed the art!

  28. I can't recommend enough the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. It's a chapter book series suited for boys or girls in second grade. I even loved it! I bought the book series for my son's teacher as well and all the kids loved it. Several stopped me in the hall to tell me they checked Mercy Watson out of the library or bought their own copies! Never had that happen with a book before!!

  29. I do love Kate diCamillo! I will have to check out that series, though I haven't read it before. Thank you!

  30. If you enjoy Brandon Mull your children would enjoy the Fablehaven series

  31. As a lifetime book-devourer from a family of insatiable readers, the idea of a kid needing to be nudged into wanting to read is alien to me, but I know it does happen. I have great respect for parents who are enthusiastic about encouraging the love of reading. My daughter and I have read all the books on your list and give you two thumbs up for your great choices. If your eldest saw the film of Ender's Game, I'll bet she'll find the book much richer and more satisfying. I think of The Great Gatsby as a "revisting book," one that can be read again at different times of life, with each reading adding to the experience. Charlotte's Web is one of my favorites too. Not only is the prose exquisite, I love both the humor and the messages about friendship.