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If ever there's a time to indulge guilty reading pleasures, it's summer.
Grown-ups seem to understand this intuitively as they snap up summer beach reads. But it's crucial for kids to read what they love to avoid the "summer slide" in reading skills, literacy experts say. That means giving kids a choice of reading material that might include picture books, graphic novels and comic books.
"Summer reading is that glorious time to read widely and to fall back in love with books," said Matthew Winner, a school librarian and host of the Children's Book Podcast. "Finding yourself in a good book (or losing yourself for that matter) is an experience no child should miss."
Colby Sharp, a fifth-grade teacher at a Title I school in Parma, Michigan, sees students' reading levels grow throughout the school year, then dip over the summer, like a roller coaster. He works months ahead to come up with a plan to keep kids excited about reading during their months off.
"Especially in the summer, just let them read whatever they want," said Sharp, co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club. "If they want to read about superheroes all summer, let them read about superheroes all summer. No one is telling mom and dad that they can’t read trashy romance novels all summer."
We asked Sharp, Winner and other experts in kidlit to share their favorite reading choices for summer 2019.
- 1. "Crab Cake: Turning the Tide Together," by Andrea Tsurumi, $13 (usually $18), Amazon
"Summer means taking a trip to the ocean, and this book knows how to make your mouth water for some seriously delicious cakes," said Betsy Bird, a librarian who writes about children's books. "Though a disaster happens midway through, I love Tsurumi's light-handed touch in terms of the dual messages of taking care of our ocean and what to do when tragedy strikes."
- 2. "We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga," by Traci Sorell, $14 (usually $18), Amazon
"This story, which takes readers through a full year of celebrations, will help kids understand more about both gratitude and the people of the Cherokee Nation," said Alaina Leary of We Need Diverse Books. "It's a dual language picture book that builds an understanding of culture, traditions, history —and why you should keep gratitude close to your heart."
- 3. "The Full House and the Empty House," by LK James, $13 (usually $18), Amazon
"A kooky look of friendship wrapped in an elegant package. Two houses are best friends, but one is full of stuff and the other completely empty. Is there a metaphor at work here? Who cares! It's just a fun, silly, touching read about the people we love," Bird said.
- 4. "The Happy Book," by Andy Rash, $12 (usually $18), Amazon
"Kids get a lot of books about emotions lobbed their way, so it's nice to see one that's such a hoot. Extra Bonus: If you read this out loud to a kid you'll get to make the Sad Trombone go "Bwah-bwah". That my kids' favorite part," Bird said.
- 5. "¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market!" by Raúl the Third, colors by Elaine Bay, $11 (usually $15), Amazon
"After I read this book, which feels like a 21st century Spanish/English Richard Scarry title, my son turned to me and said, 'That place looks really cool. We should go there.' Every kid that reads this book is going to have the same reaction," Bird said.
- 6. "Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me," by Eloise Greenfield, ill. Ehsan Abdollahi, $11 (usually $16), Amazon
"Even kids that don't think they're keen on poetry will appreciate this cool mix-up of verse and story. This is one for all those animal lovers out there. Who can resist a puppy that can rhyme?" Bird asked.
- 7. "Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls," by Dav Pilkey, $9 (usually $13), Amazon
"My kids love 'Dog Man' by Dav Pilkey. We need to get out of the way and let kids read graphic novels. We need to let kids read what they want to read," Sharp said. "If a kid wants to read 'Dog Man' all summer, let them read 'Dog Man' all summer. I’d much rather they read 'Dog Man' all summer than they don’t read 'Where the Red Fern Grows' all summer. (Ages 7 and up.)
- 8. "Dactyl Hill Squad," by Daniel Jose Older, $11 (usually $17), Amazon
"Older understands adventure, which is something I felt right away when I first read his young adult novels," Leary said. "Dactyl Hill Squad is a historical fantasy that perfectly combines history with elements of adventure — and dinosaurs! — and kids who love magic and a little bit of saving-the-world will find it thrilling." (Ages 8-12)
- 9. "We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices," edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, $13 (usually $19), Amazon
"For the reader who knows there are difficult challenges across our nation, but that with the strength of our voices, the memory of our history, and the faith that good can triumph all are in each an every one of us. This collection of short stories, poems, songs, photographs, and illustrations offers many voices, all united around the common effort to center and to lift up our children," said Matthew Winner, a school librarian and host of the Children's Book Podcast. (Ages 8-12)
- 10. "Genesis Begins Again," by Alicia D. Williams, $12 (usually $18), Amazon
"I think 'Genesis Begins Again' is the most unforgettable book of 2019," said Colby Sharp, a fifth-grade teacher and co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club. (Ages 9-13)
- 11. "Be Prepared," by Vera Brosgol, $12 (usually $13), Amazon
"Sometimes summer plans aren't all you've dreamed of. For Vera, her pining to experience summer camp as her friends describe it is quickly short-lived when the Russian summer camp Vera picked for it's price range ends up being nothing she could ever prepare for," Winner said. (Ages 10-14)
- 12. "The Bridge Home," by Padma Venkatraman, $9 (usually $17), Amazon
"Sometimes the greatest adventures come from the smallest things. A sister. A dog. A bridge. A chance to make a new life and to see life through a new lens. I loved escaping into the streets of Chennai and felt throughout as though I never wanted to leave Viji and Rukku's sides," Winner said. (10 and up)
- 13. "I Wish You All The Best," by Mason Deaver, $12 (usually $18), Amazon
"This book is really about finding your voice. It's heartfelt and loving, and quietly groundbreaking. It doesn't shy away from the challenges of coming out to your parents or dealing with depression and anxiety, but it does so with compassion," Leary said. (Young Adult)
- 14. "This Place: 150 Years Retold," $34 (usually $36), Amazon
"Young Adult readers will be fascinated by this comics anthology retelling Canada's Indigenous history through the lives and voices of its Indigenous peoples. Canada's Indigenous history is not a far cry from ours and there's much to draw from and reflect on throughout these beautifully illustrated stories," Winner said. (Young Adult)