When I think about summer as a child, I don’t think of a beach. I think of a tree.
In the front yard of my parents’ house, there was an elm tree with sprawling branches that I dubbed the Reading Tree. It had a notched spot about two-thirds of the way up where three branches met, and it was just cozy enough for me to wedge myself in and not need to hang on. Happily, this arrangement left my hands free to hold a book.
Those summer reads transported me to different worlds and different times. From the comfort of my Reading Tree, I spent hours as a pioneer, traipsing across the prairie with Laura. I traveled through wrinkles in time with Meg. I met fauns and talking beavers with Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.
At the time, I assumed those magical hours spent with my nose in a book were just for fun. But according to the research, reading just may be one of the most important things a child can do in the summer.
Much has been said about the “summer slide,” especially among elementary-age children—the loss of literacy that often occurs during the summer months. But there’s a fairly simple remedy for this trend: reading books.
Studies have shown that giving kids twelve books to read over the summer is as effective as summer school in raising students’ reading scores, and even reading four to five books over the summer is enough to prevent a decline in reading-achievement scores.
If that weren’t enough, reading has also been proven to increase memory, reduce stress, improve social perception, and heighten emotional intelligence among children.
If you’re not sure where to begin with a reading list for this summer, here are some ideas to get you started.
For your history buff . . .
by Clare Vanderpool: This novel was a recent winner of the Newbery Award. Set in Kansas in the summer of 1936, this story follows a girl named Abilene Tucker, who uncovers secrets in her hometown as her family ekes out a living during the Great Depression. It’s a story of loss but also great redemption.
For your little adventurer . . .
The Boxcar Children series
by Gertrude Chandler Warner: These books recount the adventures of four orphaned children who create a home in an abandoned boxcar and encounter various mysteries along the way. These books have been around for a while, but they have a timeless feel that speaks to the adventurer in us all.
For your animal lover . .
Summer of the Monkeys
by Wilson Rawls: This book has all the charm of Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows, without all the tears at the end. Set in Oklahoma in the late 1800s, this novel tells the story of fourteen-year-old Jay, who unexpectedly finds a tree full of monkeys along a river in the Ozarks. It’s a heartwarming story full of delightful characters.
For your aspiring poet . . .
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson: This book, written in verse, tells the poignant story of the author’s childhood and what it was like to grow up as an African American girl in the 1960s and 1970s. The poems capture the power of words as we find our voice and learn to tell our stories.
For your fantasy lover . . .
The Oz series
by L. Frank Baum: Did you know that there is so much more to the world of Oz than the movie? The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the first of an entire series of books set in Oz. You and your children will delight in the fantasy, humor, and lovable characters in this series.
For your middle grader .
by Dandi Daley Mackall: This is a compelling story about what it’s like to be different and what real friendship looks like. Not only will it spark excellent discussion, but with the clever narrative structure, your kids will also find themselves learning what makes a story a story.
For your little ones . . .
When a Dragon Moves In
by Jodi Moore and Howard McWilliam: What happens when you have a bucket, a shovel, some sand, and a little imagination? A dragon just may move in!
For your little ones . . .
Bats at the Beach
by Brian Lies: If bats are nocturnal, how can they enjoy a day at the beach? Simple—they go at night and put on moon-tan lotion!
Whether you and your kids find yourselves on the beach, in a hammock, or in a tree this summer, make it a priority to read together. So many adventures await you!
Stephanie Rische is a senior editor and team leader at Tyndale House Publishers, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as
Today’s Christian Woman, Christian Marriage Today
Stephanie is a retired serial blind dater who happily exchanged her final blind date for a husband. Since getting married, she has been reaping the benefits of having a live-in dishwasher emptier, a homemade ice cream concocter, and a humorist-in-residence. Several years into this marriage gig, Stephanie is still trying to learn the finer points of sharing the covers.
She and her husband, Daniel, live in the Chicago area, where they enjoy riding their bikes, making homemade ice cream, and swapping bad puns. You can follow Stephanie’s blog at
For more summer reads for kids of all ages, head to