Spend summer with the best books
Follow this guide for a great season of reading
One of the most important things kids should be actively involved with over the summer months is reading. While it's important that kids enjoy lots of playtime, sunshine and relaxation, reading great books is equivalent to major fun and it also keeps young minds active and prepared to start the new school year.
Trying to figure out which books will really connect with kids isn't easy. Every year, thousands of new children's books flood the already bulging shelves and online offerings. Fortunately, you won't have to hassle with that — below you'll find reviews of several new books from the current cream of the crop, grouped by age.
Don't forget to also include regular visits to your local library, where you'll find loads of great books available to borrow. Many libraries also have active summer reading programs your children or grandchildren might enjoy.
This Summer Reading Guide helps you and the kids in your life zero in on smack-down awesome books that are certain to be huge hits. Take a look for yourself.
Age newborn — 2
"Where is Baby's Beach Ball? A Lift-the-Flap Book" written and illustrated by Karen Katz, Little Simon, 2012, 12 pages, $6.99 board book.
Baby is having a fun day playing at the beach. But Baby can't find her beach ball. Where could it be? Is it behind the umbrella? Is it behind the sand castle? Could it be in the water?
Prompting little readers to lift each sturdy flap to try and find the beach ball makes for interactive fun. And each time the beach ball isn't found, tiny readers learn what actually is hiding behind that flap until eventually (of course) Baby's beach ball is at last found.
Brimming with bold, colorful illustrations and lots of learning opportunities, this author/illustrator always makes reading a fun, positive experience.
"Lift the Flaps: Peekaboo Baby" written and illustrated by Sebastien Braun, Candlewick, 2012, 14 pages, $6.99 board book.
Through a series of several babies that are partially hidden behind sturdy flaps representing different objects, little children are encouraged to lift the flap to see who is hiding there.
From a flap that is a hat, to one that is a book, to several other everyday objects, very young children will learn about objects and colors as they interact with playing peekaboo in this charming little book.
"Bizzy Bear: Off We Go!" written and illustrated by Benji Davies, Nosy Crow/Candlewick, 2012, 10 pages, $6.99 board book.
Bizzy Bear is off on an exciting vacation. But Bizzy Bear has to travel a long way to get there. First it's a taxi cab that becomes snarled in slow traffic, then a train ride to the airport, then hopping onto a plane to finally arrive at his destination — the beach.
Through spare, rhyming text, colorful illustrations rich with details and loads of strong flaps to pull, a wheel to turn, and tabs to slide that put each object into motion, this choice is packed with lots of learning and fun.
"Hop, Skip, and Jump, Maisy!: A Maisy First Science Book" written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick, 2012, 14 pages, $12.99 hardcover.
Everyone's favorite mouse, Maisy, is back with some fun, sound advice on staying healthy. She starts her morning with stretching, throughout the day she is very active doing all sorts of things, and she makes sure that what she eats and drinks is healthy. And at bedtime, Maisy sleeps very well after such an active, fun-filled day.
There are lots of tabs to pull to see Maisy in action, a wheel to turn to watch as Maisy is sleeping (and snoring!) and side bars on each double-page spread that provide additional learning opportunities for little readers.
I'm a huge fan of the Maisy books, but please note the following suggestion. The publisher recommends this book for children age 2 and older, and I agree. The tabs and other interactive parts of this terrific book are not sturdy enough for younger hands and less disciplined readers.
Age 3 — 4
"Arlo Needs Glasses" written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg, Workman, 2012, 22 pages, $15.99 hardcover.
A boy had a dog named Arlo, and the two loved playing catch together. But one day, every time the boy threw the ball, Arlo missed catching it. This seemed strange, since Arlo had always been such a good ball catcher.
So the boy decided Arlo needed to have his eyes checked, and after a series of tests, it was determined that Arlo needed glasses. Now the problem was to decide which glasses Arlo preferred. Movie Star glasses? Superhero? Mad Scientist? Or something else?
Charming from start to finish and boasting lots of interactive parts and a delightful ending, this selection is pure delight.
"Peepsqueak!" written and illustrated by Leslie Ann Clark, Harper, 2012, 32 pages, $12.99 hardcover.
The moment Peepsqueak hatches from his shell, he is on the move. More than anything, Peepsqueak wants to fly, and he wants to fly high! Despite the advice of the other farm animals, Peepsqueak keeps trying and trying and trying, until one miraculous day Peepsqueak does fly very, very high, but not in the way anyone expected.
Children will love the irrepressible Peepsqueak, his delightful story and his determined spirit to never, ever give up.
"Silly Doggy" written and illustrated by Adam Stower, Orchard Books, 2012, 38 pages, $16.99 hardcover.
One morning, Lily looked out her window and saw something big and brown and hairy. She was thrilled because she had always wanted a doggy. Not realizing her newfound doggy was actually a bear, Lily and Doggy did all sorts of fun things together.
At times Doggy was cooperative, but many other times that wasn't the case. Then, when the zookeeper showed up at Lily's house looking for Doggy, Lily was crestfallen. But the next morning brought bright news when Lily found Kitty in her back yard.
Loaded with spot-on humor for children ages 3 — 4, "Silly Doggy" will have young readers laughing on every page.
"Itsy Bitsy Baby Mouse" by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, Simon & Schuster, 2012, 36 pages, $15.99 hardcover.
Itsy Bitsy Baby Mouse loves to play and explore. One day on a wild adventure of chasing a fly, twirling around the house and feasting on apple pie crumbs, this little mouse realizes he is lost.
After a few tears, Baby Mouse decides he must find his way back home to Mama and Papa. Little does he know what obstacles lay ahead. Will he ever find his way back home?
Charming, funny and striking a chord with all children's fear of being lost, this choice is a real gem.
Age 5 — 6
"Larf" written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press, 2012, 32 pages, $16.95 hardcover.
Larf is a sasquatch: 7 feet tall, hairy and, as far as Larf knows, the only sasquatch that exists. As far as people know, most don't think sasquatches are real, and that's OK with Larf.
Larf lives a happy, peaceful life with his one companion, his pet bunny, Eric. One day, though, Larf reads an article in the local newspaper claiming that a "real" sasquatch is scheduled to make an appearance in the nearby city. No one had invited Larf to appear, so that could only mean one thing — he is not the only sasquatch in the world.
Larf thinks about this situation and slowly begins to realize that "having another sasquatch around opens up so many other possibilities." So, Larf decides to meet this other sasquatch, and what a good decision it turned out to be.
A comical and heartfelt story about companionship and friendship, "Larf" is spot-on.
"Dolphin Baby!" by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Brita Granström, Candlewick, 2012, 28 pages, $15.99 hardcover.
First his tail pops out and his head is last as Dolphin is born in the ocean. He is brand new, and his mother helps him swim up to the surface of the water to take his first breath.
There is so much for Dolphin to learn about life under the sea — from making friends to hunting for food, learning how to say his own name with his very own whistle and learning how to communicate with his mom and other dolphins. Just like other young animals and humans, there's a lot to learn before Dolphin is grown up enough to be on his own.
Beautifully written and illustrated, "Dolphin Baby!" will capture the attention and imagination of children while teaching them about the very social, intelligent dolphin.
"The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas" by Tony Wilson, illustrated by Sue deGennaro, Peachtree, 2012, 32 pages, $16.95 hardcover.
Prince Henrik wanted very much to fall in love and get married. Of course, it was expected he would marry a princess. But the more princesses he encountered, the more he realized he didn't want to marry a girly girl, and he especially didn't want to marry a princess like his sister-in-law, who was always complaining and was very demanding.
Rather, Prince Henrik wanted to marry an outdoorsy princess who liked hockey and camping. And so he devised a plan of his own, only to find that what he'd been looking for was as close to him as two frozen peas in a packet.
A charming, fun twist on the traditional tale "The Princess and the Pea," this clever rendition will have kids smiling and cheering for Prince Henrik and his "Unreal Princess."
"The Lorax Pop-up!" by Dr. Seuss, pop-ups by David A. Carter, Robin Corey Books, 2012, 16 pages, $29.99 hardcover.
Dr. Seuss's well-known and loved cautionary tale of ecology is now available in a magnificent pop-up book replete with eight double-page pop-ups, eight additional separate pop-ups on many pages, plus a wheel to spin and a tab to pull.
Pop-up master David A. Carter brings to life Dr. Seuss's thoroughly enjoyable, funny book with its powerful message about greed, caring for our Earth and the role each of us must play to ensure its survival.
Age 7 — 8
"The Knights' Tales: Sir Balin the Ill-Fated" by Gerald Morris, illustrated by Aaron Renier, Houghton Mifflin, 2012, 94 pages, $14.99 hardcover.
Many years ago, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were determined to bring justice to their land. Some called it destiny, and one such knight — Sir Balin — was a true believer in destiny, although what had been prophesied as Sir Balin's destiny wasn't so swift.
In fact, as told by the Old Woman of an Unknown Mountain, Sir Balin would bring disaster to everything he touched. Ironically, though, when time and time again it seemed Sir Balin had done just that, something good always came of it. Would this continue to be true?
Another hilarious offering in "The Knights' Tales," this book is pure fun.
"Bears Beware" by Patricia Reilly Giff, illustrated by Alasdair Bright, Wendy Lamb Books, 2012, 68 pages, $12.99 hardcover.
The kids at the Zigzag Afternoon Center were in for a surprise — they were going camping at the nature center. While the other kids thought this was going to be great fun, Mitchell had lots of reservations.
First, they would be gone over his birthday. And even though his best friend, Habib, would be there, Mitchell was afraid of many things he might encounter in the wild, especially bears. Determined not to miss out on the fun, Mitchell tried very hard to be brave, and as he found it, he really was.
Loaded with laughs, a few tense moments and brimming with the joys of friendship, this fifth book in the "Zigzag Kids" series is a great read for the summer or anytime.
"Hooey Higgins and the Shark" by Steve Voake, illustrated by Emma Dodson, Candlewick, 2012, 104 pages, $14.99 hardcover.
Hooey Higgins loves chocolate, so when he and his friend Twig see the gigantic chocolate egg in Mr. Danson's chocolate shop, Hooey decides he must have it, and Twig agrees. Sadly, the egg costs far more than what they can afford. The solution? Make money!
Hooey knows his opportunity is here when he learns that a shark has been seen off the coast of their seaside town. Now Hooey has a solution to making lots of money — catch the shark and charge people to come and see it.
Following a sequence of hilarious events that do not yield a shark, what happens next and then following that is almost beyond belief.
A very funny book that kids will connect with and thoroughly enjoy, this one is comical entertainment on every page.
"Stella Batts: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow" by Courtney Sheinmel, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, Sleeping Bear Press, 2012, 138 pages, $5.99 paperback.
Stella Batts feels she is a very lucky girl. After all, it's not every day you get to have parents who own a candy store and have their children as official taste-testers. So when her dad brings home his new magical gum, Stella and her younger sister can't wait to try it out.
Unfortunately, the gum doesn't seem to hold any magic for Stella except bad magic. First, a wad of gum gets stuck in Stella's hair, which prompts Stella to "fix" the situation by cutting her hair, which necessitates a professional cut that is quite short.
This leads to the mean boy in school making Stella feel particularly unattractive. Then, to make matters worse, Stella's best friend announces she will soon be moving with her family 3,000 miles away. Ugh!
Brimming with charm, realistic and often funny scenarios and a spunky heroine that girls in particular will enjoy, this selection is sure to win high marks from readers.
Age 9 — 10
"I Survived: The Attacks of September 11, 2001" by Lauren Tarshis, illustrated by Scott Dawson, Scholastic, 2012, 98 pages, $4.99 paperback.
Eleven-year-old Lucas Calley wasn't supposed to be in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. Because of several concussions he'd had while playing football, his doctor said he shouldn't risk playing the game again, and his parents concurred. Distraught, Lucas had to talk with Uncle Benny about his situation.
Benny was a firefighter, just like Lucas's dad, and Lucas knew he would be at the firehouse just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. But just as Lucas arrives at the firehouse, he is caught in the middle of the worst tragedy America has ever encountered.
Another extraordinary book in the "I Survived" series by Lauren Tarshis, this realistic portrayal of a young witness and survivor of a tragedy is a thoroughly riveting, moving story.
"The Legend of Diamond Lil: A J.J. Tully Mystery" by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell, Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, 2012, 126 pages, $14.99 paperback.
The retired search-and-rescue dog J.J. Tully has one permanent assignment left in life — to protect his owner's chickens: the spunky Moosh and her chicks. J.J. patrols the yard and coop every night to make sure they are safe, in particular from possums (who are particularly fond of chickens).
The job seems simple enough to J.J., but things become complicated when a fancy female dog, Lillian, shows up next door. Moosh and her chickens spend a lot of time with Lil while J.J. is in hot pursuit of the pesky possum that he occasionally finds in the yard. But something isn't right, isn't adding up, and J.J. is determined to get to the bottom of it.
Loaded with humor, mystery and a clever story to boot, middle grade readers will devour this selection.
"Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe" by Nathan Bransford, illustrated by C.S. Jennings, Dial, 2012, 279 pages, $15.99 hardcover.
Much to Jacob Wonderbar's surprise, he is nominated to run to be the first president of the universe. Knowing little about politics on his own planet and nothing about how to run a successful campaign beyond Earth, winning the election won't be easy.
His opponent is the nasty, conniving Prince Mick Cracken who fancies himself a space buccaneer and never plays fair. Despite the crazy and bizarre sequence of events, challenges and backhanded moves by Mick and other people Jacob would never have suspected, one thing eventually becomes clear — if Jacob doesn't win, Earth will be destroyed,
With humor, identifiable voices, an unexpected surprise ending and ridiculous, funny scenarios middle grade readers will love, "Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe" will at once amuse, ignite the imagination and cause kids to consider what might really be possible.
"Pop-Up London" by Jennie Maizels, paper engineering by Richard Ferguson, Candlewick, 2012, 10 pages, $19.99 hardcover.
Can't jet off to London this week, this year or maybe ever? No worries — this book has you covered. Stand back and prepare to be amazed, educated, thoroughly engrossed and delighted. "Pop-Up London" is loaded with fascinating facts that educate and feed curious minds, including those who might have thought they weren't even interested in London.
Five amazing double-page spread pop-ups are further enhanced with additional flaps and interactive details on every page. And don't forget to look behind the pop-ups, where readers will encounter more interesting information about this incredible city — London.
Age 11 — 12 and older
"Island of Thieves" by Josh Lacey, Houghton Mifflin, 2012, 228 pages, $15.99 hardcover.
Tom Trelawney's parents were going away on vacation, and Tom was supposed to stay at his friend's house while they were gone. But since Tom had recently (and accidentally) burned the family garage down, it was decided that Tom would stay with his Uncle Harvey.
Tom barely knew his uncle and hadn't seen him since he was a little boy, but Tom's parents had no other choice and assumed that Tom's week with Uncle Harvey would the "safest" place for Tom.
As it turned out, Tom's parents made the wrong assumption. Unbeknownst to Tom's parents, Uncle Harvey was going to Peru and had to take Tom with him. Uncle Harvey said he had some "business" to take care of, but as one event led to another, Tom was in for the adventure of his life (if he could stay alive to call it that).
In five days time, the two were to search 1,500 miles of coastline, find the Island of Thieves and uncover buried treasure. But it wasn't as simple as that, especially considering there were some very dangerous men after Uncle Harvey for another reason and would stop at nothing to get what they wanted.
Hold on to your seats — "Island of Thieves" is an extraordinary globetrotting mystery thriller that will take readers on a breathless journey they won't soon forget.
"May B: A Novel" by Caroline Starr Rose, Schwartz & Wade, 2012, 231 pages, $15.99 hardcover.
May lives with her family in a sod house on the windswept prairie of Kansas. It is the 1800s, and the closest neighbor is many, many miles away. To make a little extra money for May's family, Ma and Pa have hired May out to a man and his wife to help the young bride get settled; she is homesick and is having a hard time adjusting to life in Kansas.
The trip is 15 miles — a long way by horse and wagon. May doesn't want to go, but her parents promise it's only until Christmas, when Pa will return for her and take her home. But when May is suddenly left all alone in the strange sod house, winter is fast approaching. Food is running out, and May doesn't know the way back to her home. Will she survive?
Through beautifully written verse, May's voice is at once strong, determined and brave and clearly depicts a heroine willing to risk everything to return to where she belongs — home. With particular appeal to older girls, this powerful novel is fully satisfying.
"Son of a Gun" by Anne de Graaf, Eerdmans, 2012, 125 pages, $8.00 paperback.
Eight-year-old Lucky and his 10-year-old sister, Nopi, are kidnapped from their small school in Liberia and forced to become child soldiers in Liberia's 14-year-long civil war. Treated brutally and forced to commit horrendous acts, the two finally escape.
But after years of being brainwashed and literally fighting to stay alive, will either one ever be able to recapture their childhood dreams despite being reunited with their family after so many long years?
Based on true stories of former child soldiers in Liberia, this extraordinary novel is at once deeply moving, heartfelt and hopeful.
"Summer of the Gypsy Moths" by Sara Pennypacker, Balzer & Bray, 2012, 275 pages, $15.99 hardcover.
Stella has been living with her Great-aunt Louise on Cape Cod. Stella loves the organized way Louise leads her life; it's a far cry from her mother who always is off "finding herself." Stella imagines that her mom will come back to Cape Cod someday soon, and they can all be a family again.
But Louise throws a wrench into Stella's fantasy when she takes in Angel, the foster kid. Angel is tough and guarded and has been shuffled from one foster home to another. Stella and Angel don't get along.
When tragedy strikes, it's up to Stella and Angel to pick up the pieces and devise a plan for their very survival when their greatest wish becomes the same — to really and truly belong to a real family they can both count on.
Beautifully written, this moving novel peppered with humor reveals two remarkable characters, the enduring spirit of youth and, ultimately, hope.
Kendal A. Rautzhan writes and lectures about children's literature. She can be reached at her website: greatestbooksforkids.com.