Here Comes the Fun: Sunny Summer Reads by Kate Hannigan
Summertime reading is here. And as I pile up stacks of books to keep my kiddos’ brains from becoming mush, I meet with the inevitable pushback. Titles I point my children toward – the award winners, the weighty “issue” books – are not always the types of stories they want to read. The Washington Post recently ran an interesting study on kids, parents, and reading. And the results are no surprise: kids want books that make them laugh. And they want to pick out those books themselves!
Hmmm. While I’m all for autonomy, the “you choose!” approach doesn’t always work – my kids want to pick out dinner, too, but I’m not rolling with Cap’n Crunch and gummy bears for our evening feast. So we’re on a quest for balance: books that are upbeat summer reads and get the synapses firing.
A few books immediately leap to mind in our search for summer fun: Jennifer Holm’s engaging The Fourteenth Goldfish. It tells the story of budding scientist Ellie, whose grandfather seems to have found a formula to reverse aging and suddenly shows up at her door as a 13-year-old boy. Growing older, both as a preteen and as a senior, is thoughtfully addressed but never gets too heavy. Lots of one-liners, hilarious interactions, and scientific espionage keep the laughs coming.
Another favorite in our house is the Spy School series (and anything else by Stuart Gibbs), about an ordinary kid trying to morph into a supercool undercover agent. I’ve heard my kids in their beds at night laughing out loud over these books. Light, fun fare with plenty of action, quirky characters, and loads of excitement. Near perfect for my 10- and 12-year-old readers.
And currently being shared among my 10-year-old’s crowd is Suzanne Selfors’ hilarious The Sasquatch Escape. Mythical creatures, wild adventures, and a potentially boring summer upended as a couple of kids try to catch a big, hairy beast that has escaped from a local veterinary clinic. Delightful!
But since fun is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, I’ve decided to crowd-source: what follows are the suggestions of librarians, booksellers, bloggers, and other authors for titles that are plain-and-simple sunny, fun reads. Here’s to a joy-filled summer!
Tina Carter, children’s librarian at Chicago Public Library’s Blackstone Branch on the South Side, says her Stars Bookclub came up with its own list of fun summer reads. Among the titles are Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories: Beyond the Kingdom, Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and Mo O’Hara’s My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish.
Sylvia Buller’s fourth-grade readers at Resurrection Catholic School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, suggest Dan Gutman’s The Kid Who Ran for President and Timmy Failure by Stephan Pastis. And librarian Lies Garner at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy in Chicago recommends the Pseudonymous Bosch series for slightly older readers and Raina Telgemeier’s books.
Marian Dresser, middle school library media specialist at Holland Hall in Tulsa, Oklahoma, offers a selection of great titles from her students: 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass, The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall, The Luck of the Buttons by by Anne Ylvisaker, Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman, White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan, and The Fast and the Furriest by Andy Behrens.
Bookseller Jessilynn Norcross of McLean & Eakin Bookstore in Petoskey, Michigan, recommends the Sky Jumpers series by Peggy Eddleman and Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins. “Also my staff loves the Ruby Redfort mysteries by Lauren Child and the Seven Wonders series by Peter Lerangis.”
Jessica Jones Lewis with Chicago’s Open Books, a nonprofit bookstore that provides literacy programs, wanted to be “mindful of suggesting books that have female protagonists and protagonists of color. Also, these books are leveled for late elementary/early middle school, so hopefully, they are not only appealing and fun, but accessible.” Her recommendations included Holes by Louis Sachar, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon, and Trash by Andy Mulligan.
When it comes to children’s authors, some of the most hilarious writers clearly prefer reading fun too: Caroline Carlson, whose Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series is a hoot, listed Lisa Yee’s books like The Kidney Hypothetical and Kristen Kittscher’s The Wig in the Window. She also suggested The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner and Remarkable by Elizabeth Foley, as well as The Mapmaker and the Ghost by Sarvenaz Tash.
Meg Frazer Blakemore writes her own fun with books like The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill. She says, “Erin Dionne’s books are all fun (while also raising important issues). Moxie & the Art of Rule Breaking and Ollie & the Science of Treasure Hunting are both especially good for summer.”
The most detailed suggestions came from Angie Manfredi (@misskubelik), head of youth services for Los Alamos County Library System in New Mexico and the blogging brilliance behind Fat Girl, Reading. Angie had plenty of fun and fabulous ideas to share. Here are her terrific picks:
Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj: “Abby can’t quite believe it when she finds out her father is one of Bollywood’s biggest stars. And her adventure is only starting because she’s on her way to India to spend some time with him. Abby is going to learn about India, Bollywood, what it’s like to have a famous dad, and even about herself.”
The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman (series): “One of my favorite read-alikes for Roald Dahl,” says Angie, “this series follows the competitions held by the Golly Toy and Game Company in which kids participate in the eponymous Gollywhopper Games. There are puzzles, brainteasers, obstacle courses and more, and readers get to figure them out alongside the characters.”
Colonial Madness by Jo Whittemore: “Another outstanding entry from the perfectly fun and frothy Aladdin Mix series, this book follows Tori and her mom as they compete in a challenge to see if they can survive two weeks living as if they were in colonial times. How hard could it be? And though their future depends on winning, Tori’s mom doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously. Can their relationship survive and can they win?”
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy: “Things are never quiet or boring when it comes to the Family Fletcher,” Angie writes. “With four boys who are always on the move, this is one family who always has an adventure around the corner. From 6-year-old Frog’s experiences in kindergarten to 12-year-old Sam, the jock, deciding to be in the school play, it’s never a dull moment with the Fletchers, who are sure to become one of middle-grade fiction’s quintessential families.”
“And if you’re going on a road trip this summer or just need something great to listen to,” suggests Angie, “the audiobooks of Better Nate than Ever and Five, Six, Seven Nate both read by author Tim Federle are a pure delight. They’re just plain fun to listen to, and Federle makes Nate and his adventures soar. There’s a reason these audiobooks have won and been nominated for just about every major audio award you can imagine.”
Kate Hannigan tries to write her own fun-filled books for middle-grade readers. Her historical fiction The Detective’s Assistant (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 2015) features the madcap adventures of America’s first (real-life) woman detective and her (fictional) scrappy niece. And Cupcake Cousins (Disney-Hyperion, 2014) tells the story of aspiring-chef cousins who encounter kitchen disasters as they try to bake their way out of a family obligation. Book 2 in the series, Cupcake Cousins: Summer Showers, published June 16th. Visit Kate online at KateHannigan.com.