Great Summer Reads, Part One

Last week I promised to post the list of Great Summer Reads for ages 8 to 12 that I put together for a panel at my local library. This is part one–books, mostly fantasy, that I loved both as an 8 to 12 year old and later, as a library page who should have been shelving in the Children’s Department of the Mary Riley Styles Library but was too often idling by her heavily laden book cart, deep in a new discovery.

Key: A=animal stories, F=fantasy, FL=folklore, HA=historical adventure, M=mystery, S=supernatural/suspense, SF=sci-fi

Adams, Richard (1920-)

Watership Down

Imagine The Hobbit with rabbits. I loved this when I was a kid, and it held up well when my son and I read it while back. (A,F)

Aiken, Joan (1924-2004)

In my humble opinion, Joan Aiken taught Lemony Snicket everything he knows. Ingenious children emerge victorious against the plots of nefarious adults and other perils. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a good place to start. (HA)

Alexander, Lloyd (1924-2007)

These books, now high-fantasy classics, engrossed and inspired me as a very young writer. The Prydain Chronicles, beginning with The Book of Three and finishing four books later with The High King. (F)

Cameron, Eleanor (1912-1996)

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet

Two boys are recruited by mysterious Mr. Bass to build a spaceship and fly to the Mushroom Planet. (SF)

Christie, Agatha (1890-1976)

At around age 10, I discovered my father’s stash of Agatha Christie mystery paperbacks, beginning with the short-story collection The Labors of Hercules. The ones set in and around archaeological digs are good choices for kids. (M)

Cooper, Susan (1935-)

The Dark Is Rising sequence, beginning with Over Sea, Under Stone and continuing with The Dark Is Rising. For younger readers, her Boggart books. (F)

Doyle, Arthur Conan (1859-1930)

The real Holmes. Begin with shorter stories such as “The Speckled Band” and “The Red-Headed League” or the secret code of “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” then work up to “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” (M)

Eager, Edward (1911-1964)

These are especially good as audiobooks for long car trips. (F)

Among others:

Half Magic

Magic by the Lake

Knight’s Castle

Seven-Day Magic

The Well-Wishers

The Time Garden

Fitzhugh, Louise (1928-1974)

Everyone knows Harriet the Spy. But the better book, I think, is the overlooked sequel, The Long Summer.


Garner, Alan (1934-)

Highly atmospheric, spooky fantasy set in a highly atmospheric, spooky part of Cheshire, England. (F)

Among others:

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

The Moon of Gomrath

The Owl Service

Lang, Andrew (1844-1912)

The Blue Fairy Book and the other 11 colors in the fairy book series. (In fact, I recommend the whole Dewey Decimal range of 398—Fairy Tales and Folklore—for your summer reading pleasure.) (FL)

LeGuin, Ursula (1929-)

Her Earthsea books about the wizard Ged inspired me to become a writer. Originally a trilogy, now a series of six books beginning with 1968’s A Wizard of Earthsea. Younger readers may like her Catwing books. (F)

L’Engle, Madeleine (1918-2007)

One of my very favorite authors. These are characters you really want to spent time with, or move in with!

The Time Trilogy, beginning with A Wrinkle in Time, and the other series about the O’Keefe and Austin families, including The Arm of the StarfishDragons in the Waters, and A Ring of Endless Light.

Beyond category, but if you must have one, mystical science fiction.

Nesbit, Enid (1858-1924)

The Enchanted Castle

The Book of Dragons

…there are dozens more! (F)

Norton, Mary (1903-1992)

The adventures of Arrietty Clock and her parents, Pod and Homily, under the floorboards. (F)

The Borrowers, followed by the Borrowers Afield, …Afloat, …Aloft, and …Avenged

Pyle, Howard (1853-1911)

The Wonder Clock (FL)

Fairy tales, wonderfully illustrated.

Snyder, Zilpha Keatley (1927-)

The Egypt Game

The Headless Cupid

The Velvet Room

Again, sort of beyond category. Supernatural mystery? The Headless Cupid has poltergeists. The Velvet Room was a cherished favorite ghost story. If you like these, there are dozens more titles from this gifted and prolific author. (S)

White, T.H. (1906-1964)

Mistress Masham’s Repose (F)

All kinds of Lilliputian wonderfulness. Recommended for fans of Mary Norton’s Borrower books. Ambitious readers could tackle The Once and Future King, the Arthurian retelling that starts with The Sword in the Stone.

What Will Your Kids Be Reading This Summer?

Photo courtesy Built by Kids/Princeton Tec. Visit for a link to this cool headlamp, and for instructions for making a nifty A-frame tent for reading indoors.

Looking for titles to add to the stack of summer reads for your 8- to 12-year-old?  Come to a panel this Monday, June 4, at 7pm at the main branch of the Somerville Public Library and listen to me and the other panelists riff on great summer reads, old and new. There will be cool bookish swag from the fine folks at Candlewick, and book lists from each of the panelists (homeschooler Tammy McKanan and Horn Book reviewer Cindy Ritter) for you to take home at the end of the evening’s discussion. My list will include my own favorites from deep time (getting deeper all the time!), titles my family enjoyed together, as read alouds or audiobooks during our “read together” years, and books my son is enjoying now as a 12-year-old bookworm. Can’t make the panel? No worries. I’ll be posting my own list here after June 5.

Summer’s Here: Let the Reading Begin

Wish you were here. Don't try this with your Kindle, folks.

Summer reading to me brings back memories of Seafront, the U.S. Embassy compound in Manila where we lived for part of my childhood. I spent a lot of time padding into the small library (bathing suits were allowed, so long as you weren’t still dripping, and had your flip-flops on) to find a new book. After staying in the pool until I was well waterlogged, I would flop on a towel and disappear into a book, turning the pages with wrinkly fingertips. A lot of this poolside reading consisted of series books: Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, the Boxcar Children.

I also have memories of books I found in the bookcases of my relatives. My family would return to the U.S. every few years to visit family. The books I remember most were in the bookcase of the room where I slept in at my grandparents’ house in Connecticut. Each time we visited, I would reread WE TOOK TO THE WOODS by Louise Dickinson Rich. Coming from our posting in Southeast Asia, her tale of life in the Maine woods was somehow exotic. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Now my family is preparing to fly to California to hike in Yosemite, and our luggage is bursting with books: novels, nonfiction, bird and wildlife field guides, graphic novels. I am packing four mysteries and a nonfiction book, my husband a single long novel about Vikings. Our 11-year-old son is dithering about what books to slip into his carry on and which to pack. Experience tells me we may come home with even more books. We tend to brake for book stores.

I’m happy that ELEPHANT TALK has made some summer reading lists, especially the list of my own library here in Somerville, Mass., and the Summer 2011 list of Science Books and Films, where I get to keep some fabulous–and humbling–company.

Please share your own your summer reading memories. Do you tend toward fiction or do you mix it up with nonfiction and biography? What books would you stock in a bookcase in lighthouse by the sea? In a tree house? For a trip in a hot-air balloon? Share below. And happy reading.