Cool Summer Reading and Learning for Kids

dog 270Quick links:

►Read J.K. Rowling’s serialized fairy tale The Ickabog free online this summer. Young readers are being invited to send in illustrations for the tale’s fall publication.

►The Horn Book’s middle school summer reading list of recent books for 2020 can take kids places they can’t visit this summer.

►Librarians and teachers – and students – share what works and what doesn’t in summer reading in Carly Okyle’s SLJ post. Also see SLJ’s collection of lists.

Let’s begin with some excellent advice from a middle grades student, shared in an article at the What Kids Can Do website:

I think that if teachers are going to assign us books to read over the Summer… they should at least take the time to make it somewhat oh what’s the word yeah, FUN!! If they don’t it leaves kids with a feeling of not liking to read which I don’t agree with because I love to read, but all you need is an exciting or good book to really get you going! All I’m saying is READING SHOULD BE FUN FOR EVERYONE!!!”
– by Mepride

Teachers have labored to enliven summer reading for decades. In a 1997 NCTE journal article, Florida middle school ELA teacher Gloria Pipkin, who later wrote books for Heinemann and edited for Scholastic in the 2000’s, noted the challenges (quoted in ReadWriteThink):

Of course we want our students to read over the summer, but I’ve yet to be convinced that the typical summer reading assignment does much to extend love of reading or increase literary competence. There may be a handful of students who can’t wait to tackle our scintillating assignments on their summer vacation, but for the most part, summer reading assignments are regarded as a plague and a pox, even by avid readers, who much prefer choosing their own books.”

In 2013, NeverEnding Search blogger Joyce Valenza discovered Elissa Malespina, a teacher librarian who was as determined to help make summer reading a hit with 21st century students as Gloria Pipkin had been for kids in the 1990’s. Using iBooks Author and Bookry, Malespina worked with her colleagues at South Orange (NJ) Middle School to develop an attractive 33-page “book” with summer reading choices across a range of fiction and nonfiction genres.

PDF Creation in Quark 7Writing from her middle grades classroom, teacher Pernille Ripp also shared her ideas for Creating Great Summer Reading Plans. Her goal: a huge list from which students can choose freely. Among her methods: Skyping reading suggestions with other classrooms, checking Scholastic trailers, getting suggestions through her Twitter survey, and book “speed dating.” Ripp links to Colby Sharp’s book speed dating blog post on selecting books for quick looks and on how his 4th graders browse in a hurry.

Sarah Tantillo suggests a fresh approach to summer reading assignments: Character Analysis, two characters per book, with specific questions to answer. She provides forms to get you started in this MiddleWeb post.

At MindShift Holly Korbey makes the case for kids reading high quality fiction in Ready, Set, Read! Summer Fiction Ideas for Kids of All Ages and includes recommendations by grade.

Teachers will find more suggestions for building summer reading enthusiasm in a 2011 Scholastic blog post by Mary Blow. She shares ideas for promoting summer reading. In addition to providing family-friendly links about summer academic slide, she includes ways to avoid a slippage in reading skills both in fiction (series books can help less proficient readers) and in nonfiction. Blow also touches on poetry, myth, and folklore. She suggests having students read aloud to younger friends or the elderly as community service. Blow concludes with ideas for professional and general reading for teachers.

Books They’ll Go For

spacer and ratDo you have students who are “reading ahead” and are searching for books written for high schoolers? At YALSA’s Hub, Erin Bush discusses Cross-Unders – teen books attractive to tween readers – and offers an annotated list including Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard and The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter.

What happens when kids select their own books? Librarian Travis Jonker tallied the Top 10 Circulated Books of 2013 for 5th and 6th graders at his elementary school in Michigan. Jonker, who blogs at School Library Journal, includes links to lists for younger students in 2018, too.

For reading recommendations for 4th grade (and younger), visit Reading Rockets, a project of WETA, and its collection of summer reading lists. The site’s brief, lively write-ups for ages 6-9 feature fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Reading Rockets is also a great place to check for lists of award winning children’s books. Students who want to get a look at their favorite authors can visit Reading Rockets’ brief video interviews.

Of course, Reading Rockets goes beyond lists and videos to help teachers and parents build kids’ interest in reading and learningGet Ready for Summer! Ideas for Teachers to Share with Families offers a lengthy list of family-friendly resources, including free children’s books online, interactive educational sites, and other resources to encourage literacy. A quick check of random links yielded a few dead ones. 

Writing at Edutopia, Judy Willis MD shares some stealth tactics for parents to encourage summer reading. Parents will find the Washington Post’s Amy Joyce and Scholastic’s Maggie McGuire conversing with readers to offer lots of reading suggestions for grades 1-8 in this column taken from a live Q&A.

intl-digital-libraryTo give students a global take on reading, introduce them to the International Children’s Digital Library. The website, started by the University of Maryland and now run by the ICDL Foundation, leads children to books in many languages. Elementary and middle school children will likely enjoy being turned loose on the site filled with online books in many languages, some with several translations.  But you may want to show them all the search possibilities: book length, age, topic, genre, setting, shape (!) and much more. Students can register for free to keep up with their reading or just drop by to browse. The Teacher Training Manual suggests ways to use the site during the school year.

Students who are hankering for online classics, written in English or in English translation, can visit the Library of Congress for Kids Read or Teens Read.  Both pages also link to book lists. Teens are treated to author videos.

Even More Lists!

For an easy handout or website feature, check the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) 2020 Summer Reading List brochures for K-8. The PDFs feature books predominately published in the 2000’s. ALSC also created graphic novel lists for 2019.

Want more lists of award winning books? Don’t miss the Cybils selected by KidLitosphere Central: The Society of Bloggers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The 2019 winners, announced in early 2020,  join lists going back to 2006 (they’re arranged by genre and age).  KidLitosphere also hosts hundreds of book reviews collected from a variety of sources, organized by author and by title.

Online Student Reading Challenges

Cat_with_book_250Students can tackle nonfiction – news, features, essays, and more –  via the NYT Learning Network’s Summer Reading Contest. Teachers can access an April 30, 2019  webinar (or its archived version) to learn more about the contest that runs from June 12 to September 8.

Kids must be 13 and over (that’s a COPPA requirement) to submit comments of up to 200 to 300 words on favorite reads to the NYTLN contest. Teachers can have students use a code to have whole classes participate.

Students can access New York Times content through the Learning Network links – and there are lots of them – at no cost.

Like some public library opportunities, such as those based on the Collaborative Summer Library Program, Scholastic encourages kids to keep a log – online – of time spent reading as part of its summer challenge, this year called the Summer Read-a-Palooza and offering new features to involve students who have experienced distance learning through spring. These include the free website Home Base and the videos  LitCamp at Home Children’s Read-Aloud Series to be featured here. “This year, kids can build their avatar, make new friends, earn virtual rewards, and help unlock donations for kids with limited or no access to books by starting and keeping “reading streaks” in Home Base when they read every day.”

Beyond Reading

Here at MiddleWeb, Mike Fisher, a middle grades teacher turned literacy and tech integration consultant, suggests ways parents can involve their kids in reading and writing throughout the summer months – on their own and with family members. At his house, it’s Harry Potter time!

Kids with computer access will find lots of anti-slide options this summer. Here’s a quick sampling.

Kids and parents will find lots to like in Best Apps Lists, a selection of apps arranged by category from Common Sense Media, the nonprofit which rates “media on both age-appropriateness and learning potential based on developmental criteria.”

Writing at MindShift, Ryan Schaaf recommends ten free online educational games sites featuring a variety of content areas and formats. He includes BBC Schools: Games which isn’t available outside the UK. Is math a concern? Hooda Math, started by a middle school teacher, invites kids to enjoy hundreds of math games. The free site is searchable by grade level.

Camp Wonderopolis, from the National Center for Families Learning’s  Wonderopolis, is intent on “enabling programs, families, and individuals to customize their experience to their own particular needs. Campers will explore different tracks of science and build their vocabulary, background knowledge, and literacy skills along the way.” Educators, librarians and parents can sign on as camp counselors to work with kids in their families and communities. It’s free!

space 280Maker Camp from is another free option, starting in June. While many Maker Camp materials and tools will be found around the house, students may need to buy some. Parents of younger kids may want to preview projects (soldering iron, anyone?)

Kids can dip into the lives of sea creatures and marine biologists via the videos featured in this PBS Summer Explorer Series. Though some of the sealife videos are no longer available, the link also offers other PBS content here.

Students who enjoy space and astronomy can browse the NASA page for 5th through 8th grade. Anne Jolly’s STEM by Design post, Ideas and Activities to STEM the Summer Slide, offers parents suggestions to help their children stay connected to learning along with kid-centered links to National Geographic, Scientific American, and other super sites.

If you have found or created other resources that can help get kids reading and learning in Summer 2018, please share the links in the comments area on this page!

Photo credit: Bogart the Cat by Elaine Vigneault


Susan Curtis

Susan Curtis is co-editor of In a long career, she has taught middle grades students, worked in human services, edited a variety of publications and wrangled the reference desk in libraries.

6 Responses

  1. For more information on summer reading and independent reading, check out the “Independent Reading” page on The Literacy Cookbook Website:

  2. Susie Highley says:

    What a wonderful list! Sharing this widely!

  3. Karen G says:

    Try some listening, not just reading, this summer. Listen Current is offering free summer access to their curated library of public radio stories.
    We’ve also posted a summer listening list, great for middle and high school.

  4. Karen Gage says:

    Listenwise posted another summer listening list for 2016. Good for any time of year!

  5. Anne Jolly says:

    What a good compilation, Susan! Kids books by Carolyn DeCristofano are also “cool” reads. I particularly like”A Black Hole Is Not a Hole” and “Big Bang!” – well illustrated and understandable. Her website is

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