Picture Books Support Summertime Learning

In 2020 Jason DeHart and Jennifer Sniadecki wrote a well-researched series, “Picture Books are Perfect for Middle School,” arguing that the colorful texts for little kids also satisfy an adolescent desire for read-alouds, set the stage for daily lessons, and help with standards and mastery.

In this new post, Jennifer continues her picture book advocacy with ways to use them in summer time reading. She includes six “perfect” examples of recent books.

By Jennifer Sniadecki   

It’s summertime!

Middle grades teachers are not thinking about specific back-to-school planning yet (hopefully), but we do want students to read widely in the summer months, keeping in mind that the next school year’s lessons are coming soon.

As families acquire those summer reading lists and children practice reading, consider gathering picture books for older readers. Why? Let me offer three reasons:

1) Picture books are shorter than traditional middle level texts. Yes, we want our students to read all kinds of books during the school year, but we also want them to enjoy summertime activities, such as playing outside with friends, traveling with families, and engaging with their communities. Picture books can be paired with these activities. Reading is also a relaxing way to wind down at the end of a long hot day.

2) Summer is the perfect time to invest in reading what kids want to read. Research shows that choice reading is important for reading growth, and as a bonus, picture books are FUN to read.

3) Reading picture books is a great way to practice reading without the pressure of tests or assessments. Children can read and share their reading lives with family and friends outside of school while building and maintaining skills needed for the school year.

Pairing picture books with summer activities

What should middle school children read during the summer? Pairing picture books with favorite activities is a wonderful way to get started. Build in time for a trip to the library on a rainy day, or gather some books to take in the car with you on your summer adventures. Here are some ideas that feature fun, mostly recent titles. (They’ll be great for the school year, too!)

Memory Jars by Vera Brosgol (Roaring Brook Press, 2021) – Just right for vocabulary (multiple meanings of “preserving”) with a touch of dark humor (noted by The New York Times), and includes a recipe.

Hot Dog by Doug Salati (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2022) – This book won the Caldecott Medal in 2023. Perfect for middle school studies of award-winning books.

When You Can Swim by Jack Wong (Orchard Books, 2023) – Great for those learning to swim and those remembering when they learned to swim. Middle schoolers will enjoy the various settings and the poetry Mr. Wong provides.

Middle schoolers are curious about all kinds of topics, but they also like the comforting feel of the familiar. Have them choose picture books that they want to read – let them decide if they want to learn something new or revisit a favorite character from past reading experiences.

Jumper: A Day in the Life of a Backyard Jumping Spider by Jessica Lanan (Roaring Brook Press, 2023) – Perfect for the outdoorsy child (but maybe not Mom). Keep this Sibert Honor nonfiction book as a mentor text for building research skills when school starts up again in the fall.

The Truth About the Couch by Adam Rubin and Liniers (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2024) – Excellent for finding humor in everyday life. Middle schoolers will understand the subtle and not-so-subtle humor in this hilarious book about an ordinary object. Vocabulary and creative story-telling build ideas for writing, too. Another bonus for older readers is discovering the “hidden” messages that younger children won’t know.

Grumpy Monkey by Susanne Lang and Max Lang (Scholastic, Inc., 2018) – This one is an older title, but it’s perfect for middle schoolers because of the character development (there’s a whole series about Grumpy Monkey), showing emotions through illustrations, and recognizing and dealing with emotions.


Perfect for family and classroom collections

As you can see, picture books have appeal, are worthy of read-alouds with older readers, and are perfect for middle school academic preparations. Including picture books in your summer plans builds stamina and skills, and sparks a joy that is satisfying for the whole family.

Jennifer Sniadecki is currently the Media Literacy Facilitator for South Bend Community Schools and a professional development presenter from South Bend, Indiana. She is an avid reader and will read anything her friends recommend. Jennifer’s passion is promoting her favorite authors’ upcoming books on social media. Check out her posts on Instagram (reading_teacher_writes) and LinkedIn, or follow her blog, www.readingteacherwrites.com.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

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