Books with a Summer Setting

justin case shells smells

I keep seeing articles about how to encourage children to read throughout the summer. All of the articles make the same basic suggestions. Set a daily reading time. Establish a specific amount of time to read each day. Get involved in a reading incentive program at a local library or bookstore, and provide good book choices.

Ultimately, if your child/student likes to read, he or she will continue to read in the summer as long as there are books available. If you do not have a child who is an avid reader then you (or another adult) have to support the reading habits if you want any reading to happen. You will need to provide reading material or opportunities to choose reading material; model reading (that means read yourself); read together, and have book discussions. Even though we often think of reading as an independent activity for older kids, a child will develop better reading habits if reading is treated like a group activity, and all participate.

I wish there was a pill to magically make a child a reader but there is not. If you need a little kick-start finding a book to help your child get over the reading-when-not-at-school hump, try a book that takes place during the summer when the characters in the story are also not attending school.

summer setting pin

Upper Elementary (~3rd grade to 6th grade)

  • The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
  • Under the Egg by Laura Max Fitzgerald
  • My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian
  • Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
  • Summer Pony by Jean Slaughter Doty
  • Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
  • The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders
  • Hound Dog True by Linda Urban
  • Justin Case: Shells, Smells, and Horrible Flip-Flops of Doom by Rachel Vail
  • The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford
  • Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life (So Far) by Ann M. Martin
  • The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore
  • The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin
  • The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
  • Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
  • Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey

Middle School (7th grade+)

  • Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
  • The Summer of the Swans Betsy Byars

For younger readers, try The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner specifically #2 in the series. I could not remember for sure, but I think some of the Ivy and Bean books by Barrow take place during the summer as well as some of the Judy Moody by McDonald. Now that Mr. Star Wars and Miss Priss are beyond the early chapter books (sniff), my radar is not as good for these younger titles.

summer of my german soldier

Listen to It

james and the giant peach

It is time for our annual summer road trip, and we loaded up on audio books from the public library earlier this week. I then had to make a trip back to the library because Mr. Star Wars and Miss Priss listened to the first batch of books on CD in the TV room before we even packed the car.

Audio books are a great addition to long road trips. They keep voice levels low, so everyone can hear the narrator, and it provides a discussion topic for the whole group since everybody listens to the same story (we play our books on CD aloud– no earphones, although, that is an option). All ages can enjoy a story no matter the actual reading level of the book.

We have been listening to audio books for about 6 years. I cannot gush enough about the benefits of audio books. The narrator reads the book with the correct expression and syntax modeling good oral reading skills for a child. If a child follows along in the printed book at the same time he is listening, sight words, vocabulary, writing mechanics, and varied sentence construction are reinforced. When a group listens to an audio book, it tends to prompt more discussion. This will give a child extra practice re-telling a story, identifying conflicts in the story, and making predictions about future events– all of the skills a (good) active reader utilizes.


I posted an audio book recommendation list awhile back. Many of the books I had on my original list are still here. The Magic Treehouse series is still our favorite. Mary Pope Osborne narrates, and her voice works well. The stories are also a good length for our car attention span. Each story is about an hour and a half.

  • Magic Treehouse (any in the series) read by the author, Mary Pope Osborne
  • The Boxcar Children read by Phyllis Newman
  • Little House in the Big Woods (or any Little House book) read by Cherry Jones
  • Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing read by the author, Judy Blume
  • The BFG read by Natasha Richardson
  • James and the Giant Peach read by Jeremy Irons
  • The Bunnicula Collection read by Victor Garber
  • No Talking read by Keith Nobbs
  • Benjamin Pratt & The Keepers of the School: Fear Itself read by Keith Nobbs
  • The Wizard of Oz read by Maureen Lipman
  • The Year of Billy Miller read by Dan Bittner
  • Heavy Hitters (or any in the Game Changers series) read by Fred Berman
  • Ribsy (or any Henry Huggins book) read by Neil Patrick Harris
  • Charlotte’s Web read by the author, E.B. White
  • The 1oo-Year Old Secret (or any in the Sherlock Files series) read by David Pittu


  • A Series of Unfortunate Events read by the author, Lemony Snicket.  (This was probably a bad choice on my part.  Not only was the author’s voice too nasal-y, the book is much darker read aloud, and the content was too old for my children’s ages.)

In my house, we all agree that the narrator is the key to a good audio book. What books have you enjoyed on tape? Who was the narrator?

no talking


Improving Reading Fluency

boy reading aloud

As a child, were you in the blue bird reading group, the red bird reading group, or the yellow birds? In case you did not figure it out at the time, the color coding was for the low, middle, and high readers in your class. I am pretty sure the main distinguishing factor was your ability to read aloud fluently. I know my reading group had mostly decent readers and a few halting readers; I was probably the middle level.

Reading aloud fluently is an indicator of comprehension and word attack skills. It is harder to comprehend a story while reading aloud because your brain is doing two jobs– decoding letters in order to pronounce the letters as words and synthesizing ideas that the words relay. When a child reads silently, he can skip the pronunciation part– in fact he can skip entire blocks of words that look unfamiliar, which will impact comprehension. So, while it might seem easier to let your child read alone once he is a (mostly) independent reader, you should still listen to your child read aloud from time to time.

Classroom teachers do not have time to perfect the oral reading skills of each child. This is a skill that has to be practiced at home in conjunction with the reading instruction happening at school. Here are some guidelines I recently gave to the parents of the students in my classroom.

  • Sit where you can see the words on the page as your child reads.
  • Correct any mispronounced words and have the child say the word correctly. This reinforces correct letter patterns in English and will improve spelling and word recognition in the future. Breaking words into syllables will help a child pronounce unfamiliar words.
  • Correct any skipped or changed words and have your child read the words that appear on the page EXACTLY as they are written. This part is important. It may not seem like a big deal when kids paraphrase and adjust words while reading, but if they get in the habit of skipping, inserting or changing words, it will affect a child’s overall reading at some point.
  • Emphasize expression—students should pause appropriately for end punctuation. The voice should go up for excitement, questions, etc. If the reading is monotone or flat, practice reading with emotion. This will help you assess comprehension as well. If a reader does not pause or change his voice appropriately, he probably does not know what is really happening. Move to an easier book for practice.
  • After reading a few pages, pause and ask for a recap to check for comprehension. If the reader is confused or can not recall key facts, find an easier book.
  • If a page is particularly slow, the adult can re-read the page to the child to demonstrate fluent reading.
  • End the reading session by modeling for your child. The adult reads a few pages aloud to the child. Make sure the child is in a place where he/she sees the words on the page.
  • Enjoy this time with your son or daughter!

Print my Parent Note About Reading Aloud with the list of suggestions and a chart for tracking reading time. I know there are times when you would rather hear nails on a chalkboard than listen to a slow, choppy reader, but it will improve and is worth the time!

girl reading aloud