Summer reading: or, trapping a nine-year-old


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It must be that point in the summer when children are driving parents a little crazy; I am constantly asked “what are your children reading?” We have a secret: we trap our children places where there is little to do except pick raspberries, build sandcastles, and read whatever books are around. Notably, we bring the first book from series my nine-year old has refused to read at home. Inevitably, he picks one up, reads it, and then wants to know why I didn’t pack the rest of the series–pretty much guaranteeing more reading will happen upon return. Here are some of the top successes:

Percy Jackson. I asked the students in UWaterloo’s Harry Potter class what series they liked best after Rowling’s, and Rick Riordan’s series won hands down. My son read the first book in February on an island; he couldn’t wait to get home and find out what happened next. Bonus: he now knows Greek mythology inside out.

Artemis Fowl: A generation was raised on the tales of this boy criminal.

The Name of this Book is Secret: I read the first two pages aloud, and then it was snatched from my hands so it could be consumed more quickly.

The Land of Stories: I admit, this one was introduced by my son’s teacher. But every time he sees one in a bookstore, he raves about it. All I know is the author was on Glee.

Tuesdays at the Castle: Plucky heroine, animated castle, and adventure; it’s a bestselling series for a reason.

Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls: Online reviewers report girls are devouring this book. It is incredibly satisfying.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library: author Chris Grabenstein manages to write adventure novels about reading and books. He has collaborated with James Patterson who has also proved a hit with a trapped child.

Capture the Flag: this is the first in a series by Kate Messner. It is very American in orientation, but it’s also one of the few middle grade adventure series that features a black male child as a protagonist.

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Lumberjanes: A graphic novel series set in Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. Wins for the catch phrase “What the Joan Jett?” and references to other female figures of note.

Neil Flambe Capers: One would think murder mysteries for children featuring a tween chef would be a hard sell—but apparently they have just the right mixture of wit and adventure.

Spy School: Booklist writes of Stuart Gibbs’ series “This romp is a great choice for reluctant readers of either gender.”

Lemony Snickett: Familiar to most—I tried to find them second hand since they do seem to be quick reads.

Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts: There are only two books in the series so far by Canadian author Esta Spalding, but they’ve been well received. Children in a blended family living on a tropical island + hijinks = The New York Times gave it a positive review.

Eva Ibbotson: Ibbotson hasn’t penned a series, but her books have been such hits that more have been requested.  The Secret of Platform 13, Dial-a-Ghost, and Monster Mission were all massive hits.

Galaxy Games: The first book in the trilogy is split between Nevada, Japan, and outer space. Finding light-hearted middle-school summer reading with ethnically diverse protagonists can be challenging, but this is great fun, if difficult to track down.

The Creature Department: Buzzfeed described the first book as “a bit like if you took Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Monsters Inc. and shoved them in a TARDIS.”

Rita Williams-Garcia: I’ll admit, the first book in her award-winning series hasn’t been cracked yet. But we still have time this summer!

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