In the past few days, I’ve seen dutiful moms and dads descend upon the bookstore, school reading lists clutched in their fists. Their kids, looking less than thrilled, flinch as their parents thrust handfuls of books at them, usually featuring an embossed medallion that indicates the book has been approved by some governing body of adults.
Summer reading should be fun. Really fun. And while many of the books on your child’s school reading list may be excellent and wonderful books, the trouble is that your child might be turned off by a book simply because their school has given it their seal of approval.
The books on this list are some of my favorite Off the List books. They will satisfy parents because they are quality books with good writing and great stories, and they will satisfy kids because they are so much fun.
The 39 Clues
(Scholastic, hardcover, $12.99)
Happy Kid: Scholastic has crafted this adventure series perfectly. Take an orphaned brother and sister, add a mysterious family, the death of an elderly relative, and a globe-trotting treasure hunt to find the 39 Clues and win the inheritance. Each book sports an eye-catching cover and comes with collectible cards that can be catalogued and traded at the incredible, interactive 39 Clues website.
Happy Parent: Ok, so that’s enough to satisfy the kids, right? Now, let’s get down to making the parents happy! Each book in this series is written by a renowned children’s writer. So far we have books by Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman, Peter Lerangis, and Jude Watson, with upcoming books from Patrick Carman, Linda Sue Park, and Margaret Peterson Haddix. There will be 10 books in the series. Not enough to impress you? Scholastic has also kept the price down on these jacketless hardcovers. They’re only $12.99 each.
by Jacqueline Kelly
(Henry Holt & Co., hardcover, $16.95)
Happy Kid: This story takes place during a hot Texas summer in 1899. Our heroine, Calpurnia Virginia Tate (a.k.a. Callie), is the only girl in a family of six brothers, and she’d rather chase grasshoppers than learn to sew. This is the perfect read for fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Caddie Woodlawn.
Happy Parent: Where should I start? This book is all about a girl discovering the wonders of science and the natural world. Oh, and did I mention she does it while befriending her elderly grandfather? By the way, this book received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. And there’s been talk of it being a Newbery contender. Impressive enough?
The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart
(Little, Brown, paperback, $6.99)
Happy Kid: A mysterious ad appears in the newspaper, asking “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?” Dozens apply and go on to take a bunch of strange tests. Only four will succeed, and are sent on a secret mission. Sounds awesome, right? Plus there is a great website for the books (there are two books in the series now, with a third arriving October 6).
Happy Parent: What could be better than a book rewarding the efforts of clever and gifted children? This 2008 E.B. White Read Aloud Award-winner also received starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. Plus, the first two books in the series are in paperback, so they won’t put a dent in your wallet.
(Knopf, paperback, $8.99)
(Knopf, hardcover, $16.99)
Happy Kid: Hiaasen’s books are totally awesome. They usually feature a band of kids coming together to solve a mystery and confront some no-good grownups. Throw in a little vigilante justice and and alligator or two, and you’ve got the perfect summer read.
Happy Parent: Hiaasen’s first kids’ book, Hoot, was a Newbery Honor Book. Many parents will be familiar with his adult books, and his writing for kids is just as great (minus the swear words and excessive raunchiness). Each book also has an ecological theme, which is perfect if your family is having a green summer.
I podcasted Scat back in January. Listen to it here.
by Jeanne Birdsall
(Yearling, paperback, $6.99)
Happy Kid: The subtitle says it all: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. When the Penderwick girls move to the grounds of Arundel Hall for a vacation with their father, they have no choice but to go on fantastic adventures and make new friends. No matter what your child’s personality, he or she will immediately connect with one of the story’s diverse characters. Rosalind, Sky, Jane, Batty, and Jeffrey will not soon be forgotten.
Happy Parent: A National Book Award Winner, The Penderwicks is in my all-time Top 5. (Don’t bother asking what the other four books are; I haven’t decided yet.) This book is simply wonderful. Imagine how a girl in 1868 would have felt reading Little Women. That’s how I felt reading The Penderwicks. Want a special treat? Listen to the audiobook.
by Bernard Beckett
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, hardcover, $20)
Happy Kid: Genesis is set in a not-so-distant future, where issues of human versus artificial intelligence have turned society upside down. The story takes place in a single room over the course of five hours, and I defy your kid not to read the entire novel in one sitting.
Happy Parent: If you can get past the cringe-worthy price tag (originally published in New Zealand as a young adult title, the US publisher has foolishly decided to market this 150-page book as an adult title and charge an adult price), you’ll find that this book is well worth the $20. If your kid likes fantasy, this is the book to read. A total page-turner, reading Genesis may help your child make the transition from young adult to adult literature.
by Sarah Dessen
(Viking, hardcover, $19.99)
Happy Kid: The newest offering from teen favorite Sarah Dessen is probably already on your daughter’s summer wish list, but just in case she hasn’t yet jumped on the train to Sarah-Land, let me assure you that it is a good train to be on. Dessen’s summer romances are huge favorites.
Happy Parent: First off, you’ll get major points if you hand this book to your daughter because 1) now you know who Sarah Dessen is and that makes you totally hip, and 2) this book is brand-spanking new, so clearly you are on top of things just by buying it. Beyond the cool-factor, Dessen’s books are great reads. A daughter of professors at UNC Chapel Hill, Dessen was destined to become a writer. Along for the Ride is her 9th book, and what makes her stand out in the sea of YA writers is her knack for quirky characters. The girls in her books don’t have eating disorders or do drugs – they have the everyday problems that most teens face (divorce, sibling issues, etc.). Dessen writes solid stories (plus, this may be the only way to get your reluctant reader to tackle a nearly 400-page book!).