A Summer Reading List for All Ages

Reading used to be a pastime most kids naturally fell into.  The stories of even my own youth (not that long ago) were often filled with mystery, suspense, murder, ghosts, and all the scary things you can imagine (remember R.L. Stine? Or Nancy Drew?) or they were filled with the real life stories that we were facing as children, topics that spoke to us at difficult times (remember Judy Blume?).  Parents didn’t seem to mind that we were reading something scary or something dealing with topics that are nowadays considered too “mature” for most kids.  Yet these are the stories that speak to children of all ages, that get their imaginations going and provide them a way to learn about “good” versus “evil”; after all, they are attuned to such a distinction quite early on and like it when it’s a clear cut distinction, not one where people learn lessons and become good.

This style of book fell out of favour under fear that it was inappropriate for children, and following that we saw books that didn’t speak to kids and guess what?  Kids stopped reading.  It took a boy wizard whose parents were killed at the start of the very first book, who had to fight evil, make friends, navigate a world he didn’t know, and learn about love and loss to create the love of reading in children again.  This has been followed by A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Hunger Games, and some others, but let us not forget about others that have come before that all children should read.

Here are 10 books for children to read this summer, in a kind of age-related order in that the first ones can also be read to young children who aren’t quite reading themselves up to the last that are for kids in middle school or higher:

Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  We live in a world where people have decided that even young children shouldn’t be exposed to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, forgetting that for years these were the fairy tales read by children.  Being scared isn’t always a bad thing provided you have parents who support you and can help you process what you are reading and explain the moral of the stories and the difference between what is real and what is not.  However, all children would benefit from a reading of the originals – gore and all – for they actually have better moral lessons than the “happily ever after” fairy tales of modern times.

Pippi Longstocking.  Before Katniss Everdeen, there was Pippy Longstocking.  Okay, well, not quite, but Pippi was quite the female protagonist for some time.  The story of a girl who lives by herself with some animals, it portrays a strong female who is capable and a little adventurous, quite contrary to the usual portrayals of females we’ve been privy to for a while.  A classic tale and a classic character.

The Solitaire Mystery. Jostein Gaarder is a Norwegian author and Professor of Philosophy so you should know that these books will get your kids (and you) thinking about the world and the magic within it.  The Solitaire Mystery is the story of a boy and his father who are going looking for his mother than disappeared.  Along the way the boy ends up having a magical journey that allows him to question his role in the universe and other great philosophical questions.

The Little Prince.  There was a time when it seemed everyone read this book.  It was just something that was done because it truly is a literary classic.  However, I have shown this book to my stepson and his friends and am met only with blank eyes and confusion.  Let it be known that we really should be back at a time when all kids read this story of a man’s adventure with the tiny prince from another planet and were able to look at a picture of a hat and think not of a hat, but of a snake that has eaten an elephant.

The Phantom Tollbooth.  If you ever want to teach your children the wonders of the written word, this is the book.  The story of a bored boy who has it all, he ends up on quite the adventures, all of which play on the words we use every day of our lives.  It is a story full of fun, adventure, and without kids realizing it, grammar and synonyms and plays on words and for that it’s one that all children should read at one point for if you don’t love language after reading this one, I’m afraid there’s no hope.

A Wrinkle In Time.  Personally this was one of my favourites as a child and Madeleine L’Engle’s classic still stands the test of time.  The story of children who cross dimensions on a rescue mission, it is probably responsible for a fascination with space and time (i.e., physics) for many children.  The fact that it’s just the first in the series is a huge bonus.

The Halfmen of O.  Few North Americans have read this book – or at least no one outside of my Grade 7 class that I know of.  It’s by a New Zealand author and again mixes fantasy, danger, and heroism as a young boy has to enter the world of O to rescue his cousin who has been kidnapped and brought there.  A little bit like a more science fiction version of The Neverending Story, it is one that most kids should enjoy (and again, is also the start to an entire series).

His Dark Materials.  The trilogy by Philip Pullman is a must-read for everyone.  The story of a young girl who lives in an alternate version of our own world who ends up on an adventure to save the world and the children that are being taken by someone horribly evil.  She ends up crossing through different worlds through holes in between them, even ending up in the world of the Dead for a spell, and faces growing up, a process that brings excitement and fear.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  This famous novel by Mark Haddon is one of the most realistic portrayals of a child with Autism that I have ever read.  Not only is the story fascinating (a bit of a murder mystery if you will), but in a society in which children with disabilities are often misunderstood by their peers, the chance for kids to personalize and understand Autism is a wonderful opportunity.

Sophie’s World.  Also by Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World was actually written for the main character in The Solitaire Mystery and is also a philosophical story.  About a girl named Sophie who comes home one day from school to find a hand written and delivered letter addressed to her in her mailbox.  She opens it to find a small card on it with the questions, “Who are you?  Where do you come from?” and so begins Sophie’s journey into the entire history of philosophy.  Lest you think the philosophical elements are too much or boring, I can assure you they are fascinating and informative.

By Tracy Cassels

July 07, 2014