Summer read-aloud recommendations?

Summer read-aloud recommendations? July 19, 2013

Our summer is turning out a little bit too much like this:



My go-to solution is a read-aloud book, to at least save some part of the day we had rued.  Despite having written dozens of posts about good books for kids, I’m having a hard time finding something suitable.  My goal is just to have something pleasant and enjoyable to do together, and not necessarily to tick off any Indispensible Classics from our Well Rounded Children list.  (I save the list for reciting to myself in the middle of the night, so as to make sure I have something to feel guilty about.)

Any suggestions?  Adventure/humor would be best, something boys and girls would like.  Kids I’m targeting are ages 9-15, and I’m aiming for the higher end of that group.  In the past, they’ve enjoyed of course the Narnia books, LOTR, some George MacDonaldFreddy the Pig books, The Phantom Tollbooth, Robert Nye’s retelling of Beowulf, and Jack Tales.

I just started Alice in Wonderland, but we may ditch it, just because we’re all a little more familiar with it than I realized.

Help me!

Oh, and if you have something to recommend, it would be very helpful if you could mention (a) the age range of the kids who enjoyed it, and (b) a little bit about the book – plot, tone, etc.  Thanks!

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  • Cait Callaghan

    The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander are good with lots of adventure and humorous portions. The books are loosely based on Welsh Mythology and If they liked Narnia and LOTR they will like these.
    Disney made a dark and inaccurate animated film in the 80s that totally missed the point of the books.

    • simchafisher

      I liked that series, but could never get more than a few of the kids interested in it! They liked the young prince, who wanted to save time by buiding the bridge from both ends at once and meeting in the middle.

      • Kate Cousino

        Try something different by Lloyd Alexander then. I never really got into the Prydain Chronicles, but I love the Westmark trilogy and read it to my 8 year old this past winter. HEAVY themes, but very gripping and the action hangs together better than in the Prydain Chronicles.

      • Kate Cousino

        Right now we’re reading an inexpensive ebook version of the Mabinogian…my 8 year old is enjoying it, and it’s good background if we decide to tackle the Prydain Chronicles someday. (It’s a collection of Welsh myths and stories).

  • Heather

    The Wednesday Wars By Gary D. Schmidt. Makes a fantastic read-aloud, or save your voice and get the audio book from the library. It’s one of the best done audio books I’ve listened to. My kids (ages 5 on up to 11) and I listened to it earlier this summer.

    • Heather

      As the only kid in his 7th-grade class who is neither Catholic nor Jewish, Holling Hoodhood shares Wednesday afternoons with his teacher Mrs. Baker, while his classmates leave school early for either Catechism or Hebrew School. Holling is convinced his teacher hates him for this, and she assigns him Shakespeare for their one-on-one time. There are several strands in this story: the current events of 1967-68, Vietnam War and missing soldiers, the New York Yankees, assassinations, air raid drills, lots of Shakespeare, cream puffs, yellow tights with feathers. There is so much going on, I wasn’t sure Schmidt would be be able to tie it up in any sensible way, but he does. I highly recommend the audio book read by Joel Johnstone, whose narration adds to the great story by expertly capturing the voice of a both seventh-grade in general and 1968 in particular. It’s a brilliant listening experience and a rare example of where I would recommend the audio over reading it yourself. His knowledge of the outcome of the story allows him to change his voice from edgy/sarcastic to soft and reflective at all the right times. I can’t recommend it highly enough. And I’d say it’s ideal for kids 8 up to 16.

    • Anna Farrow

      Just finished reading this one to my youngest, who is 11. He loved it. I would also recommend the “Wolves of Willoughby Chase” by Joan Aiken.

      • Eileen

        I LOVE the Wolves of Willoughby Chase but I think it would probably lose some of the older kids, but I suppose that’s true of many of these books.

        • Anna Farrow

          Yes, you are probably right. It has been many years since I last read WWC to my kids. They, and I, remember it so fondly though!

      • simchafisher

        I love this book! Lots of other Joan Aiken books are great, too, and so original.

  • rhtaylor

    My kids loved it when I read Big Red and Irish Red by Jim Kjelgaard to them. They always wanted “one more chapter!”

  • Julia

    Have you read The Mysterious Benedict Society?

  • ARM

    Have you read “The Yearling” with them before? It’s a tear-jerker at the end, but really good, and there are many humorous parts along the way. Or for something very light (to the point of ridiculous) “Portuguese Irregular Verbs” – about the trials and tribulations of an insecure but honor-crazed German professor.

  • Anne McDonald

    My guys are loving the Rangers Apprentice series.

  • Anna

    The Railway Children or Five Children and It – Nesbit
    Island of the Blue Dolphins – O’Dell
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Dahl
    The Cutters – Aldrich
    Cheaper by the Dozen – Gilbreth
    Life with Father/Life with Mother – Day
    The Kid from Tomkinsville – Tunis (it makes no difference if no one likes baseball, these are just really good books.)
    The Kitchen Madonna – Godden
    Mrs. Mike – this might be a bit much for a 9-y-o though
    My Brother Louis Measures Worms – Robinson
    Soup (there are a bunch of the “Soup” books)- Peck
    Harris and Me – I forget who wrote this, but I read it for a children’s/YA lit class in college and giggled madly to myself – out loud, alone in my dorm room – through the whole thing. You don’t strike me as one to be shocked about the chapter on peeing on the electric fence, but if you have anyone who will take that as a dare, use caution.

    The Abracadabra Kid – Fleischman (delightful autobiography by the author of the McBroom books)
    All Creatures Great and Small – Herriot
    Heaven to Betsy (and the subsequent high school years books) – Lovelace (My dad read all the Betsy books aloud at my sister’s request, but the whole family, including a junior high-aged brother, liked listening in.)
    Kon-Tiki – Heyerdahl

    Sorry, I’ll stop now…

    • Mary

      Anna, you took most of my recommendations!
      What about the Little House books? The boys could get into Farmer Boy. The Long Winter might be a nice mental air conditioner.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I’m reading “The Jungle Book” to my 4 and 6-year-old and they’re really enjoying it. My daughter (the oldest) is also looking forward to “The White Seal” in the same book. We just finished “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Lost Princess” (by George MacDonald). A friend of mine is reading the Redwall books to her boys, who are 8 & 9. Not great lit, but fun, especially the accents.

  • Sue K

    I just read The New Policeman by Kate Thompson and liked it. The audio book is good too and includes lots of traditional Irish music (a major theme in the book).

  • Melissa G.

    Anything by Richard Peck. Our library has some of his books on audio and the entire family has enjoyed them (ages 7 to 45). Our 2 favorites so far are: “On the Wings of Heroes” and “A Long way from Chicago”.

  • Sarah

    The Great Brain Series by JD Fitzgerald
    It was my favorite series growing up- the story of a family with 3 brothers growing up in Utah in the late 1800’s. The middle brother is incredibly smart and likes to use his “Great Brain” for schemes that he drags his little brother into. (Stories are told fro the little brother’s POV) Very funny, and cleverly written.

    I think my mom started reading them with us when we were 7 or 8, but I reread the series every year until my little sister destroyed the books by reading them in the bathtub.

  • Amy Elliot

    Blue Balliett’s series: Chasing Vermeer, the Wright 3 and The Calder Game. Excellent art detection for around 8-12

  • Rebekah

    We don’t read much from before 1960, but this summer we stumbled upon the Monster Blood Tattoo series by DM Cornish. Even Dad is listening.

    • Rebekah

      After. Not before.

  • I second the Benedict Society books! My parents read this series to me and my siblings (then 10-17ish) and we were enthralled.

    It’s about three kids who are taken in by a kindly old man with narcolepsy and have to save the world from another old guy who drives a creepy wheelchair and wants to take over the world with a machine that controls people’s minds. There’s bad guy fighting, super secret spy business, and lots of suspense to keep kids on their toes and wishing for another chapter.

  • Nick Newland

    Brandon Mull has some great books. We thought the Fablehaven series was especially awesome and his Beyonder series is quite good.

  • Isabel

    The Betsy-Tacy Books and the Deep Valley books (Lovelace) are great for all ages. Also books by Noel Streatfield are great for twelve and under. And the Secret Garden for eight through twelve! These are all a bit girl-oriented and sweet, but also classic and fun for everybody. Percy Jackson series is great for boys and girls under twelve although everybody can enjoy it.

  • Marietta Newland

    My kids in the 7-14 range loved the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. And mom and dad enjoyed it too.
    Hey–there’s my hubby recommending the same thing. So, yeah–good books!

  • MamaK

    “The Pushcart Wars.” The audiobook is so deadpan NYC it’s hilarious. My 11yo, teenagers and husband all enjoyed it. “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” is also great (not as in Great Books, of course). Audio is delightful.
    We’ve also been going through a lot of Wodehouse audios this summer. Although, my 11yo is picking up a lot of odd Woosterisms.

    Don’t worry – school is right around the corner!

  • Charlotte

    Right now my 9-15 crowd loves Ranger’s Apprentice. Think LOTR Light. Kings and rangers, bad guys and adventures, good morals, not preachy…fun.

  • My 5yo and 3yo and I are listening to Swallows and Amazons, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Princess and the Hoblin, Half Magic, and Henry Huggins (all of the Henry Huggins books) over and over and over again this summer.

  • Jupey

    Have you tried Mistress Masham’s Repose by T. H. White? A nice combination of wit, whimsy, and real adventure. I loved it starting when my mother read it to us when I was about 8 and still do love it – I reread it every few years. I remember my brother loved it too.

  • Are they too young for Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer? Or how about a short story from Edgar Allen Poe? Or maybe “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.”

  • Invincible Hope

    Based on the “already read” list, I would give this a try = “Stout hearts and whizzing biscuits”

  • $1028912

    Our resident 11- year old (whose English reading level is that of a younger kid) enjoyed “The Little Prince” and “Rascal” when I read them aloud, and he is now reading out loud himself: “Ziggy and the Plugfish,” which we just got as a gift from a teacher of his.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    “A Year Down Yonder” is a good one for younger kids to listen to and older ones to read on their own. We listened to it on tape during a cross-country drive one year and it was great. I can’t remember the author.

  • Kristen McGuire

    You might have already read this one, but my kids loved “A Day on Skates” by Hilda van Stockum (ages 6-12 or so) and since it is set in the winter, it somehow cools you down in summer… My older kids (12-15) really liked all of her titles.

  • Alexandra

    “The Long Secret” by Louise Fitzhugh. Sequel to “Harriet the Spy”. A little eccentric, very funny with entertaining characters, especially if you read them in character voices. I’d estimate 4th-8th graders would enjoy.

  • Cordelia

    Have you ever read Arthur Ransome’s Swallows & Amazons series? Very well-written, from the 30’s, and highly enjoyable for ages 6 to adult. The characters and sibling relationships are English, admirable, charming, and perfectly understated – just like the stories as a whole. I can’t think how best to describe the atmosphere of the books (maybe because the baby is jumping up and down on me as I type in a hurry with one hand), but they are imaginative without being fantasies, idyllic without being cloying, adventurous without being swashbuckling, and very-nearly-almost-realistic…a kind of free-range, independent childhood the way we wish it could be. And now the baby’s crying. Plot summaries later, perhaps!

  • CSmith

    The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. Four siblings about the ages of your children, pool their allowances so each one can enjoy a Saturday outing. Set in the US right before WWII, there are two other books about them.
    Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. A true story of a young boy in Colonial America who overcame many early setbacks to become a sailor, eventually teaching himself navigation well enough to revolutionize how ships charted courses.
    The Von Trapp Family Singers by Maria Von Trapp, especially the first half about the family’s life in Germany.

  • 12anon

    My family, when we were just 3 boys and 2 girls, aged 2-12, liked the “Henry Reed” books by Keith Roberts. Also Homer Price and the Centerburg Tales by Robert McCloskey.

  • Elizabeth Anne

    Which Freddy the Pig book should I start with?

  • CathyLouise

    Thr Redwall series by Brian Jacques. They are absolutely fabulous read-aloud books. Fun. Exciting. And there are a LOT of them.

  • Jeannine

    “The Borrowers”: fun miniature fantasy with both boy and girl protagonists.
    I second the suggestion of the Henry Reed books: “Henry Reed’s Babysitting Service” make my kids laugh out loud!

  • Mary

    “The Enchanted Forest Chronicles” by Patricia Wrede fit the bill for summer reading: fun (and funny) fantasy, not as profound as LOTR or Narnia, but highly entertaining with endearing characters. They are dragons and wizards, princes and princesses type fairy tale, but with all the typical tropes turned on their head a bit (princesses run away so they can be rescued by prince, dragons turn out to be good, etc…a post-modern fairy tale, but not overdone, just fun). Haven’t read with my kids (oldest of 4 is turning 5), but I just recently read and enjoyed (and loved all the books you’ve read so far). About 5th-6th grade reading level. Good for summer reading because not as heavy as many of the good books already mentioned here.

  • Eileen

    So many of the truly excellent books recommended here are for younger kids. At least, I can’t imagine my teens listening to them. But as I think of it, I don’t really think anything my big kids would enjoy would lend itself to being read aloud. Kids that age want/need to be able to internalize and putting my voice in the middle would compromise it for them, I think. My daughter loves John Green books, but there’s some cussing and even some allusions to sex. I can’t imagine reading his books out loud, but I think there’s enough good stuff in them that’s worth discussing with teenaged girls.

  • On our trip to the coast, we worked our way through book-and-CD-Audio-Books of volumes 3,4, and 5 of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Seems to work for my special needs son whose understanding of phonics is significantly impaired.

  • Kristen inDallas

    I would highly recommend books on tape. That way your eyes and voice don’t get worn out. You can all listen together while doing chores, or (my preference) settling down for a nice nap. The english-accented readers make the best pre-nap voices, imho

  • Jenna

    The Hobbit! I used it as a read-aloud book for my grade 9 students in English class this year and they loved it. (Well, they loved it when they weren’t pretending to be too cool, and secretly listening intently.) Some of the vocabulary will be advanced for a 9 year old, but that’s probably not a bad thing.

    Also, Silverwing, by Kenneth Oppel might be fun, although much simpler than The Hobbit. It’s an adventure story about bats.

    My personal go-to at the moment is any of the Sherlock Holmes stories, by Arthur Conan Doyle. They’re mostly short stories, and they’re supposedly at a grade 6-ish reading level, although again, some of the vocabulary is antiquated.

    If you’re looking for something that’s just pure fun, look up Gordon Korman. He’s a children’s and YA author who writes both short adventure novels and silly, comedic ones. He’s still writing, so no antiquated vocabulary, but more appropriate for the tween crowd.

  • Teresa R

    Are you anti-Harry Potter?

  • simchafisher

    Thanks so much for the great suggestions, everyone! Lots we already know, lots I had forgotten about, and lots that I never heard of — excellent.
    We’ve decided to go with Half Magic for the younger kids and Great Expectations for the older kids. As soon as we can find our copies.