It is that time of the year again: cold snow turns into humid days, dark mornings turn into long, bright days, and strenuous school hours turn into carefree leisure time. Every year the Clapham community put their heads together and come up with a suggested reading list for the summer. Let me add a disclaimer here: Some of the books on this list are fluffier than the living books our children read throughout the school year, but hey, it’s summer! Let’s grab a book, find a nook, and escape to the world of imagination—or education if you are so inclined.
PICTURE BOOKS, READ ALOUD & EMERGENT READERS
Share these fun books with the littles in your family to introduce them to the beautiful world of stories.
The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and a Big Hungry Bear
by Don Wood and Audrey Wood
This is a story full of fun and trickery as a little mouse tries to keep a hungry bear from eating a strawberry! The deceptive narrator talks to the little mouse throughout the book, which creates an interactive reading experience. The humor in the book is spot on, and there is plenty of opportunity for dramatic voice inflection when you read it aloud.
This little book will become a classic in your family and be one of your favorite read-aloud books. Vivid and engaging illustrations support the storyline and catch the eye. Take note that the theme of deception makes this book more suitable to a five-year-old, but in my experience, most children at this age take the text at face value. So, go ahead and focus on the innocence in the story. The clever plot and the cute ending will have your children begging you to reread it.
Frog & Toad Storybook Treasury
by Arnold Loebel
A frog and a toad: both very similar and very different at the same time. Follow the (mis)adventures of this melancholy pair of amphibians over a series of four books. Your children will love the dry humor of these two friends who support and value each other. The illustrations are as adorable as any frog or toad can be.
Beneath the veneer of silliness are timeless lessons of bravery, fear, and friendship. The quiet predictability of a simple life is what makes these stories so endearing. The clear and unambiguous writing style and the limited use of color in the illustrations leave room for the imagination. Frog and Toad’s adventures are suitable for children 6 and older.
by Astrid Lindgren
I have always liked Pippi because she has red hair and freckles—just like me. But I loved her because, in a world filled with blue-eyed and blond-haired Swedish children, it made her special. Add to that a monkey and a horse, and of course, she became my hero!
The fantastic adventures of this little orphan and her two newfound friends, Annika and Tommy, are outrageous and out of this world. Pippi is unconventional and extraordinarily strong; she is irreverently charming and infectiously silly. With her suitcase of golden coins, anything is possible, and everything is an adventure. My favorite adventure is when she becomes a Thing-finder!
Although Pippi does not have a stellar character—she can be seen as selfish and has a propensity to lie—she is a good friend, and she is generous and protects her friends against bullies. Pippi champions the underdog, and the scrawny, awkward, toothless, red-haired freckled little girl was my constant friend. I hope that I have passed on my love for this eccentric little girl to my own daughters.
Astrid Lindgren thought up Pippi’s adventures to soothe her sick daughter on days when she didn’t feel well, and when Lindgren herself became immobile due to an injury, she decided to write the stories all down and gave it to her daughter as a birthday gift.
Pippi’s adventures are suitable for children 7 and older and create great teachable moments.
Confidence in reading is a developing skill, and I tried to accommodate this development by including both chapter books and book series of different reading levels.
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories
by Carolyn Keene
Nancy Drew is an evergreen detective whose sleuthing skills never go out of fashion. With 64 books filled with mysteries, summer will probably be over before the sleuthing stops. Cliffhanger after cliffhanger will keep your young reader thrilled by the suspense.
Carolyn Keene’s recipe of mystery, just a hint of romance and good old-fashioned fun, will keep young girls captivated all summer long.
Nancy Drew is a good role model for young girls. She is smart, responsible, courageous, caring, and she gets the job done. Nancy is very much a girl, and that makes it easy for young girls to connect with her character.
A huge advantage is that most mothers I know grew up reading about Nany Drew’s adventures, so this series can create a shared experience between moms and daughters and strengthen the family bond before the tumultuous teenage years start.
by John Flanagan
This series of 12 books will keep your child reading the whole summer. It is a great series for children who don’t yet love to read. The wild adventures and likable characters will draw them into a world they would love to explore. The stories are believable with lost of positive themes.
The protagonist, Will, is disappointed when he is not chosen as an apprentice to become a knight, but his life changes when he is chosen as a ranger—mysterious stealth group known for their mastery of the bow and knife in combat. Together, this group fights evil of all kinds.
This series does not rely on adult themes to make it popular; instead, it’s a good old fashion tale of honor, loyalty, and friendship.
A recurring theme in the series is the purpose of each life. Sometimes we know exactly what to do, and other times we find our purpose through the culmination of circumstances. Even though the language could be more poetic, the amount of action certainly makes up for it. Because of some coming of age themes the series is suited to children in upper elementary or middle school.
If your child imagines living in a world with castles and swords, then reading this series will make 2020 a summer to remember
The Door in the Wall
by Marguerite de Angeli
This children’s novel is about endurance. Set in Medieval England, young Robin finds himself without anyone to care for him after disaster strikes. When Brother Luke finds him, he is sickly but still finds the strength to search for his father and save the castle, Lindsay.
The moral of the story is this: You keep walking along a wall long enough until you find a door. Robin searches for the door in the wall while facing the agony of his own disability. He overcomes by focussing on his abilities rather than his disabilities to succeed.
This sweet story has become an American classic and has been awarded the Newbery Prize. The language and tone are reminiscent of medieval times and will challenge children to read at a higher level. This book is suitable for middle schoolers.
Triumph over adversity and commitment to duty are the lessons taught by this book and lessons well worth learning.
The Redwall Series
by Brian Jacques
This impressive set of books includes 22 titles! The Redwall series will prepare your youngster to appreciate the great classics and epic genres of our time, such as The Lord of the Rings and even Beauwolf.
The characters, all woodland animals, live in a monastery called Redwall, where young Matthias, a mouse, strives to become the best warrior.
Matthias leads the woodland creatures to fight a great battle against a nasty rat and sets the reader up for the following adventures.
The stories are fast-paced and filled with villainous villains and heroic heroes. The plotlines are original and entertaining and build well towards a dramatic conclusion. Although the violence in this series is real, so is the humor and the heartbreak that will carry the young readers to emotional catharsis.
Although this is a fantasy book, do not be deceived into thinking the animal characters are mild and friendly. They are truly well-developed characters that stay true to their particular natures—the heroes are good, and the villains are bad.
The books are well written and bring words to life in the imagination. The themes that the anthropomorphic characters deal with make this series more appropriate for upper middle school children.
Recommending books for highschoolers is tricky because books marketed to this audience usually deal with adult themes in agenda-driven ways. Fortunately there are plenty of books that are great reads and connect to the world of teenagers. For my first recommendation, I turn to the classics.
by Jane Austin
In Mansfield Park, the protagonist, Fanny Price, is the antithesis of the robust Elizabeth Bennet who captured the heart of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice—Austen’s novel that preceded Mansfield Park. Austen has a way of juxtaposing her heroines, and since Pride and Prejudice was written before Mansfield Park, Ms. Bennet has overshadowed Fanny for at least the last 200 years.
Fanny is compliant and proper. She does not rebel against her circumstances. She is quiet and kind, but she is also sharp and witty. And this is why I like her – she is a product of her upbringing and forced into compliance by living in a world with which she is unfamiliar. Fanny enters the Bertram house as a poor relation who will assist the housekeeper, Mrs. Norris—also a relation! Fanny is taught that she must always remember her ‘uncommon good fortune’ to be taken in by the Bertrams. This ‘good fortune’ keeps her on the periphery of the Bertram family life and gives her keen powers of observation. Fanny stays in the shadows…until she doesn’t.
Mansfield Park will work its way onto your favorite book list if you dare to look past the epic Ms. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice to the beauty of a simple girl with simple tastes.
Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe The World
by William H McRaven.
Navy Seal, Admiral McRaven, builds on the commencement speech he gave at the University of Texas at Austin, to teach lessons that can change your life. He recounts stories based on his life and those of others who have faced hardship. The lessons are taught with great humility and optimism, and the advice is positive and practical.
At 130 pages, it’s a short read with captivating stories written in a friendly conversational style. The basic idea is that even if you cannot control everything, you can control some things, and if you do small things consistently over time, you accomplish great things—good old-fashioned advice.
I gave my son a copy of his book a year ago and guess what!? He is still not taking out the trash every night, but his bed is made every single morning. So there’s hope, right?
The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer And The Plot to Kill Hitler
by John Hendrix
John Hendrix uses handwritten text and art in a graphic novel to tell the story of Bonhoeffer’s resistance against the Third Reich. He details Bonhoeffer’s struggle between his faith and his ethics in a way that is digestible to children starting at age upper middle school through high school. Although this is technically considered a graphic novel, there is much more text than you would expect.
Hendrix presents history and issues of ethics and faith in a fresh way that speaks to youngsters. The reason we read history is to learn from the mistakes we have made before and then not to repeat them. In this day and time, it is more critical to have a broad view of the world’s history than ever before.
The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Voted one on the most influential books that every high schooler must read and winner of Pulitzer prize, the Grapes of Wrath is set in the 1930 Depressions. It follows the story of a family, the Joads, who are displaced from their family farm in the dustbowl of Oklahoma and follows their trek west to the orchards of California and its promise of paradise. What they find is quite the opposite.
With a book that was briefly banned and burnt in Russia and some towns in the USA, this proletarian novel raises awareness of the injustice migrant workers faced during the Great Depression. In its own way, this book lays the groundwork for political activism.
Themes of humanity vs. inhumanity, faith and guilt, powerlessness, perseverance and resistance, family, friendship, and community solidarity will stay with you long after you have finished reading the book.
Here is a quote by Steinbeck that gives you a sense of power of his writing:
How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children?
Let me conclude with two books parents might want to pick up for summer. Neither is light reading. Both are transformational.
The Gulag Archipelago
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago is a profound book in every aspect. Alexander Solzhenitsyn takes it upon himself to document the stories of his fellow inmates. His purpose with the documentation is to elevate the lives and stories of inconsequential Russian citizens, who suffered under the Bolshevik rule, to immortality. Ordinary people were seemingly randomly sent to the gulags for imprisonment between 1918 and 1956.
This narrative lies somewhere between journalism and history. It recounts names, dates, times, and events with the compassion that only a first-person narrator can muster. We would all do good to heed Solzhenitsyn’s warning of the common fallacious belief:
“It would not be the same here; here, such things are impossible.’
Solzhenitsyn proves to his readers the fortitude of the human spirit. In this time where the popularity of the Socialist ideology is gaining ground, The Gulag Archipelago is a must-read.
The Gathering Storm
by Al Mohler
Theologian and President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Al Mohler, points to the gathering storm of secularism and the danger it holds for Christians. Mohler announces that the trends that Francis Shafer predicted in the seventies are upon us.
The postmodern worldview has so infiltrated the worldview of Christan men and women that it is changing the world, and the church, frequently without a second thought. The storm is the culmination of current issues, namely gender, the sanctity of life, marriage, and family.
Mohler is quick to remind readers of the final outcome of history and the reason for our hope in Christ and proposes a way for Christians to move forward.
This brings us to the end of this year’s summer reading suggestions. Voice your favorite books to read in the comments below or share what you thought about the books we suggest.
Until next time,
The Clapham Blog Writing Team