Here are a few of my favorite books for grade schoolers that feature summer storylines. I did not pick the obvious or the most famous titles. Instead, I selected some that I read over and over again as a kid and still enjoy now. Other titles were released in recent years. I hope you and your family will enjoy all of them.
Susie and the Ballet Family by Lee Wyndham. Susie is a Sandra Dee-esque little ballerina who spends the summer with famous teachers and dancers. This is the book that taught me how to do plies and tour jetes. I was given a copy of this book when I was in grade school, and it has held a special place in my heart ever since. I recently learned that it was part of a series and was able to track down one of the other titles, Susie and the Ballet Horse.
Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume. Though I enjoy Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, I think Sheila the Great is my favorite Blume story for the younger set. Sheila has a lot of bravado in the books about the Hatchers, but this story shows her as she truly is: a vulnerable girl whose bark is worse than her bite. She would rather say she has massive allergies than admit she is scared of something, so she lies. It is a story about facing your fears and overcoming them. Also, no pets are eaten in this book. Hurrah!
Truly Winnie by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and illustrated by Alissa Imre Geis. Only child Winnie goes to summer camp for the first time. Her mother passed away when she was only a baby, something that her best friends know—but the new kids at camp do not. Something makes her lie about her mother's life and career, which gives her a funny feeling inside. This is a sequel to Winnie Dancing on Her Own—a book that Susie would enjoy.
The Steps by Rachel Cohn. Annabel really wishes her family would stay small—just her and her mom at home in New York—but it is only getting bigger. She has stepsiblings, half-siblings, and siblings on the way. During her winter break, she travels all the way to Australia (where it is summer!) to see her father and his new family. Though at first she refuses to connect with all of these extra people, she eventually finds a kindred spirit in stepsister Lucy, starts to love her stepmother, and reconnects with her dad.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. The title only begins to describe this heartwarming, award-winning story. As descriptive as it is, the title still leaves out one other boy, a goofy and intuitive dog, and a quietly watching and discerning father who is still grieving for the mother of his children.
The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #2: The Baby-Sitters' Summer Vacation by Ann M. Martin. This is the first BSC book I ever read. I distinctly remember picking it up during Silent Reading in third grade. I had finished the book I brought to class, as I often did, and needed something else to read. I looked through our small classroom library for something I hadn't already read and found this book. The rest is history. I became a huge (and by huge, I mean huge, huge, HUGE) BSC fan. It all started with this book.
Eenie, Meanie, Murphy, No! by Colleen O'Shaughnessy McKenna. The fourth in a series about Collette and her family, this tale finds the leading (young) lady at summer camp. To this day, I quote this title when others would intone, "Eenie, meanie, miney, moe." If you want to know why the book has this odd title, you'll have to read it. This book's reading level falls somewhere between Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby books and Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik books.
A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry. Speaking of Lowry, A Summer to Die is her first novel. Two sisters who are quite different suddenly, finally bond when one is struck ill. A powerful story, and possibly the first I read on this subject matter. It made me hug my older sister very, very tightly.
This article was also published in the May issue of The Edge of the Forest.
Related Booklist: Spring Stories