Fairy tales, faraway lands and real-life adventure

This summer’s reading picks for elementary and YA readers

Travel with me, if you will, to a far-away place where magic reigns supreme. From the back of the wardrobe in Narnia to the highest reaches of Neverland, across the way from the Shire, neighboring Wonderland, from down the street of an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, to a stone’s throw away from the little old lady who lives in a shoe. This is the place where our children’s imagination takes root and thrives; a place where you should inspire your child to flourish.

Such a spellbinding place is not the same for everyone. For some it may be a magical castle with knights and dragons, but for others it may be the open sea on a quest for treasure, or a galloping adventure through the forests of unknown lands.

Every child’s imagination is different, so too are their tastes for which literary worlds they choose to explore when school is out of session. But before your child takes the plunge into unknown realms this summer, here are a few starting points to make sure your young reader is setting off on a path that’s as enjoyable as it is effective in developing their reading skills.

Elementary adventurers

Getting your child to read throughout the year, especially during the summer, is made even easier due to the overwhelming quality and quantity of elementary-age books they have to choose from.

One such story, ideal for children fascinated by dinosaurs or those up for a reading challenge is Don't Ask a Dinosaur by Matt Forrest Esenwine and Deborah Bruss. 

Don’t Ask a Dinosaur follows two young birthday party planners who call on a pack of friendly dinosaurs to help them set up the party – from blowing up balloons to setting out utensils and food prep. But the unique physical attributes of these dinosaurs cause more problems than originally anticipated. Don’t Ask a Dinosaur is a colorful bridge between modern times and when dinosaurs ruled the Earth with illustrative representations of dinosaurs’ physical characteristics matched up against the barriers of helping to plan a party, which makes for a wild romp guaranteed for a fun bedtime read.

When asked about her favorite stories, Adrianne, 6, exclaimed, Princess in Black!

It comes as no surprise that Adrianne, a free-spirited girl who doesn’t go anywhere without a tutu and her favorite Converse sneakers, admires Princess Magnolia, the monster-defeating, black-mask wearing heroine who dashes away from tea parties to transform into her alter ego, the Princess in Black, at the first call of the monster alarm.

The series was created by the award-winning writing team of Shannon and Dean Hale, along with illustrator LeUyen Pham. These action-packed stories are humorous and adventurous, which is perfect for eager readers who dare for something different.

For those young readers who are intrigued by more otherworldly encounters, there’s Jack Chabert and Sam Ricks’ Eerie Elementary series. These books follow Sam Graves, an elementary-school student who finds out his school is alive, where freaky occurrences have Sam desperately searching for clues to solve the riddle that is Eerie Elementary.

Rife with action and mystery, these hair-raising stories and spine-chilling, black-and-white illustrations are just the right amount of scary for those young readers who love all things monsters, aliens and ghouls, oh my!

Adolescent explorers

Be wary, young travelers, for danger and mischief lies ahead from this point forward. From societal barriers to bullying, growing pains and tough family situations, the following stories should come with their own warning labels for the realism they represent.

Even though it’s vital for children to let their imagination soar, it’s just as enlightening to broaden their minds to let them gain a fresh perspective on their surroundings. And the summers during middle and high school are the best time to let them wander wherever their feet may carry them.

Take for example Kwame Alexander’s lyrical story, The Crossover, an award-winning tale about twin brothers who overcome many hurdles, both on the basketball court and off, as they traverse the rocky slope of family and what it means to be brothers.

Alexander’s story, which is told through verse rather than traditional narrative form, sets the bar for catering to those young adolescents whose worlds are nothing but sports, music, family and friends. Alexander shares a rhythm that all young teens can comprehend and internalize. The book is a 2015 Newbery Medal Winner, 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner and a New York Times bestseller. Be sure to check out all the books in the series.

As the librarian at Salem High School, Rachel Hopkins not only monitors the popular books that teens are reading, but she also highly suggests titles that young adults should read to broaden their perspectives on the world at large.

One book Hopkins recommended is Benjamin Ludwig’s Ginny Moon. As a local New Hampshire-based author, Ludwig’s debut novel – which was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and one of Amazon’s 20 Best Books of 2017 – is a heart-wrenching, bold tale that follows Ginny as she navigates her way back home to a life she’s left behind, but must steal, lie, and force her way back to a world she’d be better off without.

While a child’s imagination is important to nurture, helping your child become better acquainted with others around them is also imperative to their reading growth. As Hopkins said, “We live in a fairly homogeneous state and reading about others that face difficult challenges, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, can only serve to bring greater understanding and empathy towards others.”

If you have a young teen that has an old soul and admires classic movies and television shows of the past couple decades — think Star Wars, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Batman — then Marcus Emerson’s The Super Life of Ben Braver is just the story for them.

Packed with snarky witticisms and relatable inner monologues, The Super Life of Ben Braver is a hilarious adventure series that follows Ben Braver as he is relocated to a school only kids with superpowers can attend, except he doesn’t have any.

This particular novel is two-thirds action with a dash of sci-fi and a pinch of comedy with pop culture references that even parents will be able to enjoy. For those young adults who just want to read something relatable and good-humored, Emerson’s Ben Braver is one literary friend they’ll be able to get lost with.

Some teens are looking for something different from what they’d normally read in school that can open their mind to a world of possibilities.

For those particular students, Nina Hicks, a reading specialist at Pelham Elementary School, highly recommends C.C. Hunter's Shadow Falls series.

With 13 books and counting, this series is ideal for those teens that love the fantasy genre – all things ghosts, werewolves, vampires, fairies, witches – and just want to explore a life they might not get to experience within our reality.

For those parents who struggle with getting their teens to read anything longer than a text message, Hicks said, “I have seen firsthand the importance of summer reading for all children, not just struggling readers. Children who read over the summer are able to maintain and even excel their progress toward reading as they enter their new grade level in the fall. Even reading as little as five to 10 minutes a night with your child can improve their reading skills, build vocabulary and language skills. Ultimately, we want children [and teens alike] to enjoy reading and not see it as a summer chore, so the more positive parents are about reading, the better! It is also beneficial for children to see their parents reading and talking about books.”

What’s important for parents to remember is that nurturing a love of reading starts with you. If parents do not show their child that they, too, have a love for books, then how can your child?

Literary skills are fundamental, not only for their education, but also to show them that the town they live in isn’t the only one, nor do people experience it in the same way.

Embrace their passions, but show them that there is more out there to explore. As author Matt Forrest Esenwine said: “When a child realizes, even in a very rudimentary way, the power that books have – to inspire, to surprise, to transport! – that is something that remains with the child throughout their life.”  

Amanda Andrews is a freelance proofreader and an event coordinator at McLean Communications. She can be reached at amandaandrews@comcast.net or through her website at www.thereadersasylum.com