This article originally appeared in For the Love of Teachers. Reprinted with permission by author Christine Weis.
Did you know that students lose about 60% of what they have learned over the school year over the summer?! It’s called summer brain drain and teachers see the effects of this when students go back to school in the fall. What teachers notice most is that students come into the new grade with lacking skills and low pre-assessments.
There are so many resources out there for summer reading that it could get overwhelming. Based on my experience of teaching elementary students for 15 years and having a 6 year old of my own, I compiled a list of must read book favorites from a large audience of avid readers and book enthusiasts that have engaging content, interesting characters and similar themes. These books have also become my favorite reads as a teacher and as an adult.
Early Reader Favorites
Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osbourne
An excellent combination of fiction and fantasy based on two characters that use their ‘Magic Tree House’ to go on adventures in amazing places while using clues to solve mysteries. These books are easy to read aloud and are easy to listen to. These books have short chapters and some illustrations at just the right parts. My son and I love the assortment of titles and topics to read both for enjoyment and for learning. I particularly like the Fact Tracker books in this series too. When teaching my third graders a unit of study on Ancient Rome, I used the nonfiction companion Ancient Rome and Pompeii: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House 13: Vacation Under the Volcano book to teach about Roman culture, Roman architecture, Roman lifestyle and clothing, military and more. These books get kids learning and they get hooked on the content.
Geronimo Stilton Series by Elisabetta Dami
Geronimo Stilton is about a mouse that works as a journalist and editor for the fictional newspaper, The Rodent’s Gazette. These books are filled with vibrant colors and big, bold letters that really attract young readers. The kids really seem to love reading these books just because of that, plus the stories are really good!
Middle & Upper Elementary School Must-Reads
The following books all focus on the theme of building relationships and friendships, which is especially important for building classroom community. I always start the year off with reading these books in my classroom and then within small student groups, but if your students didn’t already read these books, then encourage them to read them over the summer or better yet, encourage them to read them again! Adults will even enjoy reading these books and should be encouraged to read along with their child.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
This timeless classic story of friendship between a spider and a pig is a must read for all children. I love to read this book aloud to first and second graders but this is a must read for fluent, independent readers. This book could be read over and over again.
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
A story about a bond between a girl and her dog brings together the people in a small Florida town and heals her own troubled relationship with her father. This is a great story to analyze relationships between characters. Summer movie night? Comparing the book to the movie is a great extension. The movie is fantastic too!
A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron
A Dog’s Way Home is an unforgettable tale of the many miles, months, and mountains that divide two loyal friends—but that can’t possibly keep them apart. An emotional read!
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Tear jerker alert!! This story is about two fast friends, Leslie and Jess, who spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia. One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
Another best seller by Kate DiCamillo about two characters who learn to trust each other, and ultimately become friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things—like memories, and heartache, and tigers—can’t be locked up forever. This books explores some deep underlying themes and emotions.
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Marty will do anything to save his new friend Shiloh, a young beagle in the hills behind his home. Shiloh belongs to Judd Travers, someone who abuses his dogs. So when Shiloh runs away from Judd to Marty, Marty just has to hide him and protect him from Judd and tries to keep this secret from his family, and most of all Judd. A heart touching story about loyalty and friendship between boy and dog.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, with a blend of humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.
And the Top Summer Read is….
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Son to be a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay. Can’t wait!
Non-Fiction: Read to Learn Must-Reads for all Ages
Who Was? What is? Where Is? by Kate Boehm Jerome
For your curious and thirsty for knowledge readers, these books will do the trick. This is a non-fiction book series and are a hit with middle to upper elementary students. Book titles include famous people, places, “things” and more. I love their website WHOHG. Visit to explore their library and play games.
I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education. This is a memoir of the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize who will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.
These books come in a wide variety of topics for ALL ages. There are almanacs, Little Kids First Big Books, books about a single topic, ‘Why’ books, and so much more. There are beautiful photos, fun facts, and extended vocabulary for beginning, developing or fluent readers. There is a book for everyone!
Summer Reading Tips for Students and Parents
I’ve come across groups of students that have read many or all of the books I recommend or have in my classroom library but don’t fret. Encourage parents and children to read them again. Reading for a second or even third time always teaches the reader something new. There are so many things to learn while reading and there is always something new to pick up on the next time you read. Ever watch a movie and say, “Hey I missed that part the first time I saw this movie,” or liked a movie better the second time you saw it. Sometimes you gain a better understanding the second time around regarding the plot twists, characters and theme.
Parents might ask teachers what their child should read if they are reading on a middle school level but are still in elementary school. My response is nonfiction. It’s just not appropriate for a 3rd grader who is reading on a 7th grade level to engage in content that is not developmentally appropriate. So for high readers I always encourage them to read more nonfiction. Nonfiction allows students to delve deeper into a topic that they are passionate about and be exposed to advanced vocabulary.
Encourage your Pre-k and kindergarten students to read a variety of picture books by reading the pictures. Encourage them to read with an adult and to be read to by an adult from an assortment of early chapter books and picture books, both fiction and non-fiction.
Encourage families to read together. A book club at home is a great way to read and discuss the big ideas with children.
When and Where Should Kids Read?
It’s best that children read for at least 30 minutes a day. Make it fun and easy by packing a book wherever you go. You could read anytime and anywhere!
- On the beach
- By the pool
- Before bedtime
- On a rainy day
- When it’s too hot to go outside in the heat
Christine Weis is a Back to Basics Learning Dynamics tutor, teacher, professional development instructor, mom of two boys and the founder of For The Love of Teachers, a website and blog dedicated to teacher collaboration, professional growth and useful resources. To read more about Christine, CLICK HERE.