Summer is the perfect opportunity to tackle a new shelf of books at your local library or bookstore. The vacation season isn’t all about outdoor play and water activities, especially with the huge focus on summer reading by NYC schools and libraries. Reading doesn’t have to be an obligation. All it takes is to find one great book: a book that pulls you in, keeps you turning pages, and leaves you with something to ponder. That first book is like a magical key that unlocks a door to the world of literature. When you truly enjoy a book, you know just how powerful words can be, and you’re more inclined to pick up the next book. Now that summer has officially begun, we have a collection of book suggestions for your kids, including books for early readers, first chapter books, upper-level chapter books, and young adults. The reading level is crucial! Kids like to feel confident when they read, so it’s essential that they choose an appropriate book for their level. On the other hand, kids should also challenge themselves, so use this guide to find the perfect balance between age-appropriate level and challenge, combined with an interest in the genre. From classics to the newest releases, we’ve got the best summer reads for your kids.
And if you’re looking to pair your kids’ summing reading with NYC classes for a real educational summer, check out our guide to free summer classes!
Nowadays more than ever, it is so important to instill a love for reading in your kids from a young age. Not only do you want your kids to learn how to read, but you want them to enjoy reading. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the best books for early readers, ranging from learning the alphabet to tackling full sentences (with pictures of course!). Here at New York Family, we value the learning and educational process, which happens at school, but it starts at home. Check out these books for early readers, and sit with your little ones as they sound out the words and gain confidence in their reading abilities!
NYC ABCs by Mr. Boddington’s Studio
What better way to learn the letters of the alphabet than relating the letters to life in NYC? A true beginners book with plenty of fun and colorful illustrations, little ones are introduced to the alphabet in style. U is for Upper East Side twins and C is for Central Park Zoo penguins (chitchatting). For more one-letter acronyms unique to NYC, check out this introduction to reading. Your kids will likely grow fond of both NYC and reading at the same time! Grades: Preschool-Kindergarten.
The Hideout by Susanna Mattiangeli, illustrated by Felicita Sala
A wonderful picture book for early readers, The Hideout tells the story of an imaginative young girl who has a lot to do in the park. Nobody can find little Hannah, but she’s occupied with building her own secret hideout with her friend, the Odd Furry Creature. Will Hannah be lost in the woods forever? Spoiler alert: in a plot twist ending, Hannah is actually lost in her drawing, not the woods! Kids who love playing outside and imagining little worlds for themselves will relate to Hannah and love the dreamlike illustrations in the book! A new release as of June 4, 2019, your little ones will love this introduction to reading. Grades: Preschool – 1.
Elmer by David McKee
Elmer isn’t your typical grey elephant. He’s different. Elmer has a beautiful patchwork of rainbow colors, but all Elmer sees is that he’s different from the other elephants. So Elmer tries to turn himself grey to fit in with others. Will Elmer be more satisfied after he looks like all the other elephants, or will he realize the value of difference? Follow Elmer’s journey of self-discovery in this wonderful picture book about identity and difference. Grades: Preschool – 3.
I Have an Idea by Hervé Tullet
An interactive book with pictures that pop off the page, Tullet crafts not just a story, but an experience for young readers. I Have an Idea is an imaginative exploration of the creative process. Trace the origin of an idea through the process of nurturing that thought, heading down the wrong direction, and ultimately bringing that idea to life. A true inspiration for young, impressionable minds, this book should surely be on your summer reading list! Grades: Preschool – 1.
Leyla by Galia Bernstein
Leyla is part of a family of baboons who are loud and love snuggling, but Leyla wants some alone time. The young baboon runs away from her family to the desert, where she finds a lizard who also enjoys his quiet time. After her time away, Leyla is ready to head back to her loving family, and she knows that she can always head back to the desert for her quiet time. With artistic and comical images of baboons, kids will love reading Leyla’s story! Grades: Preschool – 3.
Small World by Ishta Mercurio, illustrated by Jen Corace
A heart-warming and motivational story about growing up, learning, and curiosity, Small World is Mercurio’s debut picture book, on sale July 2, 2019. Kirkus Reviews even compares this anticipated children’s book to Dr. Suess’s famous Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Follow the story of Nanda from when she is born, to when she decides to become an astronaut. Watch Nanda’s passion for shapes, structures, and patterns grow, and then how she turns that passion into a career. Small World is both an engaging read and an inspiration for young kids with big dreams. Grades: Preschool – 2.
A Weekend with Wendell by Kevin Henkes
Sophie’s cousin, Wendell, comes to spend the weekend at her house. But Wendell is not very kind; he makes Sophie pretend to be the dog, while Wendell gets to be the parents and children when they play house, he pinches Sophie and makes Sophie carry all of his things upstairs. How should guests behave in another family’s house? How do we deal with family members that we may not get along with? What does a healthy, quality friendship look like? Explore these questions and more with your little ones in this beautifully illustrated picture book! Grades: Kindergarten – 4.
Can You See Me? by Bob Staake
With rhymes and illustrations, Staake crafts an engaging read for early readers. Follow the story of a giant lizard who hides in unlikely places. Kids will get a kick out of where this lizard hides next! Can You See Me? is often compared to Dr. Suess’s books for beginners with their simple rhymes and colorful visual clues. Grades: Preschool – 2.
Camp Tiger by Susan Choi, illustrated by John Rocco
Both a story of adventure and change, Camp Tiger is about a boy who goes camping with his family every year. But now that the boy is going into first grade, his mother wants him to start doing things by himself. While dealing with the inevitability of growing up, he also encounters a tiger, who he, surprisingly, forms a strong bond with. Susan Choi is an acclaimed adult novelist and Pulitzer-prize finalist, but this is her first children’s book! Grades: 1 – 3.
The Mitten by Jan Brett
When Nicki drops one of the white mittens that his grandmother knitted for him in the snow, the mitten has its own adventure. One by one, different animals discover and enter the mitten. As each new animal comes, they all make room in the mitten. But what happens when too many animals huddle together in the mitten? And what happens to Nicki’s mitten? Find out in The Mitten. Young kids will love turning the pages to see each new animal! This is a great book to either read to your kids for story time or to start their own reading. Grades: Preschool – 2.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess
Sam-I-am asks the question again and again: “Do you like green eggs and ham?”. Sam-I-am expands on his question: “In a house or with a mouse? In a boat or with a goat?”. Join Sam-I-am to find out all of the many places to eat green eggs and ham and all the many different people and animals to eat them with. This is the perfect book for early readers, because the rhymes and simple words, paired with illustrations, make the story both engaging and manageable for little ones to figure out what the words mean. Your kids will get a kick out of all the various ways to eat green eggs and ham, so don’t be surprised when they ask you for some green eggs and ham for lunch! Grades: Preschool – 2.
Curious George Goes to an Ice Cream Shop by Margaret and H. A. Rey, illustrated by Alan J. Shalleck
Curious George is a mischievous little monkey who gets into a bit of trouble wherever he goes because he’s so curious! But Curious George has a big heart, and he always means well. In this Curious George book, Curious George can’t decide which ice cream flavor to order, so he decides to try them all! After making a mess, Curious George has to find a way to turn this situation around. Kids love reading about this monkey in action, and the different colored ice cream scoops are definitely appealing. You could even treat your little one to a scoop of ice cream as a reward for their stellar reading! Grades: Preschool – 2.
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Named one of the 100 Greatest Children’s Books from the Last 100 Years by the New York Public Library, Corduroy is a story that is sure to warm the hearts of your kids. Corduroy is a little bear in overalls who sits on the department shelves of a store, longing for a child to take him home. When Lisa wants Corduroy, but her mother thinks that Corduroy is too worn, Corduroy embarks on a nighttime adventure around the store to find a new button for the space where he’s missing one. Read along as a touching friendship unfolds between a little girl and a little bear. Grades: Preschool – 1.
Paint By Sticker Kids: Unicorns & Magic by Workman Publishing
This isn’t exactly your typical book for early readers, but it engages little ones like no other. If you’re going on summer vacation or taking a road trip, pack this book along for the ride. Complete with tons of stickers (including glitter stickers!), kids get to match the stickers to the number and piece-by-piece see the image come to life. If you want to display the mosaic afterward, the perforated pages make it easy to tear the page out. So, is there any real reading involved? Not exactly, but the book does encourage your kids to use their imagination and evokes their perseverance as they think about how to arrange their stickers on the page. Grades: 1 – 4.
First Chapter Books
The first chapter books that your children read are crucial to fostering a deep love of reading. That’s why, more often than not, it’s best for first chapter books to be a part of a series. That way, if your kids enjoy the book they read, then there’s a bunch more for them to read next that they’re guaranteed to enjoy. First chapter books are a big step in your child’s path of reading, so it’s important that the first chapter book that they read is both the right level for them and a genre of interest. Kids can be discouraged quickly if the book is too difficult to read or they don’t enjoy the story. We’ve outlined some great first chapter books below that span a variety of genres and are all centered on the entryway level into chapter books.
The Zach & Zoe Mysteries by Mike Lupica
Do your kids love kicking the soccer ball, throwing a baseball, and running around outside? Or maybe you have little New York Jets or New York Yankees fans? Well, in this sports-themed series, your sports-loving kids will immediately relate to eight-year-old twins Zach and Zoe, who love playing sports and solving mysteries. Each book focuses on a different sport and a different mystery to solve with this brother and sister dynamic duo. The Hockey Rink Hunt is the latest book out in the series, published just recently on May 21, 2019. The sixth book in the series, The Lacrosse Mix-Up, is anticipated to be released on November 5, 2019, so keep your eyes out this upcoming fall. The great part about a series that is ongoing is that your kids will experience the anticipation of waiting for a book that they really want to read, which will only further foster their love of reading! Grades 1 – 4.
Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne
If your kids are little adventurers, then the Magic Tree House series is perfect for their first chapter books. Jack and Annie, brother and sister, discover a tree house full of books. They soon find out that this tree house is magical, and it has the power to transport them to different times. Follow Jack and Annie’s adventurous quests as they visit a different time and place around the world in every book, from the prehistoric times, dominated by dinosaurs, to Pompeii during the Roman Empire. Young readers will feel as if they are right there, alongside Jack and Annie, for all of their missions. If you’re already caught up with this series, the next book, To The Future, Ben Franklin! will be out on July 9, 2019, with another one to follow on January 7, 2020: Narwhal On A Sunny Night. Grades: 1 – 5.
The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young
The annual pumpkin race draws competition from all across the island, but when best friends, Billie and Sam, decide to compete against each other, who knows what will happen. Billie wants to get revenge after last summer’s race, when Sam’s pumpkin crashed into hers. Yet when a long-lost relative pays a surprise visit, Billie’s perspective shifts. In this 192-page chapter book, read about friendship, competition, science, and family! Grades: 2 – 6.
Humphrey Series by Betty G. Birney
This book series appeals to most kids, especially those who love animals, as the series is all about a classroom pet, Humphrey. Told from the perspective of this hamster, kids get to see life from the eyes of Humphrey as he goes to different kids’ houses every weekend. These books explore friendship, navigate challenges, and encourage readers to consider the world through others’ eyes. Grades 3 – 5.
The Baby-Sitters Club Series by Ann M. Martin
These books will likely appeal to your daughter, as they focus on female friendship and, of course, babysitting. Four girls decide to start a babysitting club together, but they don’t anticipate all of the challenges that they face in running a business. Each girl has their own, unique personality, so there is a character for everyone to relate to. Readers will explore themes of hard work, self-discovery, and friendship. And the series may even inspire your daughter to start her own babysitting club in a few years! Grades: 3 – 6.
Emperor of the Universe by David Lubar
Keep your kids up to date with the newest and latest reads with Emperor of the Universe. New to the children’s book community as of July 2, 2019, this book is a wonderful introduction to chapter books with imaginative characters and lots of black and white illustrations. Nicholas, a seventh-grader, his pet gerbil, Henrietta, and a package of ground beef are transported into the universe by an alien space ship. Nicholas wants to go home, but with the Universal Police involved, a lot will happen before Nicholas is safely back home. Find out how Nicholas is crowned Emperor of the Universe and what happens to that package of beef in this exciting and hilarious novel for the kid with a huge imagination and a craving for adventure. Grades: 3 – 6.
Story Pirates Present: Stuck in the Stone Age with Geoff Rodkey, illustrated by Hatem Aly
The Story Pirates are here, teaming up with screenwriter and children’s book writer Geoff Rodkey to immerse young readers into a story like no other. This is the second book in the Story Pirates Series, with the third coming out in 2020. What’s great about these books is that each one features a different author, so every story is completely unique, from a whole new perspective. We love Stuck in the Stone Age, a time-travel adventure that unites two unlikely allies together when they’re transported into the Stone Age. Accompanying the story is the Story Creation Zone, where young writers are encouraged to create their own stories through a step-by-step creative writing guide. Though the series is fairly new, Story Pirates provides an engaging introduction to chapter books, as they support kids’ imagination and foster a love of reading and writing. Grades 3 – 6.
Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen by Niki Lenz
Bernice doesn’t want to be a bully- she wants to change and become a model citizen. Especially after her mom leaves her with her aunt in a new town, Bernice takes this as an opportunity to be kind and finally make a true friend. But being kind is harder than Bernice thought when the other kids aren’t kind to her. Kids will love reading about Bernice’s comical pranks (and hopefully not get any ideas!). This is also a great book to teach kids about the dangers of bullying in the classroom. Grades 2 – 6.
Upper-Level Chapter Books
After tackling many of the first chapter book series, it’s time to move on to some upper-level chapter books. These books are perfect for middle schoolers who are in that space between the children and young adult sections. They’re not quite ready for young adult books, but they’re beyond many of the children’s books. The following chapter books are a higher reading level, and they often unfold a deeper story, exploring themes that tweens can relate to. Oh, and the illustrations are all gone- this is the big leagues!
Because of Winn-Dixie: Kate DiCamillo
When ten-year-old Opal takes in a stray dog from the local supermarket, the two quickly form a strong connection. Opal’s life begins to change as she makes new friends and gathers up the courage to ask her dad about her mother, who left when she was three. And it’s all because of Winn-Dixie. In this coming of age story, readers explore the complicated nature of family, the meaning of friendship, and identity. Grades: 4 – 8.
The Law of Finders Keepers (Mo & Dale Mysteries) by Sheila Turnage
The final book of the Mo & Dale Mysteries, Turnage crafts one last capturing story for young readers. There’s lost gold- pirate loot- somewhere in Tupelo Landing, and the search is on. Mo, Dale, and Harm look for the gold for Mayor Little’s mother, but they’re not the only treasure hunters. As the search moves forward, Mo realizes that she might find her long-lost Upstream Mother, and Dale has Valentine’s Day struggles. Oh, and did we mention that Mo, Dale, or Harm might have to leave Tupelo Landing for good? Uncover the mystery in the final book of the series! If you haven’t read the past three books in the series, check them out: Three Times Lucky, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, and The Odds of Getting Even. Grades: 5 – 6.
The Trilogy of Two by Juman Malouf
An exception to the rule of “no illustrations” in upper level chapter books, Malouf includes illustrations in her novel. But this is surely not an introduction to chapter books with the thick 416 pages and the deep exploration of sisterhood. For twins, Sonja and Charlotte, mysterious things start happening when they play their instruments, so they begin a journey to understand their past. The pencil-drawings enhance readers’ understanding of the fantastical world that Malouf creates. Grades: 5 – 6.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Stanley ends up in a juvenile detention center, where, as punishment, he and the other boys have to dig holes in the dried-up lake. The warden says that digging holes builds character, but Stanley isn’t so sure that’s the real reason. In a mysterious and adventurous story, readers untangle, piece by piece, the secrets that have controlled their lives for generations. An award-winning novel and movie, Holes is an engaging read for kids, and they can watch the movie afterward! Grades: 4 – 8.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle
Though both a highly creative and imaginative story that utilizes sci-fi elements, L’engle also brilliantly connects this clearly made up world to a very real teen girl. The novel explores insecurity, courage, self-confidence, and family, all while crafting a world that pulls you into the narrative. In the adventures of space and time, Meg searches for her father, a scientist who disappeared when he was doing secret work for the government on the tesseract (a wrinkle in time) problem. What will Meg find out about her father? What will she discover about herself? Grades: 5 – 8.
Project Terra Bites Back by Landry Q. Walker
The second book in this all-consuming series, Elara starts her second year at the academy and wants a normal school year after almost dying and saving Paragon. But Elara’s priorities shift when an evil force tries to take down the galactic order. Will Elara be able to win this time? And will she still be able to enjoy somewhat of a normal life with her friends? This novel is based on the real science of terraforming! Join Elara on her adventures for a thrill of excitement and a dash of humor along the way. Grades: 5 – 6.
Say goodbye to the kiddie books and hello to the world of (young) adult literature. Young adult novels often inhabit the teenager perspective and explore mature subjects. These novels are intended for late middle school and high school kids who are ready to understand themselves and others in new ways through the written word. While children’s books certainly feature talented writers, something new that you’ll notice in young adult books is the focus on tone, style, structure, and beautiful figurative language. Pay attention to the stylistic and structural choices that the author makes, and annotate as you go along with questions and lines that love. We’ve got a list of young adult novels, representing a variety of genres for every reader.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Miles, who struggles with his own self-confidence and identity (and is obsessed with last words), meets a beautiful, yet confusing girl, Alaska, at boarding school. As he gets to know Alaska, he’s pulled into her cleverness, humor, and attraction. But Alaska has her own demons, and when something terrible happens, Miles is left to piece together what happened and understand who Alaska truly is. Note that this book contains sexual scenes and profanity, as well as explores very deep questions of existence. However, Green’s writing is absolutely amazing, and he handles these subjects in such a way that drives forward messages about struggle, depression, identity, and youth. Grades 8 – 12.
Pretty Little Liars Series by Sara Shepard
If you love a good mystery, thriller, or drama, then Pretty Little Liars is the young adult series for you. And if you’ve already watched the show, the books are completely different (and better in our opinion!)- even the identity of A, the anonymous stalker, is different. When Ali disappears, her four friends begin to receive odd notes and threats from A. As A becomes increasingly dangerous, messing up the lives of these girls, Aria, Spencer, Emily, and Hanna work together to find out who this mysterious A is before it’s too late. Pretty Little Liars will have you reading a book a day with the engaging stories of these four girls, both as they’re tormented by A and in they’re complicated love lives, family issues, and school drama. Grades 7 – 11.
The Selection by Kiera Cass
If you’re a fan of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, then The Selection is for you. In this #1 New York Times bestselling series, 35 girls have the chance to live in the palace and compete for the prince’s hand in marriage. But when America Singer is selected, this isn’t exactly her dream come true. She’s perfectly content in her caste and already in love with Aspen. But who knows what will happen during the selection. Follow the love story of America and Prince Maxon, alongside the complicated nature of the caste system. Grades 7 – 11.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
A profound coming of age story, Knowles creates such real characters that you feel transported to the time of World War II along with the boys at the all-boys boarding school. In this tragic, yet relatable and moving story about two friends at boarding school during the summer, A Separate Peace will leave you thinking about friendship, jealousy, self-confidence, and the larger questions of life long after you finish the book. Grades 8 – 12.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
A timeless read that crosses all generations, Austen writes with grace, composure, and a bit of humor in Persuasion. If you have an interest in the literary classics and appreciate tracing a sort of literary tradition, then Persuasion is a great entrance to your journey. And the story has a focus on youth, in how much of the novel stems from an event that happened between two characters in their youth, as well as many of the characters, even the adults, exhibit youthful behaviors. Read about love, honor, family, and, of course, the power of persuasion in this famous classic. Grades: 9 and up.
Come Find Me by Megan Miranda
If you’re in the mood for a thriller, Come Find Me is your book. Miranda knows just how to build suspense so that you’re guessing and thinking all the way up to the last page. Two teenagers connect as they’re searching for their individual siblings who disappeared. Drawn together by strange signals, the two come to learn that their pasts are connected, as the message is meant for only them. Is something coming for them? Or is the signal warning them about something that’s already here, lurking in the present? Grades 7 – 12.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
A moving memoir is sure to broaden any teen mind’s perspective, Men We Reaped tells the story of five young men who Jesmyn Ward lost in her life to drugs, suicide, accidents, and the seemingly inescapable history of racism and poverty. Ward writes to understand the “why” behind these tragedies, and what she ultimately uncovers is a deep exploration of bravery, loss, family, and community. Named one of the Best Books of the Century by New York Magazine, we’d recommend this courageous novel to any and all readers. Grades 10 and up.