Great kids' books for summer reading
A review of several children's books from classics to modern works
Summer holidays are just around the corner and that means that it is time to stock up on books for summer reading. Here are a few suggestions for all reading levels and tastes, so that everyone will have a book to read at the cottage, on the beach or in the backyard.
Early readers – Ages 6-8
The BFG (Puffin, $7.99)
by Roald Dahl
One of the summer’s most anticipated movies is Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic story The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant). Despite what will surely be a delightful film, young readers should not be denied the wonderful experience of discovering this magical story first through the book. The Big Friendly Giant befriends Sophie, a young orphan, after he whisks her away to the land of giants because she sees him one night. Together, they learn that friends come in all shapes and sizes. The book is worth reading just for the whimsical language used by Dahl, but there is much more to enjoy in this enchanting short novel, including the motley illustrations by Quentin Blake and the touching relationship that forms between outsiders Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant.
The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig (Scholastic Books, $10.99)
by Emer Stamp
This funny book is perfect for reluctant readers. Written from the perspective of a pig, the diary describes his daily adventures on the farm, whether dealing with the evil chickens or contriving to drive the tractor with his friend, Duck. The diary is written in the style of someone who is just learning to express himself, with Pig using improper verb tenses, making up words to describe noises and at times writing out words according to how they sound, rather than how they are actually spelled. This simple style will help young students gain confidence in both their reading and writing skills. If a pig can, surely they can too! And of course, there is no shortage of toilet humour to keep readers laughing all the way through.
The Book with No Pictures (Dial Books, $23.99)
by B.J. Novak
This book proves that you should never judge a book by its cover, or title for that matter. This book may not have any pictures but it will still keep young readers completely entertained since the author insists that whoever is reading, must read what’s on the pages aloud. And what is on those pages? Lots of nonsensical words and silly poems, of course. Giggling will abound as the book incites readers to say words like BLUURF, that they like eating ants for breakfast or having the reader say that he or she is a monkey. This book is a must-read between parents and children.
Young readers – Ages 9-12
Moone Boy: The Blunder Years (Feiwel & Friends, $17.50)
by Chris O’Dowd and Nick V. Murphy
This novel is the first in a series by Irish actor/comedian Chris O’Dowd and writer Nick Murphy about an 11-year-old boy living in a household of women. His friend Padraic suggests that he make up an imaginary friend to make it all more bearable. The writing is full of clever expressions that reflect Irish witticisms but it won’t deter young readers, especially boys, from enjoying this book. As Stelio Petoussis-Wright, 10, told me: “The authors had a lot creativity to make up this story about a funny Irish boy who REALLY needed a friend!” Moone Boy has his own vocabulary, which he helps readers understand by providing hilarious definitions at the end of the page. The cartoon-like illustrations bring Moone Boy and his crazy adventures to life, which readers will have lots of fun going along on.
Pax (HarperCollins, $21.00)
by Sara Pennypacker
Pax, which means peace in Latin, is the name of a fox that was saved as a kit by young Peter. As war looms and Peter’s father waits to be called to duty, Peter is forced to release Pax back into the wild and is sent to live with his grandfather. The ensuing story is about the two trying to reunite while coping with the harsh realities of war. Told alternately from the perspective of Peter and Pax, the text is accompanied by the charming yet austere illustrations of Jon Klassen. This powerful tale of survival and friendship is moving and thought-provoking. At a time when the war in Syria has created the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, this emotionally-charged novel will give readers much to contemplate about the impacts of war.
Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, $18.99)
by Jacqueline Woodson
Author Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of her childhood in this touching novel told completely in verse. It begins with her birth in Columbus, Ohio in 1963 and goes on to describe her experiences growing up as a young African-American girl in the 1960s and 1970s when the United States was awakening reluctantly to the civil rights movement and slowly transitioning to a desegregated society. With its evocative language and far-reaching themes, it is no surprise that the novel won multiple awards. History, politics and racism are brought to the forefront as they are weighed against the narrator’s hopes, dreams and observations of the world around her. The lyrical beauty of this novel will make readers realize what a crime it would have been if Jacqueline had been denied her dreams and passions simply because of the colour of her skin.
Young adult – Ages 13-16
Flawed (Feiwel & Friends, $21.99)
by Cecilia Ahern
Irish author Cecelia Ahern, best known for her light-hearted novels, not only delves into young adult writing with this novel but also into another genre. With Flawed, she creates a futuristic dystopian society that has its own rules for what is perfect. These rules are not necessarily based on right and wrong, but must be strictly followed. When “perfect” Celestine makes a mistake, she finds out just how harsh the punishment can be, but was it really the mistake that her society is making it out to be? As Celestine faces the judgment of those around her, she confronts her own sense of morality and begins to question the very core of the rules she is told to live by. In our day-and-age of public shaming through social media, the story will make readers reflect on their own actions and encourage them to think critically about justice and discover the courage it takes to go against the current.
The Haters (Harry N. Abrams, $22.95)
by Jesse Andrews
Nothing says summer like a road trip, and this book is the perfect vehicle to take young adult readers on a journey they soon won’t forget. Friends, Wes and Corey, head off to jazz camp, but find out that it is not as cool as they had hoped. Thankfully, they meet Ash, who has distinct sound of her own, and after an evening of jamming together they decide that they’ll learn a lot more by ditching camp and going on tour. This uproarious coming-of-age novel is the follow-up to author Jesse Andrews’ widely popular first novel, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. This adventure feels straight out of a Judd Apatow comedy and is more appropriate for older readers, who like their sentimentality buried below layers of sarcasm, farcical situations and awkward moments.
The Gospel Truth (Red Deer Press, $12.95)
by Caroline Pignat
The impacts of slavery in North America are still felt today, and this novel takes readers back to the time when Africans were stolen from their homelands and brought to America to work as forced labour on plantations. Set on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, this story is told from multiple perspectives, including that of a young slave named Phoebe and her owner Master Duncan. The arrival of a Canadian doctor on the plantation shows Phoebe that there is hope for a different world to come into being, one where freedom is possible. This winner of the 2015 Governor General Award for Children’s Literature is told in verse. Ottawa author Caroline Pignat does not hide the brutality of slavery, but shows that this horrific practice ended through the courage and bravery of those who believed that change was possible and made it happen despite the risks.