Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. Originally published in 1930, this book is the first in a series of books about a group of adventurous children and a sailboat. Swallows and Amazons introduces the Walker children—John, Susan, Titty, and Roger—their camp on Wild Cat island, the able-bodied catboat Swallow, and their frenemies the two intrepid Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett. The children are living the free range kids’ dream as they camp all by themselves on a small island, cook their own meals, sail their boat up and down the lake, and engage in all sorts of mock-battles and adventures. Sailing, fishing, swimming, camping and piracy form the subject matter, and free-spirited, fun-loving, independent children are the characters.
100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. Twelve year old Henry York is sleeping in his room in his cousins’ house in Kansaswhen he hears a bump on the attic wall above his head. He tries to ignore the sound in this strange-to-him house, but the next night he can’t ignore the two knobs that protrude through the ceiling: one of them is slowly turning . . . It may looks like a cupboard, in an odd place, but Henry and his cousin Henrietta soon learn that the “cupboards” are really doors to another world. This book is the first in a trilogy of fantasy adventures with lots of cupboard doors to explore.
The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars. Fourteen Sara Godfrey feels responsible for her younger brother, Charlie, since Charlie is mentally handicapped and sometimes the victim of bullies who make fun of his disability. When Charlie gets lost, it is Sara who must find him and bring him home. But she needs help. Can the boy whom she despises because he stole Charlie’s watch be the one who helps her find her brother in the end?
Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walter Morey. “When Andy Evans stumbles upon the snow-covered wreckage of a small plane, he’s shocked to find a survivor. Should he put the gravely injured dog out of his misery? The look in the animal’s eyes says he’s not ready to die. It turns out that Kävik’s a champion sled dog, and soon he makes a full recovery. When his rightful owner finds out Kävik is alive, he wants the dog back. But Kävik has other ideas.”
Holes by Louis Sachar. Stanley Yelnats is sent to a juvenile delinquent camp for a crime he didn’t commit. Call it bad luck. The curse of the Yelnats family. Every day the boys are sent into the hot Texas sun to dig holes. It’s supposed to build character, but Stanley soon discovers that there’s more than character development going on at Camp Green Lake.
Ash Road by Ivan Southall. This one takes place in January, summertime in Australia. A small group of children are cut off by a raging wildfire in the wilds of the Australian outback. They have only two elderly adults to help them, or perhaps it is the children who must help each other to get them all out of danger.
Summer is also an excellent season for nonfiction readers to find just the right books for encouraging their particular hobby or interest. Here are a few nonfiction suggestions, but really, nonfiction covers the world and everything in it. If my library patrons will let me know what they’re interested in exploring this summer, chances are I’ve got a book for that!
The Swamp Fox of the Revolution by Stewart H. Holbrook. In summertime, thoughts in the United States turn to freedom, and the Declaration of Independence, and the American fight for independence. We often think first of George Washington and thomas Jefferson and the other “founding fathers”, and I have a quite an array of good books about those men and events. However, Frances Marion, The Swamp Fox, is a lesser known hero of the Revolution, but one who should appeal to kids who like to read about war and dashing exploits. “With little assistance, he organized a group of backwoodsmen into a fighting brigade that carried on an almost private war against the redcoats and Tories during the American Revolution. Marion’s daring raids on their outposts and supply trains so troubled the British, who could never catch him, that in time they called him The Swamp Fox.”
Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis. Journalist Richard Tregaskis was with the U.S. Marines when they landed on the Japanese-held island of Guadalcanal in August, 1942. He was “embedded” with the troops before that was a thing. Mr. Tregaskis spent seven weeks dodging enemy snipers and sharpshooters, eating military rations, sleeping in tents, and chronicling in his diary the island’s takeover by American forces. Guadalcanal Diary is a classic in World War II nonfiction and just the book for challenging your World War II-obsessed child to read over the summer.
Light Action! Amazing Experiments With Optics by Vicki and Josh Cobb. Maybe your middle grade nonfiction reader is more interested in science than in war and revolution. Light Action will give the reader lots of ideas for summer science fun. The young scientist can learn about and experiment with blocking light, bending light, bouncing light, prisms and color, making light waves, polarized light and light waves. These experiments might keep a middle schooler busy for a good part of the summer, using only a few simple materials and pieces of equipment: aluminum foil, paper, glass jars and bowls, a magnifying glass, a light source, sunshine, etc.
Experimenting With Time by Robert Gardner. Or if experiments in light and optics are not your thing, then maybe time and time-keeping devices would be of interest. Investigate body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate and how they relate to time and time measurement. Build an analemma, a water clock, or a sundial. Measure velocity or reaction time. Some of these experiments and demonstrations are a little complicated and require more specialized equipment, but for kids who are interested in the way time works, this book is a treasure trove.
Steven Caney’s Kids’ America. Maybe you just need an all-purpose, stave off boredom, project and information book full of activities, tales, legends, and adventures—enough for the entire summer and more. Tap dancing, magic weather forecasting, panning for gold, hobo sign language, genealogy, frog jumping, jug bands, gardening, whittling, game night and as I said, more. I love exploring this book. It’s sort of like Pinterest, but much more manageable, written for kids, and computer-free.