School is almost out, and kids are looking forward to a long, relaxing summer. But teachers and many parents worry about the "summer slide" — a deceptively cheery term describing how skills, especially reading skills, tend to slip during 100 days or so of school-free bliss.
But bliss and books don't have to be mutually exclusive. And while many children come home from the last day of school with summer reading assignments, studies like the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report have found that kids "overwhelmingly" prefer books that they have picked out themselves.
So I asked young readers which books they would recommend to their peers. Almost everyone picked multivolume series — series fiction lets readers dive right into the action, because they already know the characters and are familiar with the setting. And series that are well underway are preferred; nobody likes having to wait for the next book.
The Middle School Book Club of the Parkville Library unanimously endorses "Amulet," a graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi.
"It starts off a little sad," says Magnus Larson, 9, "but then they go to this crazy world with a walking house." Lucia Schmidt, who is 14, adds, "There's a robot rabbit named Miskit. How can you not love that?" Six volumes of "Amulet" are available, with a seventh on the way.
Erica Perl, the Washington, D.C.-based author of "Goatilocks and the Three Bears" and "When Life Gives You O.J." has been reading James Ponti's "Dead City" books with her daughter, 11-year-old Bougie Sewell.
"I like these books because they have real stuff — like the schist rock under Manhattan, which is a real thing — mixed with unreal stuff, like the way the schist is connected to the undead," says Bougie. "Also, they're funny and interesting, and I like the characters."
Another entertaining adventure series with great characters is "The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates," by Caroline Carlson, recommended by Max Fishback of Annapolis, 9. Why? "I liked the books because they were fun and they got the bad guys in the end. " Fair enough. The third book in this rollicking series about a girl who rejects finishing school in favor of the seafaring life will be out in September.
A long-distance recommendation comes from Mose Poma in Atlanta. "I like 'Army of Frogs' because it's weird. Usually, when there's a war, it's like humans and zombies or something. But this is frogs versus scorpions. For no reason." His mom, Baltimore native Laurel Snyder, author of "Seven Stories Up" and "Bigger than a Breadbox," observes, "Apparently, 9-year-old boys like things to have no logic." Bonus for sports fans: the "Army of Frogs" books (two so far) are written by former Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce.
From frogs to dragons: Samara Agnes of Baltimore, almost 10, loves Tui Sutherland's "Wings of Fire." "She is very passionate about those books and has reread them about 10 times. She laughs out loud at parts — it's really a sight!" says her mother, Jen Gisriel. "I like how it's not from a human perspective," says Samara. "They use different words and don't call things the same words as we do. It's a completely different world, and it's so complicated and interesting. I love that you see things from dragon's perspective." There are seven books in this series, with another three in the works.
Before she wrote about dragons, Sutherland wrote about cats. It may surprise fans of the "Warriors" series that author Erin Hunter is a pseudonym for a team of authors, including Sutherland. Librarian John Scott of Friends School says of these books, "In my library, those darn cats are still hot!" There are dozens in this series, so any kid who falls down the "Warriors" hole won't have to come up for air any time soon.
Kids who prefer books with a more realistic setting may enjoy "Spy School" by Stuart Gibbs. "I like the dry humor," says my son, Ezra Pipik, who is 11. Twelve-year-old Annabel Morley of Baltimore loved the "Willow Falls" books by Wendy Mass, including "11 Birthdays." "I didn't expect to like it — I don't usually like things that are that pink. But the books are so funny." "Spy School" is on its third volume, and the "Willow Falls" series is complete at four books.
Once kids hit middle school, it can be a challenge to find books that are satisfyingly complex but not too grown-up. Karen Levin of Homewood says her son, Elias Lindquist, 12, is enjoying the "Ascendance Trilogy" (the first in the series is "The False Prince") by Jennifer Nielsen. "It's fantasy," she says, "but not as complicated as 'The Lord of the Rings.'"
Lydia Scott of Ellicott City, also 12, shares a lot of books with her sister Emma, 15, but draws the line at the romantic fantasy Emma now prefers. "I'm kind of in the middle of the teen section and the kids section, and "100 Cupboards" [by N.D. Wilson] is perfect for me," Lydia says. "Some of the characters are really just trying to figure out who they are, and that's what I like about them."
But both sisters strongly recommend "The Princesses of Westfalin" trilogy. "It takes [the book] 'Twelve Dancing Princesses' and tells you what happens to each of them, which ties into all these other fairy tales," says Emma. Kids get a confidence boost when they recognize characters from stories they already know. These self-rescuing princesses meet lots of familiar faces on their adventures.
My thanks to the many kids who shared their favorite books with me. Read great books this summer!
Paula Willey is a librarian at the Parkville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. She writes about children's and teen literature in various national publications and online at unadulterated.us.
An earlier version of this story misstated Samara Agnes' last name.