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Summer is a time for adventures! When you’re a kid anything can be magical when school is out — whether it’s camping, trips to the mall, playing at parks and splash pads, library visits, or swimming in the lake. For some, summer is all about being in nature while others can’t imagine a day beyond their cities, riding the subway to the next exciting stop. There are no rules for what makes a summer special, as long as you spend time relaxing with the people you love.
Here are some primary picture books and middle school novels that show how some people spend their holidays. Hopefully they spark a memory or inspire a new tradition!
In Cary Fagan’s The Big Swim, Ethan has one goal: to survive summer camp. It’s his first time away from home but although he’d rather join his parents on their trip to Europe, he accepts his fate and becomes determined to make the best of things. Sometimes things are hard and parents aren’t always around to help. This novel is great at showing ways to cope with sadness and anxiety, ways to take care of ourselves, and how to know when to push beyond our comfort zone. Ethan finds that writing stories when he’s sad helps with the hard days. Also, a new best friend who’s worse at swimming than he is, first crushes, finding out the “mean” kid isn’t so bad, and learning about Buddy Holly make for some pretty great adventures! This is a terrific novel for middle school readers worried about their first summer at camp or just ready to try something new.
Middle school book A Day of Signs and Wonders by Canadian great Kit Pearson, is about a girl growing up in Victoria, BC in the 1880s. She is lonely and having difficulty seeing where she fits into her family as a sister and as a young lady. It’s a beautiful read inspired by the childhood of Canadian artist Emily Carr, telling the story of one summer day when she meets another girl on a beach. This book speaks to nature, art, family, and the power of friendship when you need it the most. This is also a great introduction to the genre of historical fiction.
Day trips are what summer is all about: getting out and exploring! In The Way Downtown written by Inna Gertsberg and illustrated by Mike Lowery, young readers learn about public transit and the adventures people can have by using transit maps, tickets, passes and so many different kinds of travel. Whether it’s taking a boat out into the harbour or a bike to a museum, a bus to the perfect ice cream shop or a subway to the park, this gorgeous picture book teaches about transit and accessibility for everyone all through the story of the Zanie family and their travels downtown.
Sometimes when you’re a kid, summer means being dragged around by adults who don’t always want to swim or stop for ice cream. Adults often get in a hurry or can be distracted thinking about things other than having fun. In Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and illustrated so beautifully by Sydney Smith, one little girl follows her father around the city. She decides early on have her own adventure by collecting flowers growing out of the sidewalk and cement to make the day better. Not only does she collect flowers for herself, but she leaves flower for others who need them, such as a sick bird or a man sleeping on a bench. Finding beauty and joy in the summer can happen right outside your door!
Who better to go on holiday with than Scaredy Squirrel?! In Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping, young readers travel with the beloved protagonist as he prepares to get outside his comfort zone and visit the great outdoors. We all know “he’d rather be comfortable inside than risk going out in the rugged wilderness” but that’s what summer is all about! Trying new things, getting out in the fresh air, learning how to camp despite the penguins Squirrel is afraid he’ll encounter. Like all of Watt’s classics, this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s another hilarious look at what it means to be brave and maybe even enjoy an adventure.
One of the worst parts of summer is the waiting and the lineups! That’s why the parents in Travels with my Family by Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel avoid busy places and take their kids “off the beaten track.” This is a great book for newly independent readers and it’s full of laughs and crazy adventures like eating grasshoppers in Mexico and thinking alligators are logs in a swamp! Sometimes it’s the craziest summer adventures with your family that make the best memories.
Some days in the summer are about being still and together while staying cool. At the Pond by Werner Zimmermann gives us that moment. This gorgeous and gentle picture book counts goldfish in a beautiful ponds filled with lily pads. Summer isn’t always about being on the go and this book will allow readers and little ones a few moments to talk about numbers and nature. It is an ideal book for that perfect, lazy summer day.
There are some things that are a must in the summer: ice cream, looking for fireflies, more ice cream, and swimming! Swimming in the lake, in the ocean, or the local pool or splash pad keeps so many people cool and happy. In Gary Clement’s picture book Swimming, Swimming he shows that happiness through a community of friends and families gathered at the local city pool to swim away one hot summer afternoon. The words to the classic singalong “Swimming, swimming, in my swimming pool” tell his story of a group of kids excited to spend their day together in the water. Let’s all sing about swimming, swimming, all summer long!
The Bus Ride written by Marianne Dubuc reminds readers that anything can be an adventure — that a bus ticket can be just as exciting as a plane ticket. In Dubuc’s beautifully illustrated picture book, a young girl says goodbye to her mother and gets on a bus alone for the first time to visit her grandmother. She doesn’t bring a phone or a tablet, just her imagination and that’s where the adventure begins. On this bus there are sloths taking naps, bears wearing blue rain boots, and cats knitting scarves. The girl makes friends with a young wolf wearing a striped shirt and together they sit and share cookies. The prose is minimal and the details are a delight. Endless readings will discover different storylines. And the best part of all is grandma waiting at the end of the trip!
No one writes road trips and adventure summer books like Gordon Korman and No Coins, Please might just be one of his best! This story of two friends on a cross-country adventure is wild and non-stop hilarious. Dennis and Rob get dream job as camp counsellors until they realize they will actually have to take care of the troublesome kids on their bus rather than spend time with the female counsellors. When Artie makes the scene — a wheeling and dealing kid with the brain of a genius businessman — there’s no time for any fun! Will Artie get caught, make a fortune from his schemes, or have his counsellors arrested by the FBI? Who knows, but one thing for sure is that no one should miss this book! It makes for a terrific family read-aloud during hot summer nights.
Sarah Campbell has worked as an elementary school teacher and a children’s programmer and library assistant. You would think working at a library would keep her from buying all the books, but it doesn’t. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario with her husband, their sons, and dog, Bingo. You can follow her at Pink Fish Reads.