It’s 4:00 on a warm and sunny afternoon. Another hour stands between me and when my co-pilot shows up to help me steer this ship to bedtime. This is when we need to shake things up, get out of our four walls, and embark on an adventure.
“Where should we go today?” I ask the kids. This hour is also the point in which I reach decision fatigue. I turn the map over to them today. They do not hesitate with ideas.
I smile, happy to oblige on their requests, particularly when so much these days is a no.
“Ok then. Put your shoes on and let’s go.”
They follow behind me as I make my way out the door. We don’t pack any bags. We don’t make any travel plans. We don’t even get in our car.
All I carry is a colorful blanket, a handful of popsicles, and a book. For this is all you need to see the world.
The season of adventure lies just ahead of us. The longer days, the endless summer sun—they beckon us to get out, see the world, follow a new path. But there is no doubt this summer may look different than we ever imagined. Vacations might be canceled, activities limited, calendars sparse.
But a book can take us anywhere.
We know this. We learned this from the moment we watched that butterfly flying across the pages of a book and heard that familiar synthesized music tune of Reading Rainbow. “I can go anywhere!”
(Sorry to put that song in your head.)
Anna Quindlen wrote in her book How Reading Changed My Life, “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” Children’s books invite the young reader around the world simply by stepping into a story. Even as adults, we use books to escape our reality and experience the world, all from the comfort of our own home.
But as I sit on this blanket reading aloud to my children stories of exploration and magic and wonder, I find myself carried away right along with them. I am no longer stuck in my boring backyard, but on an adventure to discover something new. It’s refreshing. It’s healing. It’s hopeful. Amid so much uncertainty, our children need this type of discovery right now. But I need it too. And I don’t have to wait until I crawl into my own bed with my own book to seek adventure. I just need an afternoon on a blanket with a stack of my kids’ books and we’re off.
Are you ready for adventure? I gathered fourteen of my favorite books to read to my kids during the summer, some that celebrate the joys of a sunny day and get you outside, ones that spark imagination or teach you a new mindset shift, and plenty that evoke the wonder of summer in children and adults alike.
I promise it is as easy as placing an order at your local bookstore, searching the online shelves of your local library, or even perusing the books in your own home. And if none of those options work for your family, every picture book mentioned here can be found read aloud on YouTube. If we have learned anything during this time it’s that, like a book, the internet can take you anywhere too.
Creating New Worlds through Imagination
These books stand as a great reminder for any adult who needs to feed their wanderlust with imagination.
- Roxaboxen by Alice McLarren — When children create a world from just rocks and boxes, this story shows the magic of imagination. “Roxaboxen was always waiting. Roxaboxen was always there.”
- Everything you Need for a Tree House by Carter Higgins — Nothing is more summer than a treehouse. This book will inspire your child to dream as big as their minds can wonder. Warning: your child will request a treehouse when they finish this book. “Everything you need for a treehouse starts with time and looking up.”
A book is an excellent tool for reminding us how to reframe the narrative of our days to see our world a little differently.
- Another Way to Climb a Tree by Liz Garton Scanlon — Lulu loves to climb trees. But when she is sick and forced to stay in, she has to learn a new way to climb, a message we all need to learn as we remain stuck inside. “Lulu with her fingertips climbs that tree, bit by bright warm bit.”
- Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler — Ernest always thought his world was boring, until he escapes one day to the other side of the pond. His adventures teach him how to see his world through new eyes. This may help open up your eyes to the extraordinary nature of your own backyard. “Beyond every street and silent corner was a place unexplored.”
- Pie is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard — This book captures all the beauty in a summer day. But what I love about it is how it reminds us all the ways we can share, even from a distance. “A blanket, a breeze, the sky—these are for sharing, just like pie.”
Nature’s growth is one of the few things that can never be canceled. These books teach us the great ways to get outside and enjoy our beautiful surroundings safely.
- Up in the Garden Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal — From spring to winter, this book describes the activity we can see above the ground, as well as the magic that happens in the earth. If you are thinking of growing anything this summer, this makes for a great guidebook. “Up in the garden I stand and plan—my hands full of seeds and me head full of dreams.”
- Hike by Pete Oswald — This book wordlessly tells the adventure of a father and child out on a hike. The illustrations are exquisite and the tender look the dad gives will melt your heart.
- The Hike by Alison Farrell — Yes, another book on hiking, but I love this one for the way it encourages keeping a nature journal. Hiking will be a great summer activity, following proper social distancing rules of course. And what better way to document the time than with a nature book. You’ll be excited when you can say, like the characters in this book “we did it.”
Summer in Minnesota is our glory time. These books celebrate the beauty of a Minnesota north shore summer.
- Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall — Minnesota is home to some incredible lighthouses. This book captures the charm of these historical landmarks with breathtaking illustrations, and a story that will make you want to get in your car and head along Lake Superior. “On the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse. It is built to last forever. Sending its light out to sea.”
- Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey — While a little long for a bedtime read, this makes for a great afternoon on a blanket with a popsicle read aloud. It captures the joy of a summer on the north shore, despite it’s Maine location. “A little bit sad about the place you are leaving; a little bit glad about the place you are going.”
Favorite Summer Chapter Reads
Summer is also a perfect time to dive into a read aloud chapter book. These books share the same carefree joys of summer, and, like summer, you’ll never want them to end.
- Charlotte’s Web by E. B White — This classic needs little explanation—how one summer, the world fell in love with a pig, a spider, and friendship. If you are just getting into read-aloud books, this is the best place to start. “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
- On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder — All the Little House books are wonderful for summer reads, but this one is my favorite because it takes place in Minnesota. “Mary was too scared to move. Laura was too scared to stand still.”
- The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall — The title nearly says it all. Just imagine the fun, and trouble, four sisters can have spending the summer in a magical cottage. “Maybe it’s fate Hound ate the map. Maybe we’ll discover something wonderful while we’re lost.”
- Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo — This is not just a great summer read, not only an award winning book by a local author, but also the pick for Minneapolis Statewide Book Club “One Book One Minnesota” for April and May 2020. The story illustrates young people dealing with tough realities, but moving forward regardless, a message we could all use right now. “There ain’t no way you can hold onto something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it.”
Summer is around the corner. Adventure awaits. And while the landscape of our summer is uncertain, a book is a ticket that can never be cancelled. This is a promise you can make to your children, and most importantly to yourself.