Even though your child is beginning to read on her own, sitting down together with a book is still an important part of her development as a reader, and it's a perfect summer activity! "Even if your child can read, we would encourage you to share the summer reading experience,” says Helen Huber, a veteran librarian and elementary school teacher, and a literary adviser for GiftLit, an online retailer of hand-selected books. “Your modeling of fluency and your oral expression enhances their experience of the story and their reading skills."

Many kids entering first grade are still taking baby steps with reading. Others want to read simple books on their own. If you're feeling flustered trying to find books that both you and your child can enjoy, we've got you covered. We've cracked open hundreds of new titles to bring you this list of fail-safe first grade favorites for summer.


2012 Summer Reading Book Picks

Water Sings Blue, by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So. Despite gorgeous watercolors and elegant rhymes, this pretty book of kids poetry doesn’t take itself too seriously. For parents who’d love to try a collection of poems but want it served up with some wit and humor, we’d recommend this gem of hermit crab realtors and seas turtles who don’t stop for directions. (Chronicle, $13.06)

How Many Jelly Beans, by Andrea Menotti, illustrated by Yancey Labat. It’s one thing to count to 100, or 1,000. It’s another thing to have a clear sense of what those numbers actually mean. This delicious concoction gives kids a visual picture of what really big numbers look like, by presenting them in a format kids can understand... jelly beans! Bright illustrations and a sassy text add up to serious fun, with the final foldout a 1 million jelly bean extravaganza. (Chronicle Books, $15.31)

Everything Butt Art at the Zoo, by Brian Snyder & Alexis Moniello. Who doesn’t love butts?! Kids and adults alike will have a blast flexing their drawing muscles with this hilarious art activity book where every drawing starts with a butt. More than your average drawing book, this book features step-by-step instructions for drawing 15 of your favorite zoo animals, along with fascinating fun facts about each of the animals, and activities like word searches and mazes. This playful book is the perfect way to keep your kids’ minds active over the summer while encouraging creativity and giving them some always-welcome giggle time.(Mad Brook Publishing, $9.95)

Tyrannosaurus Dad, by Liz Rosenberg, Illustrator Matthews Myers. From Tobias' vantage point, his father is larger-than-life and less than perfect. He's big and gruff and busy all the time. Tobias wonders if his dad will even notice or care when the day of the big game arrives. Rest assured, dad shows up in full effect. Turns out there's a loyal, loving, and fiercely protective guy underneath that crusty exterior. This book, a celebration of fathers, has age-appropriate elements of action, danger, and humor that will keep kids intrigued, as well as vibrant illustrations that extend the story. You'll want to share this quirky and endearing book with your own dinosaur dad. (Roaring Brook Press, $13.70)

2011 Summer Reading List

The Book with a Hole by Herve Tullet. This is a whole lot more than just a giant book with a giant hole in it. Filled with imaginative pictures and interactive activities that inspire creativity, this whimsical read gets your child thinking outside of the box (or hole, as it were). In First Grade, kids are learning to string sentences together to tell stories and think creatively. With monsters and mazes and giant bullseyes, this book is jam-packed with story starters and creative launching pads. Color it, write in it, and make it your own. Take it with you anywhere and the stories change with you. A delight for reluctant writers and readers alike. (Tate Publishing, $11.60) 

Labracadabra by Jessie Nelson and Karen Leigh Hopkins. Zach wanted a dog since forever, but what his parents finally bring home is hardly the regal German Shepherd he’s been dreaming of. “Larry” is a mutt with a crooked tail, and he’s in dire need of a good home. Zach isn’t impressed, until he notices that magical things happen as soon as Larry wags that funny-looking tail. Simple text makes this charming story perfect for readers just starting to go it on their own. (Viking Juvenile, $11.02)

Suryia and Roscoe: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship by Dr. Bhagavan Antle. What happens on the rare ocassion when an orangutan and a dog meet? In one case, they become best friends! This book uses journalistic-style writing and photography to tell the true story of Suryia the orangutan and her hound dog buddy, Roscoe. It all started when a stray dog snuck into Suryia’s preserve in South Carolina looking for food. What he found was a lifelong friend and new home. After getting over the initial shock of a giant orangutan running after him, Roscoe comes to love living on the preserve--he even learns to deal with Suryia trying to feed him bananas (which he hates.) This sweet story of an odd pair is a perfect introduction to non-fiction, with talky narrative, funny anecdotes, and goofy photos. (Henry Holt and Co, $11.55)

12 Dancing Princesses by Brigette Barrager. In a dreamy kingdom far, far away, 12 princesses have a very mysterious problem. Every morning they wake up to find their shoes worn out and every day, they are too sleepy to do anything but nap in the garden. But Pip, the kingdom cobbler, is determined to find out what's going on. What he finds may be more than he could have imagined! Set amid beautiful illustrations befitting of any great story, this classic fairy tale is retold and stunningly illustrated by Brigette Barrager to make for a perfect book for fantastical-minded young readers. (Chronicle, $13.25)

Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies. Nothing says summer like a day at the beach, but who enjoys the beach at night? Bats, of course! They build campfires, apply moon-tan lotion, dig sand caves, and eat bug-mallows for desert. This imaginative and lyrical account of a bat beach party is a surefire hit. Darkly beautiful illustrations, done in acrylic paint, show purple skies, moonlit bat wings, and campfire shadows in rich detail. Delicious rhymes and imagery make this a fantastic read-aloud your child will come back to all summer long. (Houghton Mifflin, $10.88)

Our 2010 First Grade Summer Reading List

A Birthday for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. Bear does not like birthdays. So, in the name of party-lovers everywhere, his friend Mouse goes undercover, delivering balloons, slipping bright red notes through the window, and even dressing up as Santa in the hopes of changing Bear's mind. Can the world's grumpiest birthday boy resist the big chocolate cake that arrives on his doorstep unannounced? Kids who loved the fantastic picture book, A Visitor for Bear, but who've grown since its release, will love this early chapter book from the same team. Just the right balance of lighthearted illustrations and more complex text to keep emerging readers occupied. (Candlewick, $15.99)

Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade by Stephanie Green. It's time for Posey to start first grade, and she's finding the approaching changes a bit intimidating. For one, she won't be able to wear her pretty pink tutu on the first day of school. Or will she? This adorable story about growing up eases kids' concerns about starting "real" school and shows them they really can make a difference, even in an adult-run world. A little advanced for most incoming first graders to read by themselves, this book makes a wonderful bedtime story when shared together, especially as summer draws to a close. Get your little one hooked on reading with this offering, because it looks like the start to a delightful series! (Penguin, $12.99)

Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet. Every day while her mother spends hot hours in the sun at the tea plantation, Tashi plays and shares fruit with her monkey friends. When her mother falls ill, Tashi tries to take her place on the plantation in order to pay for a doctor, but she is too small and the overseer sends her away.  The monkeys come to her rescue, with a basketful of magical "cloud tea" from high in the mountains, bringing the story to a sweet and fulfilling end. Beautiful, full-page illustrations captivate the imagination, and turn this original folk tale into an unforgettable film-like escape. A tale of love and devotion, the wonders of nature, and...tea. Take turns reading this aloud with your child, and you're bound to spark a love of books. (Candlewick, $15.99)

How to Clean a Hippopotamus by Robin Page. Why do crocodiles let plover birds sit in their mouths? What does a coyote get out of a friendship with a badger? And just what is the best way to clean algae from a hippo's skin? This book explores one of the great mysteries of nature: animal symbiosis. In clear, yet scientifically accurate language, readers get down to the nitty-gritty of nature's most unusual partnerships. The authors don't shy away from unsavory details, such as the helpful way wolves tear open carcasses for the vultures. However, first graders tend to love these gory details, and if it helps get them fired up about science, that's a good thing. The graphic novel format, with wonderful cut paper illustrations, helps to make the subject come alive. A great non-fiction read for summer. (Houghton Mifflin, $10.88)

Andy Shane and the Barn Sale Mystery by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, illustrated by Abby Carter. This easy chapter book has an old-fashioned flair-- it feels sweet and gentle, and most of all, unplugged. At its heart are Andy and Granny Webb, knee-deep in preparing to celebrate their un-birthdays. Andy wants to get Granny the best present ever, but his piggy bank is empty, so he spends the week collecting things his neighbors no longer want, then announces a Barn Sale. When his friend accidentally sells Granny's favorite pair of binoculars, it's up to them to deduct who bought them. But the real mystery here is how Jacobson manages to weave in lessons of kindness, materialism, and true friendship, without seeming the least bit preachy. (Candlewick, $14.99)

Our 2009 First Grade Summer Reading List

Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures: The Mount Rushmore Calamity by Sara Pennypacker, created by Jeff Brown. It's been 45 years since kids first got a glimpse of Flat Stanley, a regular boy smushed to just a half-inch thick by a falling bulletin board. Being flat is tough, but it makes being sent through the mail a breeze, and the original series sent Stanley on some truly fantastic adventures. This book marks the first in a series of new exploits for the first grade favorite who can fly like a kite and slip under door cracks, and bestselling author Pennypacker doesn't disappoint. Not only will kids get a giggle over all the entertaining situations Stanley finds himself in, but they'll get a little taste of geography, too, as Stanley traverses the country, and the globe. First stop: Mount Rushmore, where he prevents a rock slide, saves his brother from the bridge of Lincoln's crumbling nose, and searches for gold. Flat out, fun! (HarperCollins, 2009, $15.99)
Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein and Ed Young. Wabi Sabi, a cat from Kyoto, has never thought much about the meaning of his name. But when a foreigner asks his owner about it, he replies that it is difficult to explain. The cat's journey to find his meaning lays the groundwork for this book, but the book itself is an exploration of the concept of wabi sabi, which is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfect or humble things. The artwork, by Caldecott winner Ed Young, is a masterpiece of collaged cut paper. The text is spare. But for parents who complain about the media onslaught facing children today, this book is a breath of fresh air-- an unconventional and gorgeously layered thing unlike any children's book you've ever seen. Not every child will love it, but for the right child, it will be a favorite. And you'll likely leaf through it long after your kid has gone to bed. (Little Brown, 2008, $16.99)
The Retired Kid by John Agee. It's been a great 8 years, but Brian is exhausted. Between school, vegetables, and babysitting his little sister, he's in need of a break. So he decides to move to the Happy Sunset Retirement Community. Under the wing of a retired plumber named Harvey, he's got enough fishing, golfing, and loafing to fill his days, but he also needs to listen to rambling complaints about hip replacements and "ooh" at pictures of people's grandkids. Maybe retirement isn't all it's cracked up to be. This gentle story about what makes being a kid tough sometimes, and learning to appreciate what makes it great, will bring a smile to the face of over-scheduled kids, and to the parents and grandparents who love them. (Hyperion Books, 2008, $16.99)
Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher and illustrated by Sue Hellard. It's summertime, and Madeleine's parents want an adults-only vacation. So she's sent to live with her horrible Uncle Lard, who dreams of becoming a famous chef, but has the taste buds of an amoeba. One day, Madeleine goes out to buy supplies for Lard's restaurant, and stumbles upon a mysterious shop selling absolutely incredible edibles-- edibles like Pterodactyl Bacon and Roast Piranha with Raspberry Coulis. The item Madeleine brings back rockets her uncle's restaurant to instant fame. The only problem is, he now wants her to steal the recipe! Full of incredibly creative ingredients and fairytale characters, this book reminds us of early Roald Dahl. Pitched at the 8-11 year-old crowd, it makes a wonderfully delicious read-aloud for first graders who are inching towards chapter books. (Bloomsbury, 2008, $15.99) 
Zelda and Ivy: Keeping Secrets by Laura McGee Kvasnosky. Fabulous fox sisters, Zelda and Ivy take turns make a promise not to spill a certain shared secret about the tooth fairy, big sister Zelda tries to outwit Ivy with various April fools’ pranks, and in a dramatic and most hilarious finish, butterflies and ‘mi mi mi’s collide as opera-star hopeful Zelda is upstaged by the outdoor pursuits of her friends. For young readers ready to make the transition from picture books to multi-chapter novels, the Zelda and Ivy series is a fresh and funny way to get them started. But if your child still believes that a lady with wings is sticking dollars under her pillow, we'd say give this one a pass for another in the series. (Candlewick, $15.99) 


May 16, 2011