It's tough to get kids practicing their academic skills over the summer months when all they want to do is have fun, but get them into a good book, and they won't even notice they're keeping their literacy skills sharp, they'll just be engrossed in a great adventure! In search of some engrossing summer reads for your second grader? Look no further. We've combed the shelves for this list of brand new titles that will exhilarate, fascinate and, yes... educate.

Our 2012 Summer Reading List

The Unforgotten Coat, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. This is a sweet and intriguing story about a mysterious pair of brothers from Mongolia, Chingis and Nergui, who appear out of nowhere for the sixth grade summer term. Our narrator Julie and the rest of her class are fascinated by the odd boys who always wear heavy fur coats and are in constant fear of a demon who is trying to make them vanish. After finding a stack of polaroids taken that summer, grown-up Julie reminisces about her magical days with the brothers, being their “good guide” and attempting to help them ward off a relentless, invisible demon. (Candlewick, $11.67)

Library Dragon, by Carmen Agra Deedy. Sunrise Elementary has landed a new librarian, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Miss Lotta Scales, a dragon with a “burning love of books,” has taken fiery guard over the collection. After many harrowing encounters, would-be readers begin to avoid the library altogether. Enter Molly, the nearsighted heroine, who charms and disarms the volatile librarian with the simple act of reading aloud. The plot of the book is accessible for younger readers, but the dry humor and fire-related puns make it challenging and appealing for older kids. The illustrations include subtle details and jokes, making this a very clever and engaging read. (Peachtree, $12.37)

Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart, by Mary Ann Hoberman, Illustrated by Michael Emberley. Frost, Milne, Sandburg, Stevenson, Tolkien...Think your child is too young for these poets? Think again. In this wonderful anthology of poems from classic and contemporary authors, former children’s poet laureate Mary Ann Hoberman presents poems that are accessible and downright fun to read aloud. Hoberman encourages children to learn their favorite poems by heart with tricks and tips for memorization, and Emberely’s quirky illustrations fuel the imagination.(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $11.88)

Goofballs #2: The Startling Story of the Stolen Statue, by Tony Abbott, Illustrated by Colleen Madden. Meet Goofballs and best friends: Jeff, Brian, Kelly and Mara. They solve mysteries...goofball mysteries, that is (like the totally incredible pizza disaster). This is a great starter chapter book for kids looking for a little mystery and a lot of puns. Look for book three in fall of 2012! (Egmont, $11.89)

Our 2011 Summer Reading List

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer by Meg McDonald. If you don’t know Judy Moody, you’ll certainly know her by summer, when she’s splashed across movie screens nationwide. So, quick! Before Hollywood shares Judy Moody with your kids, get them the books, and top it off with this final installment. This beginning chapter book series boasts what few others in the aisle can claim: a smart, funny, and enthusiastic heroine that’s just as appealing to parents as she is to kids. Don’t be surprised if your kid is so buried in these chapters that she bangs into furniture as she makes her way across the room. A delicious addiction! (Candlewick, $5.99)

Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg. Some things just can't be made up: like the fact that the first successful tumble over Niagara Falls happened in the autumn of 1901 and was carried out by a retired charm school teacher. But why and how did this 62-year-old teacher risk it? Photograph-like illustrations leading up to this historic event fill the pages of this tasty treat from  Chris Van Allsburg, author and illustrator of such beloved children’s books as The Polar Express and Jumanji. It’s an interesting look at what fame can do, and what the search for it has inspired people to try.  (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, $12.91)

Summer According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney. Summer might be exciting for most, but for Humphrey, the classroom hamster, it’s a scary proposition: all the kids leave. But fate has something in store for this feisty and high-strung hamster... camp! This irresistible narrative, told from a hamster’s point of view, is a slam dunk for summer. Funny, silly, and just the right tone and pace for carefree days, the text is rich enough for fluent readers, but sweet as a summer smoothie. (Penguin, $5.99)

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream, by Jenny Han with pictures by Julia Kuo. Call her Clara Lee instead of just Clara, like everybody does. “It just sounds better that way. Like peanut butter and jelly, like trick-or-treat... those words just go together.” Clara Lee is a big sister, a granddaughter, she's full of imaginative and bright similes, and she has a dream. She'll tell you about it. Along the way of trying to turn her dream into reality, Clara Lee learns lessons that help her be a better friend and person. With a charming heroine and cheerful pencil illustrations, this book makes the jump from picture books to chapter books short and sweet. (Little, Brown Books, $11.24)

Ragweed by Avi, illustrated by Brian Floca. This prequel to The Poppy Stories is jam-packed with adventure, and a pure delight for advanced second grade readers. Our hero, a country mouse who sets off for life in the city, finds himself leading a mouse-rising against two very scary cats. Full of excitement, as well as a liberal usage of the word “dude”, this book manages to sneak in some pretty advanced vocabulary, while feeding kids plenty of words in their comfort zone. A great start to a crackerjack series that's perfect for summer.  (HarperCollins, $5.99)


Our 2010 Second Grade Summer Reading Picks

Magical Ms. Plum by Bonnie Becker. When a new crop of students enters Ms. Plum's classroom in September, they're not quite prepared for her unconventional way of teaching, or the fact that when students agree to fetch an eraser or a pen from her supply closet, they invariably come back with a miniature animal perfectly tailored to their personalities. Whether it's a cat to purr a worrier's cares away, or a parrot to show a know-it-all what it feels like to be constantly interrupted, the creatures from the closet nudge Ms. Plum's students to play nice, be patient, look closely, and learn more of life's other lessons. So is it Ms. Plum who's magic, or the closet itself? Readers not quite ready for novels, or those who love listening to a tale read aloud, will love ambling through this chapter book to find out. (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $12.99)

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. Images of stars with tails keep showing up in the most unlikely places: in the sand, in the sky, even in a pattern of shells. Moomintroll and his friend Sniff decide they need to figure out what's going on., and so begins an unpredictable adventure brimming with muskrat philosophers, trouser-munching crocodiles, silk monkeys, and Snufkins. Few Americans have heard of author Tove Jansson, but in Finland, she's a national hero and her books are as beloved as Winnie the Pooh or Alice in Wonderland. This grand adventure, full of unexpected twists, brings her work stateside, and not a moment too soon. Full of whimsical illustrations, delightful characters, and just plain wonderful writing, this is a book for every child's library. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $7.99) 

Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Whether she's fighting off swamp monsters with the help of underwater blender breathing apparatus, or using sonic-boom juice boxes to fend off a league of librarians attempting world domination, Lunch Lady is the perfect mix of spunk and sweetness to get the job done right. The unlikely heroine of this hilarious series of graphic novels flips burgers by day, but fights crime by night! Filled with fun, comic-style illustrations, and especially well-suited for reluctant readers, these books are presented in no particular order, so kids can start with whichever title strikes their fancy. (Random House, $5.99)

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden. Full of excitement, but never scary, this tale of a virtuoso cricket and his cat and mouse companions is like an unexpected hug: warm, comforting, and the stuff of childhood memories. This grand adventure won a Newbery Honor, but that was way back in the 1960's, so we'll forgive you if you've never heard of it. That said, if this book is new to you, run (don't walk) to snag a copy. A fantastic read-aloud for kids up and down the age spectrum, this story of a street-smart city mouse and the country bumpkin cricket who arrives accidentally in the Times Square subway station is pure magic. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $6.99) 

Scream Street: Fang of the Vampire by Tommy Donbavand. You can't always judge a book by its cover...or its title: this may look too scary for your second grader, but it is decidedly more exciting than scary. Luke has developed a bad habit of turning into a werewolf, that's why his family was sent by the government to live on Scream Street, a housing project for vampires, witches, zombies, and ghosts. He's making some cool friends, but his parents are terrified. Trying to get them home turns about to be a heap of trouble; to find the exit he must collect six powerful relics while being hunted down by an evil landlord. It's a good thing his ghoulish friends come out to help his cause. With colorful characters and a strong message about the power of friendship, this is a great book for summer reading. Stay tuned for other books in this fantastic new series. (Candlewick, $5.99)

The Sisters 8: Marcia's Madness by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. Featuring talking cats, special powers, and a healthy dose of humor that's even witty enough for parents to enjoy, this suspenseful mystery is sure to get a thumbs-up from fans of Lemony Snickett. The heroes? Eight sisters whose parents have gone missing, and who are bound and determined to get them back. This book is the fifth in the series, so kids may wish to start from the beginning, but there's enough of a re-cap to catch readers up. And because this series is written by a family of authors, including an eight year-old, expect super kid-friendly dialogue. Bizarre and intriguing, yet still lighthearted, this book will leave your thrill-seeking reader begging for the next adventure! (Houghton Mifflin, $4.99)

Our 2009 Second Grade Summer Reading Picks

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell. All kids sometimes wish that their parents would leave them alone. In Ottoline's case, her parents have done just that. While they traverse the world, collecting interesting things, Ottoline and her best friend, Mr. Munroe (a small hairy creature from a bog in Norway), look after her parent's collection of emperor's hats, portable fishbowls, and leaking cups. When a series of lapdog burglaries sweeps across the city, Ottoline decides she's just the girl to crack the case... This book's breezy style, wonderful sense of humor, and quirky illustrations are spot on for this age group. Plus, with the next chapter book in this new series, Ottoline Goes to School, set to hit stores in late June, there's a second installment almost ready to devour! (HarperCollins, 2007, $6.99)

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great by Gerald Morris. For the kid in your life who can't get enough of swords and such, comes a humorous take on one of the most famous knights of all time...Sir Lancelot. This silly romp has its share of adventure and escapades, but also explores the downside of being King Arthur's most trusted knight, for example, having a trail of swooning marriage prospects and never being able to fit in a much-needed nap. Full of heart, humor, and plenty to keep the giggles going, this slim book is sure to please. (Sandpiper, 2008, $4.99)

The Crane Wife by Odds Bodkin. If you've got a second grader who seems wiser than her years, this book might be just the ticket. A gracefully paced Japanese fable about a lonely sail maker and the mysterious woman who becomes his wife, the book does not move with the wham bam of today's typical stories for kids. Yet it is full of atmosphere, secrets, and intrigue. Spun as tight and light as the sail of wind woven by his magical wife, the plot billows to its inevitable conclusion. Your child will likely hold her breath as the moral comes into sight. (Voyager Books, 1998, $6.00)

The Dragon in the Sock Drawer by Kate Klimo. Ten-year-old cousins Daisy and Jesse have checked their houses for Narnia-like wardrobes and collected every magical-looking object they could get their hands on, but so far, they've remained boringly adventure-less. That is, until the rock Jesse finds on High Peak hatches and a helpless green baby pops out of it. A little research reveals that they are newly minted Dragon Keepers, but it also reveals that it's up to them to keep their new friend safe from Saint George, an ancient dragon slayer who'd love to get his hands on this new specimen. (Yearling, 2008, $5.99)

The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. This book may be a mom's worst nightmare, but it's a second grader's dream. Full of the potty humor that typically gets kids sent to their room, it's a truly silly story of two trouble-making boys who turn their grumpy principal into a jockey-clad superhero. Pilkey's illustrations add much to the humor and the kid-appeal can't be underestimated. While parents may wish their child wasn't quite so keen to follow the adventures of an underwear-clad hero and a villain stopped in his tracks by rubber doggy doo, we say any series that has kids begging to read more is a great way to entice new readers to pick up a book. And if your kid likes this one, there's a whole series waiting to fill his summer... (Scholastic, 1997, $5.99)

May 16, 2011