Summer Reading: Five Children’s Books I Highly Recommend

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Summer Reading Recommendations

Inspired by Gowdy’s “Summer Reading: Five Biographies I Highly Recommend” article, I decided to write a Summer reading recommendation for five children’s books for kids to read on their summer break.

I have tried to include children’s books from a variety of genres and age/reading levels. I have also tried to avoid books we have reviewed before and books that everybody already knows about and has probably read (or watched the movie). Lastly, most of the children’s books I recommend in this article are fairly new, or at least newly published.

So, even though I highly recommend them, this will be the last and only mention of Harry Potter, Narnia, Hobbits, Igibys and Wingfeathers, the Wilderking, and even Dr. Seuss.

Are We Still Friends?

Are We Still Friends? (Slugs & Bugs) by Randall Goodgame, published May 1, 2019, is a picture book recommended for grades P-3 and ages 4-8.

There’s a decent chance you’ve heard of Slugs & Bugs. If so, probably the music. The Sing the Bible albums are a staple of our Sunday morning pre-church routine. The Under Where? album of silly songs makes car rides much more fun. The DVDs of the music videos are my nine-month-old son’s most favorite things ever. He may have sat enraptured in front of the TV for an hour this morning watching them, while I sat (not quite so enraptured) in front of my computer working.

Even if you have heard of Slugs & Bugs, you may not have heard that there are now Slugs & Bugs picture books, chronicling the adventures of Doug (the slug) and Sparky (the bug).

In Are We Still Friends? Doug accidentally eats all of Sparky’s chips. Instead of admitting his mistake, though, he lies and says someone stole them. Eventually, the truth comes out, and Doug and Sparky have to work through that original mistake and the much worse subsequent violation of trust in the lie and the then necessary act of forgiveness in order to salvage their friendship.

Both of my daughters love this book. The seven-year-old reads it quickly and easily. It is much more challenging for the five-year-old. She really enjoys the pictures, though, when the words prove too difficult. The story is fairly easy to follow from the pictures alone once you’ve read it a time or two.

Another Slugs & Bugs picture book, Who Will Play with Me?, was published at the same time as Are We Still Friends?. I’m sure it’s just as good, but I haven’t read it yet.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton, published May 20, 2017, is recommended for grade levels 3-6 and age levels 8-12. I personally think it is particularly well suited for the lower end of those ranges and perhaps a bit lower than even that. We got it for my seven-year-old second grader who read it easily on her own several times.

Young Henry Penwhistle is an artist. He fills his notebooks with his drawings but doesn’t want anyone else to see them.

One day, the drawing of a fierce dragon on the chalkboard on the back of Henry’s bedroom door comes to life and escapes. Henry must catch it and erase it before anyone else sees.

Sir Henry Penwhistle, Knight of La Muncha Elementary School, is soon joined in his quest by his best friend Oscar and classmate Jade. The rest of the class and the teachers are not imaginative enough at first to see the chalk dragon.

Henry’s other drawings start coming to life. While he’s anxious about others seeing his art, He’s now much more worried about the dinosaur he drew after a fight with Oscar. The dinosaur wants to eat Henry’s best friend.

The story, like Henry, is imaginative and endearing. The writing is clever. I especially enjoyed Oscar’s dialog and Jade’s songs. It might expand your child’s vocabulary while still being easy to read.

What I liked most, though, was the message. In the words of Mr. Bruce, the school bus driver:

You have to be brave to be an artist … It takes a fearless knight to imagine something and then let it out into the world. You never know what might happen to it. You never know what you might discover. Don’t be scared! Go make something new!

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton, p. 44.

I, personally, needed to hear those words. Our children need to hear them repeatedly.

What do you need most in order to be an artist (of any sort)? It’s not skill, God-given talent, or innate creativity. (Though those will help.) It’s not even practice (though you ought to).


“You have to be brave to be an artist.”

There is a curriculum guide you can buy to accompany Henry and the Chalk Dragon. My kids said that the included activities were fun and didn’t feel like schoolwork.

I also give an honorable mention to Jennifer Trafton’s other book, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. I didn’t include it on this list because it’s older (published December 2, 2010). Furthermore, I did not want to include two books by the same author. The recommended grade/age levels are the same, but I think it’s more appropriate for the higher end of those ranges rather than the lower end like Henry and the Chalk Dragon.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser, published October 3, 2017, is recommended for grade levels 2-5 and age levels 7-10. I personally think it is more suited for the higher end of those ranges and maybe a bit above for children who are reading it on their own. The content is age appropriate for younger children if you are reading it aloud as a family.

I now invite you to celebrate Christmas in July.

The Vanderbeekers are a family of seven living in the first-floor apartment of a three-story brownstone on 141st Street in Harlem. The events in the book take place over the course of the week leading up to Christmas after the Vanderbeekers learn that their apartment lease will not be renewed, effective at the end of the month. The Vanderbeekers don’t want to move. They love their home of the past five years. They love their neighborhood and are worried they won’t be able to afford anything else nearby or even the city.

Their landlord is Mr. Biederman (or the Beezerman, as four-year-old Laney calls him). He has lived on the third floor of the same building for the past six years and never leaves his apartment. No one has really seen him during that time. The few who have actually spoken to him have done so on the phone or through the apartment door. The Vanderbeeker family does not really know anything about him, other than the fact that he seems to be determined to ruin their lives.

The Vanderbeeker kids – the twin sisters Isa (the musician) and Jesse (the scientist), Oliver (avid reader and the only boy), Hyacinth (the creative maker), and Laney (the world’s best hugger) – make it their secret mission to convince the Biederman to relent and renew their lease. They, and we, gradually learn more about Mr. Biederman and why he wants to get rid of the Vanderbeekers as we join the kids on their seemingly failed attempts.

This book was published a few months after I moved my family of six (at the time – seven now) out of New York City, our home for the better part of a decade. The only home any of the kids really knew.

Reading it was quite the emotional ride for me. I could identify easily with Papa Vanderbeeker. The Vanderbeeker kids reminded me greatly of my own children. I have dealt with some pretty atrocious landlords. Eventually, we did have to move out of a home, neighborhood, and city we loved. Away from people we loved.

You and your kids may or may not be able to identify with the story and the characters in the same way I did. Regardless of your experiences though, I think you’ll find the story captivating and the characters deep and lovable. And I think you’ll get emotional by the end too. I cried – not just misty-eyed, but tears dripping off my face while I wildly wiped my face with my hands so that I could see to keep reading – during one chapter near the end.

If you read this book aloud as a family, I highly recommend you get this read-aloud poster from the great folks at Ruby Reads.

There is a sequel out that I have not yet had a chance to read. A third book is coming soon.


Skyward by Brandon Sanderson, published November 6, 2018, is recommended for grade levels 7-9 and age levels 12 and up. I, personally, have decided to make my kids wait until they’re 13 before reading it. I definitely wouldn’t put an upper age limit on it, though.

The last remnants of the human race have been stranded on a deserted planet for three generations fighting for their survival against the Krell, which they (and we) know next to nothing about.

The book follows the story of a young girl named Spin (Spensa). In the prologue, we see a seven-year-old Spin with her father, a fighter pilot and a hero. By the end of that day, the humans win a major victory, but Spin’s father is branded a coward and a traitor. His own wingmates shoot him out of the sky.

The rest of the book is about a seventeen-year-old Spensa who is on quest to become a fighter pilot and a hero herself. Being the daughter of a traitor brings many challenges. Spin has to work incredibly hard to prove herself, as she also tries to prove her father’s innocence or at least discover why he did what he did.

The story is not only about Spin, though, as the entire human race is on the brink of extinction. They endure regular attacks by the Krell and are slowly losing a war of attrition. Something has to change if humanity is to survive.

Brandon Sanderson is a prolific writer, and I am a prolific reader of his works. I think I have read them all. Every time I think/say that though, I discover something else he has written that I have not read. Most of his publications fall somewhere in the fantasy genre, though they avoid the stereotypical cliches. Most of his books are intended for an adult audience, though he keeps the content clean. I did not know how I would feel about Skyward, since it is a science fiction story, rather than fantasy (yes there is a difference), and is geared toward a young adult or teenage audience.

I’ve read the Alcatraz series, but it is fantasy and is for an even younger audience. I enjoyed it but was not emotionally impacted by it. It was merely fun.

I’ve read the Reckoners series, a young adult superhero story, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that one.

I love The Rithmatist, but it is an unfinished series (after many years). I am beginning to worry a bit that it might remain that way.

So what did I think of Skyward? I don’t think I can yet put into words what I truly think and feel about Skyward. But this is how I reacted:

First, I read the book in one day, which is not unusual for me, even though it is not short at 528 pages. I did not put the book down when I finished. Instead, I turned back to page one and immediately read it again. Later that week, resisting the urge to read it a third time, I purchased the audiobook version and listened to it. I have not yet read or listened to it for a fourth time (in eight months) but not for lack of wanting. I’ve started it again a few times this week while researching for this article and have had to forcibly stop myself. I will read it again shortly before the next book in the series is published.

Second, each time I have read Skyward, it has moved me deeply. One part, in particular, has made me a bit teary-eyed every time. Knowing it is coming has not diminished my feelings.

(For the record, I’m not the only emotional Rambling Ever On contributor around here. Phill also cries. Gowdy cries a lot…)

I did not expect to like this book this much. Though, I did expect to enjoy it. It might be my favorite book from one of my favorite authors.

Starsight, book two of the Skyward series, is due to be released on November 26, 2019. You can pre-order it now (like I did, literally within a minute of hearing about it). The series will eventually be composed of four books.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers, published March 19, 2019, is recommended for grade levels 1-3 and age levels 6-8. I say it is appropriate for all ages. You may have to read it aloud to the younger kids.

We all know and love Mister Rogers and his poetry. We have heard him sing it to us as young children and to our young children. I don’t think I really need to introduce or explain these poems to you.

This new book contains those wonderful lyrics accompanied not by Fred Rogers’s melodies and Johnny Costa’s rich musical arrangements but rather the beautiful illustrations of Luke Flowers.

Every day, I read one Mister Rogers poem to my nine-month-old son. His older sisters and brothers usually listen along. I often catch my seven-year-old daughter reading it to herself, or her younger sister or brother.

All of the children love the poems and the illustrations. The older boys might deny it though.

Series Navigation<< Summer Reading: Five Biographies I Highly Recommend

Nathan Patton

Nathan lives in the foothills of the Ozarks in Southeastern Missouri with his wife and five children. They used to live in New York City; and, while they sometimes miss it, especially the food and public transportation, they do enjoy being closer to nature and Cardinals baseball.

6 thoughts on “Summer Reading: Five Children’s Books I Highly Recommend

  • July 5, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    This is great! I’m going to add a few of these to my reading list.

    I am ashamed that I have not read Skyward yet.

    • July 5, 2019 at 11:44 pm


      You should be ashamed… honestly, I worry I’m building the hype up too much for Skyward, since I can’t seem to articulate well why I love it so much. But, it’s Brandon Sanderson, so it’s pretty much guaranteed that it’s good and you’ll at least like it even if you don’t love it as much as I do.

      I kind of gave up on pure science fiction books years ago, and I wonder if part of my reaction is rediscovering that I truly do love the genre.

  • July 6, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    I’m buying all five of these. Thanks for this.

    • July 8, 2019 at 9:24 am

      Use the links provided in the article and help support REO at the same time!

    • July 8, 2019 at 10:02 am

      The Vanderbeekers was a kindle deal of the day a couple days ago for $1.99. I, sadly, did not see the deal in time. However, if it’s a deal like that once, odds are there will be more deals like that in the future.

      I probably should’ve made a disclaimer that if anyone buys anything through any Amazon links on our site, we might get a penny or two. (At the current rate, we’ll get our first $10 gift card from this around 2030.)

      Any other links to purchase anything are not affiliated with us, and we do not profit from them. We just think the products and/or the people behind those products are awesome.

  • July 10, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    I bought Skyward. Looking forward to starting it as soon as I finish the book I’m reading.


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