Take A Look, It's In A Book

The Best Summer Reading List For Big Kids

For your kids ages 8 to 13, it’s time to introduce them to the perfect summer book.

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There is something about summer that just begs for a good reading list. Summer is all about adventure, about breaking your routine, about growing up and challenging the world around you. So much change happens in the summer for kids, and it’s the perfect time to embrace that energy with the ultimate summer reading list for big kids.

I love a picture book as much as the next person, but there is something so wonderful about picking up a chapter book and diving in, losing yourself in the story. For middle grades (thinking kids ages 8 to 13), it really starts their reading journey, and finding the right book or series for your kid can feel like picking out the right activity or sport for them on a Saturday. You want them to fall in love, you want them to be invested, you want them to feel encouraged to keep reading and find more stories.

And summer is just the season for it. With so much time unencumbered by actual school work, longer days, and more relaxing nights, you can curate the perfect summer reading list for your kids. These books on the list (some really old, some newer) are full of adventure, of wonder, of intrigue — and they are also full of coming-of-age moments and the loss of innocence (and sometimes even the regaining of it). Summer can feel a bit bittersweet, a little melancholy, with all the aches and pains of growing and changing. But this summer reading list for big kids take that bruise and remind you of just how lovely things can be, even if they ache a little at first.

Bonus: You can probably find most of these at your local library.


Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

I read this one with my 8-year-old daughter last summer and it was one of the highlights of the season for me. Kate DiCamillo is pretty great at coming-of-age stories, but this one about a young girl named Opal trying to cope with the loss of her mother and living in a new town (where she befriends her new best buddy, a dog she names Winn-Dixie) will have you feeling all the feels. Because of Winn-Dixie is poignant, lovely, and laugh-out-loud funny. Bonus points: it’s set in the summer.

Recommended for readers ages 9 - 12.


Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted is an absolute classic and chances are you read it as a young ‘90s kid, too. (Maybe you got a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut for this one.) The story of Ella, who is “gifted” with the ability to obey every. single. thing. someone tells her, is a story of perseverance and determination set alongside a whole bunch of magic and adventure. It’s such a fun fairytale, and a great one for summer.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


The Animorphs Series by Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant

It’s time. The book covers of Animorphs have lived rent-free in your head since your own Scholastic Book Fair days, and it’s time to introduce your children to this incredible series about five humans and an alien who posess the power to turn into any animal they touch. Themes of leadership, friendship, and growing up are all present here, which make it great for summer, but it’s also just an epic sci-fi/fantasy series that will keep your kids interested all season long. (Bonus: there are like a billion of these, so they’ll always have a new one to read.)

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Set during The Great Depression, Esperanza Rising is a historical-fiction novel about 13-year-old Esperanza and her family fleeing to California from Mexico after her father is murdered on their ranch and her uncle burns it down. If it sounds scary and sad, that’s because it partially is, but it’s also a story about a young girl determined to protect her family and live her best life, despite all of the setbacks and obstacles in her way.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


My Dog Skip by Willie Morris

OK, so technically this isn’t a children’s book at all, but I read it when I was about 10 and it really sat with me for a long time. The movie is darling, but My Dog Skip is such a sweet story of a boy and his dog, and it just really gives you those summer coming-of-age feels. Lots of friendship, trust, and courage go into this book.

Recommended for readers of all ages.


Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Your children might read Harriet the Spy and immediately become kids carrying notebooks around, writing down everything they see, but that’s OK. I love Harriet the Spy for its themes on friendship and finding beauty and interest in everything around you, but it’s also just a really good, fun story to read. Harriet’s habit of documenting everything she sees and experiences is incredibly encouraging, and summer is the perfect time to start journaling.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

This was one of those books that every middle school boy I knew gobbled up, and the idea of Hatchet has stayed with me for a long time. Set in the summer, a 13-year-old named Brian is on a small plane going to visit his father when it crashes and he must try to survive in the wilderness using only a small hatchet. It is an incredible story about perseverance and love, and is just full of adventure.

Recommended for readers ages 10 to 14.


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

An absolute classic. If you haven’t read Charlotte’s Web with or to your kids yet, it’s time. Adventure, wonder, a big dose of friendship, and the relentless theme of growing up make this a popular summer reading list choice. This was another one my 8-year-old and I read together last summer, and I was not prepared for just how choked up she was going to get at the end. If you’re worried about it being an old book, don’t worry — the language holds up well and kids will still fall in love with Charlotte, Wilbur, and all their barn friends.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara

Recommended by Romper lifestyle writer Katie McPherson, Katie shares, “As a bonafide horse girl, I gobbled up every book I could about them. My Friend Flicka was one of many that helped me feel closer to this thing I felt so passionate about but couldn't live out myself, and doesn't every kid who loves horses dream of taming the most beautiful wild mustang on the ranch?” For your kid with their big summer dreams and hopes, give them this one to read.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Summer is often a reflection of the past school year and what lies ahead for kids, both academically and socially, which is what makes Stargirl such a great choice for the summer. A story about individuality, staying true to yourself, and what makes a real friend, Stargirl could even bring up some new discussions for your family at the dinner table. This is one I’d recommend reading right alongside your kid.

Recommended for readers ages 12 and up.


Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

It’s been everywhere thanks to the recent movie, but Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret should be on your child’s summer reading list regardless. Set in the 1970s, the story is still completely relatable as Margaret tries to figure out religion, adolescence, and more. It’s definitely a book about growing up and change, and is a light, easy read for the summer.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

If you’re ready to cry and potentially see your children cry, then The One and Only Ivan definitely needs to go on your summer reading list. Told from the perspective of a gorilla named Ivan who hasn’t been outside of his mall habitat in years, The One and Only Ivan is a story of hope, of friendship, and of love. It’s inspired by the true story of Ivan the Gorilla, who lived his life in a shopping mall until he was sent to Zoo Atlanta and could be outside, with his own kind, for his remaining years. It’s a great way to start a summer project of exploring zoos, looking up stories of similar animals, and encouraging your kids to ask big questions about things.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Summer always feels like a season where anything could happen, and that’s exactly how Milo’s story goes in the classic children’s fantasy novel The Phantom Tollbooth. When young Milo receives a magic tollbooth that transports him to a world beyond, he definitely gets to live a life of adventure. But if you want a story that also encourages your kids to keep learning, this is the one — Milo must use what he’s learned in school to navigate these adventures, and the book is a big reminder on how important education is.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 11.


Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

OK, there are a few books on here that will bring the tears, but none of them will get the sobs quite like Bridge to Terabithia. The undeniable bond of Jesse and Leslie makes you remember just how magical a childhood friend is, and your kids will love exploring the world that the two have created together.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

I feel like summer is when your brain really unwinds. You start imagining magical things, wondering about things, and are just generally left to daydream about all of the things. And that’s what makes Tuck Everlasting such a great summer read. A story about a family who have been given a (blessing? curse?) life of immortality meet up with 10-year-old Winnie, and more intrigue and wonder happens after. It’s the perfect fantasy novel to read as your kids explore their own surroundings. (And maybe even go on a quest for an everlasting spring.)

Recommended for readers ages 10 to 14.


The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

I read The Outsiders the summer I turned 12 and it stayed with me for a really, really long time. Who knows when this book will be banned the next time you try to find it (it’s considered one of the most challenged books of all time), but the story of two rival gangs will teach your kids what it means to be loyal, to love someone, and to protect those they love and be protected by those they love — even if they don’t like how they go about it.

Recommended for readers ages 12 to 17.


The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

While the Harry Potter books are set during the actual school year, every millennial remembers waiting for Barnes & Noble to release the new books each summer. I can remember ignoring my actual summer reading assignments from school in favor of gobbling up the latest edition of Harry and his friends against The Dark Lord, and it just feels like a summer thing to me now.

Recommended for readers ages 9 and up.


Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

That’s Anne with an E, you know. Anne of Green Gables is such a classic, and for good reason. The story of sweet Anne, sent to live in Avonlea with the Cuthberts, will ignite in your kids their own idealism and sweet imagination. Anne finds so much joy in the world, and summer is nothing if not a time of joy — soak it in with this read.

Recommended for readers ages 10 to 13.


The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

It doesn’t get much more adventurous than the pioneer days, so maybe it’s time to get your kids reading The Little House series. Each book chronicles Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood and life on the prairie with her family, and is just the sort of light series summer begs for. There are some parts that might need some discussion with your family, but overall, this is an important series in children’s literature and might even encourage your kids to get out and explore this summer with simple games and fun.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Another horse book because obviously. It’s an oldie, but Black Beauty still holds up extremely well. Told from the perspective of the horse Black Beauty himself, kids will get to hear about his life as a carefree foal all the way up to his retirement from being a mode of transportation for Londoners in the 1800s. Animal welfare is a big theme, but so is kindness and empathy, and it’s a great way to get discussions going in your household.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

There are few books that I’ve been as excited to share with my three daughters as The Secret Garden. A story of friendship, of adventure, and of compassion, this is the perfect summer story. Mary, Colin, and Dickon’s days spent in the garden definitely give off summer adventure vibes, and the perseverance of the human spirit will really get your kids thinking.

Recommended for readers ages 9 to 12.


The Baby-Sitters Club Series by Ann M. Martin

Do you remember your first introduction to Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Mary Anne, and all their friends? Probably not. But you can remember your own child’s first introduction to The Baby-Sitters Club by making it part of their summer reading list. This is a great option for summer reading because there are so many of them, and it’s nice to really get into a rhythm of characters and storylines that carry over while reading for a few weeks.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 11.


Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

Will your child cry reading about Travis and his best friend Old Yeller? Probably, and so will you, so I’m sorry about that. But Old Yeller is an absolute classic and should be read while lounging out in the hot sun, thinking about what it means to love and be loved by those around you.

Recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.

Whether your kid wants to read these on their own or you want to start a new nightly ritual and read them out loud as a family, the books on this list are perfect for your big kid. Take all of the best parts of summer — the wonder, the adventure, the growing up — and enjoy them for a bit in book form.