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Swashbuckling and High Seas: Great Adventure Books for Summer

Published on: February 24, 2009

Capture your kids’ imagination with a rip-snortin’ adventure story this summer! We asked Christy McDanold, owner of Secret Garden Books in Ballard, to list some of her favorite tales for passing a leisurely summer afternoon.


Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by Nancy White Carlstrom. A great day-in-the-life story of a toddler bear, including ants in his pants and other wardrobe-related adventures.

Bear on a Bike by Stella Blackstone. All the “bear on a” stories are rousing adventures that end, like all good toddler books, with going to bed at night.

Picture books for ages 3–6

How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long. A humorous story of how Jeremy Jacob finds out exactly what adventures pirates do — and don’t! — have.

Ella Sets Sail by Carmela and Steven D’Amico. When Ella loses her beloved hat (which is a part of all her adventures), she has to follow it all the way out to sea.

The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers. A celebration of the very nature of adventure, this is a modern classic with a wonderful message: No matter how far you go from home, you’re bound to meet your next dear friend.

Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky. A time-tested classic adventure of the tiniest boat in the harbor out on the big, big sea.

Picture books for ages 4–7

Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett. This one tells the story of Treva’s adventure traveling to visit a cousin who lives “up the mountain,” in what turns out to be the home of troublesome trolls.

The Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen. Based on a legend of medieval Norway in which brave and loyal followers of the late king keep his infant son safe by skiing him across the frozen north.

Read aloud to ages 4 and older

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. No list of adventure books for children would be complete without the inclusion this classic trilogy. (Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland are numbers two and three, respectively.) An enduring classic that deserves its place of honor in the pantheon.

Emerging readers

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Here’s another enduring classic -and huge! — series (with well more than 100 titles) in which Henry, Jesse, Violet and Benny have adventure after adventure.

Ages 10–12

Williwaw! by Tom Bodett. The fabulous adventure of two kids alone on the Alaskan sea.

True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. A thrilling historical tale of a 13-year-old girl who goes on a voyage, winds up a part of a mutiny — and lives to tell about it.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. This is the adventure/survival story to which all others are compared. Brian’s plane goes down and all he has to save him is the hatchet his father gave him before the crash.

Thunder Cave by Roland Smith. All of Roland Smith’s books are wonderful adventure stories. This one’s my favorite. Jacob flies himself to Africa in search of his elephant-biologist father. Reads like a movie

Ages 10 and older

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I’m breaking my own rule of not including fantasy on this list, because this one is special. It’s the story of a girl’s quest to live happily ever after by refusing to accept her fate of living a life of absolute obedience. This is one of those books that many girls re-read again year after year, well into young adulthood.

Alabama Moon by Watt Key. Moon and his father have always lived on their own in the forest, but when his father dies, Moon has to survive on his own. He can only do it following his father’s last instructions to make his way to Alaska and find others like them. In the tradition of Hatchet.

Readers 12 and older

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. In this Wild West adventure, a young girl settles a claim in “The Middle of Nowhere, Montana,” during the land rush.

Graphic novels are a great way to engage reluctant tween and teen readers. Sue Nevins of Mockingbird Books recommends the new graphic novel edition of Neil Gaiman's book Coraline. She says, “This is the scariest book I have ever read where no one dies. The teenager in your family will love it.”

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