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What Your Kids (and You) Should Read This Summer, by Your Favorite Authors

15 Puget Sound literary luminaries develop the only summer book list you may ever need

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Published on: June 24, 2015

Mother and daughter reading

Ah, summer. Just the word evokes images of hammocks, beach chairs, and — at least in our literary corner of the country — stacks of books. Unfortunately, as parents, the endeavor of encouraging kids to do their summer reading (and to try to gently nudge them into worthwhile books) can interrupt our own blissed-out reading time. 

So here's the strategy: We asked some of our favorite literary lumaries from our bookish region, from Seattle City Librarian Marcellus Turner to Poser author Claire Dederer, to get opinionated their top picks for summer reads for kids and adults, from classics that should be rediscovered to wonderful new releases. Slip a stack of these by your kids' bedside and that hammock time might be easier to find than you thought. 

Photo courtesy of Claire Dederer


Claire Dederer 

Author of the bestselling memoir Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, with essays appearing in the The New York TimesThe Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, The Wall Street Journal and more. 

For the kids

When I was a kid, summers gave me the time and space to explore adult books. Some of my peak reading experiences came in middle-school summers, when I read a slew of grown-up books that were somehow just right for my age.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: The language was challenging for me at first, but the story of a witty, headstrong girl falling love was infinitely relatable.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: Two daughters of a wildly eccentric family living in a castle and, once again, falling in love — I devoured this book the first time I read it in seventh grade, and I still read it every few years when I'm feeling blue.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: The perfect book for a romantic teen to get lost in: hoop skirts, battles, Rhett, Scarlett. This ate the July between sixth and seventh grade for me.

For the parents

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: If you haven't gotten to Bad Feminist yet, now is the time. A whole mess of terrific, irreverent essays about the current state of, well, womanhood.

Photo courtesy of Deb Lund

Deb Lund

Author of the Dinoseries picture books (All Aboard the Dinotrain, Dinosailors and Dinosoaring, to name a few) and many more. Deb also provides guidance and support to child- and adult-writers alike, in person and through her popular blog. 

For the kids

With so many amazing local children's authors and illustrators who I've known as peers and friends and admired for years now, much of my reading time is dedicated to their words. As a children's author, teacher, and school librarian, I know how lucky I am to live here in "Kidlit" Land. The titles below are an assortment — just a sampling — that would be on my summer reading list if I hadn't already read them.

Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters by Laurie Ann Thompson: This local author's new book is an inspiring read for parents and children. Teens will enjoy reading and sharing the stories of other young people who have made a difference in the world and learning how they can make a difference, too.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson; Magical Miss Plum by Bonnie Becker: Award-winning local authors and gracious teachers Bonny Becker and Kirby Larson are well-known in the world-wide children's literature community. Aside from their titles for tweens listed above, young children will be captured by the language in Bonny's exquisite bear books, and dog-lovers will enjoy Kirby's picture books of true dog tales

The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe: Novels in verse have become more and more popular in recent years, and The Sound of Letting Go is truly a family story of trial, growth and redemption. It's a winner.

Dragon's Keep by Janet Lee Carey: Fantasy for older readers? No debate there. Janet Lee Carey's books are time- and teen-tested. 

Photo courtesy of Hannah Viano

Hannah Viano

Author and illustrator of the popular ABCs book, S is for Salmon: A Pacific Northwest AlphabetViano strives to mix natural history and art in accessible ways through public art projects, education, and site-specific installations. 

For the kids

The Summerfolk by Doris Burn: For kids 3-10, this is a classic that I read as a kid and still holds a position on our home bookshelf. A kid and his dad gripe about the loud messy people who come to the island each summer, but through an adventure in his own back yard he discovers that all summerfolk are not the same.

Home by Carson Ellis: It peeks into diverse whimsical lives in all manner of dwellings. 

In Search of WondLa by Tony Deterlizzi: For middle readers and read alouds, it's awesone sci-fi chapter book with amazing illustrations that bring to life the book's incredible creatures and environments as a young girl searches for the truth about her past. I read this on the Alaska ferry with my son last summer.

For the parents

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner: A beach read for adults, this was recommended to me by one of my favorite artists, Jenny Vorwaller. A young artist trying to make it in New York City heads to the Bonneville salt flats to race a motorcycle and finds her own way in the art world and its characters.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Hayes

Jenny Hayes

Author of fiction, reviews, interviews, personal pieces, technical writing and more. Here are some places where you can find her writing.  

For the kids

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Series by Maryrose Wood: Book I: The Mysterious Howling kicks off this series, as Miss Penelope Lumley leaves the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females to become the governess of three children who were literally raised by wolves. If you like audiobooks, the recording of this one features some great "ahwoos"; if you're reading it yourself, you can have your own fun vocalizing.

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer: I've enjoyed Wolitzer's work for adults, so when my daughter was done with her book about kids at a Scrabble tournament, I snagged it. Great for word nerds of all ages, but also full of compelling, original characters, each with a different perspective on the competition.

Mr. Lunch Borrows a Canoe by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh: The adorable dog Mr. Lunch takes his professional bird-chasing skills to Venice in a canoe borrowed from an elephant. What's not to love?

For the parents 

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link: Each of the stories in this collection feels like its own little novel, immersing you in its world, sometimes leaving you there long after you've finished reading. 

Photo courtesy of Jim Lynch

Jim Lynch

Author of three novels set in Western Washington: Truth Like the Sun (finalist for the Dashiell Hammett Prize), Border Songs (winner of the Washington State Book Award and Indie's Choice Honor Book Award) and The Highest Tide (winner of the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Award)

For the kids 

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: This the book that turned me into a voracious reader and made me want to write. So while it's a somewhat famous book it's a secret to most modern kids.

Shelia Rae The Brave by Kevin Henkes: A wonderful story for younger kids about the beauty of independence and being different.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; James and the Giant Peach; BFG; The Witches; etc. by Roald Dahl: The man was an entertaining genius. 

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket: I read some of this hilarious series over my daughter's shoulder. Ten years later she still swears by it.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: A beautifully told and moving story.

For the parents

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler; The Whites by Richard Price: These are a few ideas of pretty dazzling novels that have come out in the past couple years. 

Photo courtesy of John Martin

John Martin

Founder of BoysRead (and a ParentMap "Someone You Should Know"). He writes middle-grade and young adult novels, and works with educators and parents to motivate reluctant readers. 

For the kids

The Adventures of Mouse Deer by Aaron Shepard: Recommended for young boys, this is a very fun to read out-loud book for the entire family.  It's multicultural and exposes children to a really cute and exotic creature.

The Adventures of Tumtum and Nutmeg series by Emily Bern: This is my series-everyone-should-know pick. They are super fun to read for younger boys and girls. However, the story plots are full of the kind of adventure that boys especially love.

Old Wolf by Avi (forthcoming in August 2015): Avi is one of the most prolific young adult and middle grade writers.

For the parents

Choosing a top pick for adults is an impossible question to answer without knowing anything about the reader's preference. However, being the egomaniac that I am, I love to give my opinion to others rather they want it or not. My titles are geared for men. We can't get them to read anything. Below are two books they should at least try: 

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel 

A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo

Photo courtesy of Karen Finneyfrock, Photo by Kyle Johnson

Karen Finneyfrock

Author of poetry and young adult fiction — her latest book for teens is Starbird Murphy and the World Outside.

For the kids 

In the summer, I follow the same philosophy for reading that I do for eating: read local.

The Game of Love and Death by (Seattle native) Martha Brockenbrough: For teenage readers, this historical Seattle love story will allow you to eavesdrop on conversations between the old adversaries of Love and Death while letting you settle into your own love story with language.

For the parents

Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer: The voice in this memoir is so observant, self-reflective and witty, it’s like taking your funniest friend out to lunch every time you open it. It’s full of thoughts about Seattle, parenthood, marriage and the body, and the writing feels conversational and effortless. 

Photo courtesy of Kirby Larson, Photo by Meryl Schenker

Kirby Larson

Author of the young adult historical novel Hattie Big Sky (the 2007 Newbery Honor Book), as well as many other novels for kids and teens. 

For the kids

The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang: Set in the 70s, this story brims with baseball, heart and hope, tackling a sad topic (death of a sibling) with grace and honesty.  

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley: I was very close to my grandfathers so I loved the connection between Micah and Grandpa Ephraim, and the magical world of the Circus Mirandus; this story would be perfect reading under a shady tree with a glass of lemonade!

The Penderwicks Series by Jeanne Birdsall: She claims this is her last Penderwicks book, so you won’t want to miss The Penderwicks in Spring; reminiscent of classics like Little Women, these books also feel fresh and new and perfect for today’s readers.  

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm (forthcoming August 2015): This brother and sister team, best known for the Babymouse and Squish series, has created a poignant semi-autobiographical graphic novel.

For the parents

I cannot wait to read:

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Photo courtesy of Marcellus Turner

Marcellus Turner

Oversees The Seattle Public Library, which includes the world-renowned Central Library and 26 new or renovated branches. 

For the kids

Eat, Leo, Eat! by Caroline Adderson: Leo is uninterested in the lavish Italian meals his Nonna prepares for the family every Sunday, always claiming that he’s just not hungry. In order to bring him to the table each week to eat, Nonna decides to feed Leo stories of her Italian heritage. This picture book will leave you and your little one craving stories about your family’s past, providing a delicious opportunity to talk about heritage and culture — maybe even over some macaroni!  

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones: This unusual and exceptional tale, written by a local Seattle author, is represented through a series of letters from the main character, 12-year-old Sophie Brown, capturing her recent move from bustling Los Angeles to her great-uncle Jim’s farm. She comes to care for five magical chickens and, through their many escapades, Sophie is able to find her place in her new community.    

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis: Though this book is not a secret (it won the Newbery in 2000), this is a story worth recommending every year. Bud is a hilarious, yet poignant, character who is forced to navigate the difficult Depression era — as an orphan no less. His unique perspective on the world will have readers of all ages alternating between laughter and tears as he embarks upon the quest to find his family.  

Hannah West Series by Linda Johns: Twelve-year-old Hannah West is a Seattle sleuth who is constantly on the move solving mysteries in neighborhoods throughout the city. Her adoptive mother earns her living as an artist and house-sitter, which is why the two are technically homeless! Written by a local author, you will love reading about sites in Seattle and, perhaps, you might even have the opportunity to visit some of the places mentioned and really bring the story to life!

Monkey with a Tool Belt Series by Chris Monroe: Chico Bon Bon is one wacky monkey who loves fixing things. His tool belt is filled with tools we never knew existed, but he can’t live without them — certainly not on his many bizarre adventures! The cartoon style illustrations and comical characters will wake you and your little one right up after an afternoon nap. You can even have a chat together about the tools you use in everyday life, as well as brainstorm new ones!

For the parents

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain: A riveting historical novel about the life and loves of horse racer and pilot, Beryl Markham, a woman ahead of her time

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen: The exciting sequel to the fantasy debut The Queen of the Tearling that twists dystopia and fantasy into something totally new.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu: An epic fantasy debut with literary chops and the history and culture of China as a launch pad for riveting world-building!

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: Possibly the next big teen dystopian hit!

The Martian by Andy Weir: Read this charming hard science fiction book about an astronaut stranded in space before the movie comes out in the fall!    


Nikki McClure

Author and intricate paper-cut illustrator of various children's books, including How to Be a Cat, Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered and Apple.

For the kids

The Swallows and Amazons Series by Arthur Ransome: English lake holiday with no adults! Or at least little involvement from the “natives." Plenty of grog and chocolate and sailboat pirates. You’ll want to don a red cap and learn semaphore. The first chapter is slow, it’s an old book, but bear with it and then never stop.

For the parents

Read the same book as your children. Reading out loud while having a blanket picnic, or set up a tent, make a tent, in a boat, in a hammock, in a pool of shade on the side walk, in the blueberry patch. The days are fleeting.

Photo courtesy of Sean Beaudoin

Sean Beaudoin

Author of Wise Young Fool and the forthcoming short story collection Welcome Thieves. His stories and articles have appeared in the Onion, The New Orleans Review and Glimmer Train, among many others. 

For the kids

Breakout by Kevin Emerson: Anthony is a young rocker with a crush, an ineffectual teacher and a song that just went viral. Perfect for the cousin who will spend all of August endlessly retuning their guitar.

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough: Too hot for you? Here's rainy Seattle in the 1920s, late night in jazz clubs and a young couple whose romance is toyed with by unseen hands.

The Hunted by Matt de la Pena: Packed with apocalyptic action and refreshingly diverse characters, this is the sequel to The Living, and the perfect way kill time at the beach between sets of waves.

Shutter by Courtney Alameda: Any good summer day needs a scary ghost story to make you cower even in the brightest of sunshine. A Guiginol filled with reapers, weird technologies, and just the right number of exorcisms.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson (forthcoming September 2015): The true story of one of the most fascinating aspects of WWII, a city surrounded, Nazi resistance and the composition of the elegiac Leningrad Symphony.

For the parents

Joe by Larry Brown: What summer is complete without a sweaty, Southern rumination on family, poverty, and the liberation of never giving in to authority?

American Dream Machine by Matthew Specktor: An impossible deep dive into the contradictions of Hollywood, the equivalent of doing laps with William Holden in Gloria Swanson's pool.

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber: Can't afford a vacation? The most transportive and other-worldy of authors.

On the Edge by Edward St. Aubyn: The follow-up to the Patrick Melrose novels. Like spending a decadent July in Florence.

The Collected Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis: Crisp, evocative meditations. Short stories as they should be, which is unlike any others.

Photo courtesy of Shin Yu Pai, Photo by Kent Barker

 Shin Yu Pai

Author of seven books of poetry, including Haiku Not Bombs, Sightings and Works on PaperHer work has appeared in publications throughout the U.S., Japan, China, Taiwan, The United Kingdom, and Canada. 

For the kids

Girls for Breakfast by David Yoo: A comic young adult novel and coming of age story about a Korean-American boy trying to make sense of his upbringing in suburban Connecticut, which easily trumps Fresh Off The Boat for its intelligence and hilarity.  

Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess: A beautifully illustrated children's picture book about the life and work of poet E.E. Cummings. Well-researched and extremely thoughtful in its biographical narrative of the poet's development. 

For the parents

Patter by Douglas Kearney: A book of visual poems on fatherhood. 

Photo courtesy of Stacey Levine, Photo by Alice Wheeler

 Stacey Levine

Author of novels and short story collections. Her novel Frances Johnson was shortlisted for the Washington State Book Award in 2005, and her collection My Horse and Other Stories won a PEN/West Fiction Award. 

For the kids

This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers: A boy named Wilfred discovers that his pet moose may have a separate life! Beautifully painted and collaged illustrations, characters with noodle-thin legs, and vocabulary-building words like like "perilous" and "compromise" make this book a subtle treasure about the ins and outs of friendship.  

Matisse's Garden by Samantha Friedman: With gentle and lush illustrations that echo Matisse's cutouts (and reproductions of the artist's works), the book describes the artist's discovery that paper cutouts of birds can "capture the feeling of soaring."  

For the parents

For busy parents who need to compress their reading into 20-minute segments, short, dense chunks of poems, plays and even manifestos make great reading. 

Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon: This book of poetry was translated by Seattle's own Don Mee Choi, a former UW  Bookstore employee and English instructor. The poems are rich enough to roll around in your mouth for days, elixirs of beautiful, yet direct language. They ponder our commercially-packed world and bodily ailments. "Are you afraid of this wine? Why are you afraid? Are you afraid of that bread? Why are you afraid?" reads one poem; another observes: "Green-strawberry-summit cloud/While-hair-clode encircles god's neck." 

If you read manifestos as historical documents, they're especially interesting. Maybe by summer's end you'll impress or anger your friends at dinner parties with having read a section of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (1848), or the Manifesto of Surrealism by Andre Breton (1924). The latter is a beautiful think-piece and an education about art in itself. And yes, you have to cut the Surrealist dudes some slack for having lived in a male-directed era.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Kuehnert, Photo by Jessie Tierney

Stephanie Kuehnert

Author of two young adult novels, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia, and a young adult memoir forthcoming from Dutton in 2016. She’s a staff writer at Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls, and lives in Seattle.

For the kids

The Metamorphoses Trilogy by Sarah McCarry: These lush and poetically written books based on the mythology in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Orpheus, Persephone, Jason and the Argonauts) but set in the modern day take us from the streets of Seattle and Brooklyn to the California coast, the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula and the fantastical realm of the underworld. The books are linked, but they don’t have to be read in order. Teens will devour them all because they’re filled with music and a truly diverse set of characters who are dealing with very real issues surrounding friendship, family, and figuring out who you are.

The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley: When 16-year-old Maggie’s mom remarries, she is uprooted from big-city Chicago to a rural Irish town by the sea. A coming of age story about first love and first loss set in the early 90s and filled with music from that era.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: Before the last movie comes out, read or reread the story of Katniss and her fight to survive and bring revolution to Panem, a dystopian version of our country where the rich who dwell in the Capitol watch the children of the impoverished Districts fight to the death in the annual games as entertainment.

For the parents

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma: The story of three girls, two who are on the inside of a juvenile detention facility and one on the outside, a ballerina on the verge of achieving her dream — to attend Julliard. Part ghost story, part mystery and full of magical realism, this is a powerful portrayal of how teenage girls can be caged by society, the criminal justice system, and each other.

Teri Hein and Melat Asefa at the ParentMap Superheroes Photoshoot 2015, Photo by Will Austin

Teri Hein

Executive director of the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas (BFI, formerly 826 Seattle) and a ParentMap 2015 Superhero

For the kids

Greenglass House by Kate Milford: Terrific mystery that is super kid friendly with a twist at the end!

Gaby Duran and the Unsittables by Daryle Conners and Elise Allen:  The protagonist is a ingenius, resourceful, clever girl, great role model and the book manages to be equally enjoyed by boys and girls (and Daryle is volunteer at BFI!).

Gaither Sisters Series by Rita Williams-Garcia: Three books set in the late 60s/early 70s in both New York City and in the south — an era not much written about in children's literature but such an impactful time. Terrific writing, historical fiction, dynamite African-American writer

For the parents

Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage by Barney Frank: He is such a brilliant, funny, irascible character who is a personal hero of mine for his commitment for doing the right thing. Really sticks up for what he believes, isn't afraid to make people mad and can really crack a good joke. What more is there?

Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton:  This came out a few years ago but I just discovered it. I think it might be categorized as food writing but it is so much more. Terrific writing from a real maverick and, like Barney Frank, she's pretty irascible and her own person.

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