Summertime is coming fast – it’s already May, and that means for many kids, the school year will be over in just a month or so. That means all sorts of fun – family vacations, camping, hiking, swimming… lots of exciting stuff! It also means the dreaded “summer slide” – the tendency for kids to lose a bit of what they’ve learned over the past school year as they spend a few months away from the classroom.
Now, nobody wants to push their kids to spend their summer – which rightly should be full of fun and play – digging into academics; it takes the fun out of summer break, and it’s a lot of work for parents, too! Fortunately, it doesn’t take much at all to fight back against the summer slide, and to keep kids engaged in critical thinking (and social justice!) One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to make sure your kids keep reading all summer, and for that, we’ve compiled this list of fantastic, engaging books that will keep them thinking.
This is a fantastic book for budding activist, for your littles that aren’t quite reading yet but are already super fierce! A may be for “activist”, but there’s a lot more beyond that.
Cinnamon, by Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Divya Srinivasan)
Cinnamon is an original tale by Neil Gaiman (author of Coraline. It’s a wonderful story of a blind Indian princess who doesn’t speak. The story is simple, the art is gorgeous, and the message will delight kids from 4 to 10.
As I write this list, the month of Ramadan is fast approaching, and this story provides non-Muslim and Muslim kids alike with a fantastic introduction to the concept, the ritual, and the roots of Ramadan.
It should come as no surprise that women of color have played an integral role in the building of the United States, and the advancement of science, technology, math, philosophy and more over the past 200 years. This book presents the stories of many of those women, in a quick and concise format that is accessible and interesting to readers from 6 to 12. It even makes for a great book of bedtime stories, complete with delightful illustrations.
March is the story of Congressman John Lewis’s early days in the Civil Rights Movement. It is presented in graphic novel format, and aimed at kids in their early to mid teens, though it is perfectly engaging for adults as well. The material is at times brutal, as was the time, but the language is absolutely appropriate for teens, and violence is presented carefully and is never gory or extreme.
An extension of Clinton’s first book, She Persisted Around the World extends the exploration of powerful women internationally. It is a great partner book to Little Leaders, though aimed at a slightly younger age range.
Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son is a masterpiece of gender exploration from a culture that is substantially less open to trans identities than many other parts of the world. The series follows to main characters, Shiuchi (a trans girl) and Yoshino (a trans boy) as they struggle to simultaneously navigate their expanding gender identities, puberty, and starting middle school. It is as beautifully awkward as it sounds, and is full of poignant moments that will feel incredibly familiar to any teen, and especially powerful for the many tweens and teens just beginning to explore their sense of self.
This series is a contemporary reworking of the story of Black Panther (a character originally introduced in 1966). That this version is written by the incredible Ta-Nehisi Coates is incredibly significant, as he explores institutional racism, inequality, and (in a tribute to Derrick Bell’s Afrolantica,) the impact that an idyllic, advanced African nation untouched by centuries of European colonialism, all in a format that will be exciting and approachable for teens and adults 14 and older.
Adeyemi’s debut work is masterful fiction; a young adult novel full of real Black Girl Magic, following the adventures of two teens, Inan and Amari, and weaving in the Orishas, West African demigods that influence nature and the lives of people in a variety of ways. The story is epic, the characters rich and relatable, and the setting incredibly dynamic. This book is a fantastic summer read!
Rick Riordan has long been known for his series (and now movies) centering on the character of Percy Jackson, and the gods of Ancient Greece. The Magnus Chase trilogy expands that universe, instead focusing on a character by the same name, and his ties to the Norse pantheon. Given this premise, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking this series was likely to be woefully generic, but in fact it belies an incredibly deep collection of teen novels, that ultimately explore race and racism, gender identity, and sexuality. The fact that Magnus Chase is (presently) a trilogy means plenty to read for the summer!
This list is by no means extensive; there are dozens of other wonderful books that make for fantastic, engaging summer reading. Let me know what your favorites are in the comments below! Also, remember, the best way to reinforce your kids’ learning (and support their budding activism) is to discuss the books they read; the more context you give them, the more they’ll get out of their reading, and you might learn something from it, too!