9 fun summer books for reluctant readers in grades 3–5

These books all have clever plots and great characters. See if one (or more) will spark your child’s interest.

Even kids who don’t want to read during summer vacation can be won over by the right book. Try one of these.

Skinnybones, by Barbara Park

Alex wants to be the class clown. “The first time I ever remember making people laugh was in kindergarten,” he recalls fondly. But his clever ways tend to get him into trouble. (This is something readers who have issues with talking too much at the wrong time may relate to.) In Skinnybones, Alex — the smallest kid and worst player on his baseball team — talks his way into a pitching competition. What comes next will make readers laugh out loud. Kids don’t need to like baseball to love this book or its sequel, Almost Starring Skinnybones.

This or That? The Wacky Book of Choices to Reveal the Hidden You, by Crispin Boyer

Would you rather be frozen and then thawed out in the future at the age you are now or live forever? Walk on hot coals or swim in the Arctic Ocean? Quiz books are great for vacation. They’re as fun to read aloud with others as they are to enjoy solo. The This or That? series can make a long drive or a lazy day at the beach more fun. And with its short questions and entertaining “results,” it will likely appeal to grade-schoolers who are tired of chapter books.

El Deafo, by Cece Bell

In this colorful autobiographical graphic novel, we meet Cece. She’s only 4 when she loses her hearing. Years later, her doctors give her a hearing aid called the Phonic Ear that helps her understand the world around her again. But the Phonic Ear needs to be strapped to her chest. So it literally comes between her and any possible new friends in elementary school. Eager to fit in, Cece imagines she is “El Deafo,” a superhero with super hearing. “Our differences are our superpowers,” she says. Kids can take in that empowering message as they read how Cece comes into her own.

My Weirdest School #1: Mr. Cooper Is Super! by Dan Gutman

Your child has probably already heard of the zany book series, My Weird School and My Weirder School. Now the My Weirdest School collection introduces even wackier teachers and nuttier situations. In Mr. Cooper Is Super, a new third-grade teacher insists on dressing as a superhero. Some of the students’ (and teachers’) responses are a bit rude. But that may add to the appeal for reluctant readers.

Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo

Ten-year-old Opal has just moved to a new town where she doesn’t know anyone. She feels lost and lonely. Then one day she meets a stray dog in a supermarket and brings him home. This single step helps her understand her past, appreciate her present, and look forward to the future. An ideal pick for animal lovers, Because of Winn-Dixie is extremely sweet and at times very sad. There’s a movie version, too, which might be a nice vacation treat once your child finishes the book.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, by Stephan Pastis

Cartoons make for fun reading on summer vacation. That’s one reason Mistakes Were Made, the first book in the Timmy Failure series, is a great summer pick. It was written and drawn by notable comic book artist Stephan Pastis, creator of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine. Timmy is a kid detective with a polar bear sidekick. He plots how to solve cases over lunch recess. And true to his last name, Timmy finds both school and detective work more than a bit tricky. This book has short chapters, silly scenarios, and funny illustrations — an ideal beach read.

Cleopatra in Space #1: Target Practice, by Mike Maihack

This graphic novel has elements of history and sci-fi that appeal to both boys and girls. In Target Practice, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra is rocketed to the future. Her task: Save the galaxy. While on her mission, she’s forced to enroll in school, where she struggles with academics but aces ray-gun practice. There are five books in the Cleopatra in Space series so far. If your child likes them, also try the Zita the Spacegirl series (by Ben Hatke) while you wait for the next installment.

Danger Is Everywhere: A Handbook for Avoiding Danger, by David O’Doherty

Dr. Noel Zone calls himself a “dangerologist.” Just what is that? “While you probably see the world as an exciting place where you can go on adventures and ride your bike, a dangerologist sees it as an awful place where terrible things can happen, ALL OF THE TIME,” he explains. Kids will enjoy reading his slapstick advice for staying safe. There’s no real plot to follow in Danger Is Everywhere. But there are plenty of ridiculous illustrations to giggle over.

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a mall. (Yes, you read that right.) While shoppers stare at him in his glass cage, Ivan watches TV and draws. His days feel long and meaningless. And then Ruby, a baby elephant, joins him. She helps him look at his life from a new perspective — which is exactly what Ivan didn’t know he needed. The One and Only Ivan is funny, sad, and touching. With short sentences and beautiful illustrations, it’s an approachable, unforgettable read for kids and parents.


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