Summer is the ideal time for tweens to delve into one of these great classic children's books. Summer reading allows for kids ages 9-12 to take a slow approach to new books that may use unfamiliar sentence structure and vocabulary.
That said, all the recommended books on this classic summer reading list for tweens are approachable for modern kids! In addition, this list includes titles from different genres so whether your tween loves mysteries, realism or fantasy, you'll find just the right book for every tween.
So pour a big glass of cold lemonade, make room on the hammock and hand your tween a great book that you remember reading from your childhood!
The following summer reading lists are also great for tweens:
MORE: Check out all our summer reading resources, like reading bingo, the great library challenge and more.
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Classic Children's Books for Summer Reading
THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin
I still remember my 5th grade teacher reading The Westing Game to the class. I was completely riveted and it continues to be one of my favorite children's books of all time. Mr. Westing, an eccentric millionaire, writes his will as a game. The named beneficiaries must discover who murdered him in order to inherit his fortune. "Players" are separated into teams with clues. This unusual mystery has a host of curious characters and surprising plot twists.
Has your tween already read The Westing Game? I recommend her 1971 mystery, The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel).
LISA AND LOTTIE (aka The Parent Trap) by Erich Kästner
Originally published in German, this book is the inspiration for both Disney versions of The Parent Trap. You already know the conceit: two girls away at summer camp discover they are long-lost twins and attempt to reunite their parents. After your tween has read the book, make a big bowl of popcorn and watch the original film!
CLEVER POLLY AND THE STUPID WOLF by Catherine Storr
I 100% LOVE this 1955 classic. We've read it aloud multiple times, and my son still read it on his own! As you might guess from the title, Polly readily outwits a not-so-shrewd wolf who would like nothing better than to eat her for dinner. Storr's storytelling ability is just as clever and witty as her heroine.
THE TOOTHPASTE MILLIONAIRE by Jean Merrill
The practical side of math is highlighted when sixth-graders Rufus and Kate decide to invent a superior toothpaste, sell it and make their fortunes. First published 40 years ago, Jean Merrill's book (she also wrote The Pushcart War, which I recommend) is still a highly entertaining celebration of the imaginative spirit. After reading this book, don't be surprised to see your kids start up a new entrepreneurial endeavor using their math skills!
ZLATEH THE GOAT AND OTHER STORIES by Isaac Bashevis Singer
This is a long time favorite book of mine, and is one that many families pass by. Don't be so foolish! If you are not familiar with Chelm, Singer's book of short stories is the best introduction. In Jewish folklore, Chelm came into being when an angel, tasked with distributing a sack of fools around the world, tripped and spilled all in one place! Chelm is a village of fools and the seven Elders are the most foolish of all. There are seven stories in all, each with a little lesson to be gleaned, but read them for the light-hearted humor and a few giggles.
DEAR MR. HENSHAW by Beverly Cleary
Through letters and diary entries addressed to his favorite author, Leigh Botts works through his feelings about his parents’ divorce, making friends at a new school and the mysterious lunch thief. One of the most appealing aspects of this book is that Cleary realistically conveys the complex and urgent voice of an 11-year-old boy. Epistolary novels for children are rare and this one is eminently readable.
THE PEOPLE COULD FLY by Virginia Hamilton
Folktales are universally loved and a collection of short stories is a nice way to break up the summer reading schedule. Celebrated children’s author, Virginia Hamilton, wrote this wonderful collection of Black American folktales. There are several categories of tales ranging from animal trickster legends, stories of the supernatural and tales of freedom. At the end of each short story, Hamilton includes her notes on the origin of the tale and its dialect. I also highly recommend the audiobook!
THE PEOPLE SHALL CONTINUE by Simon J. Ortiz, illustrated by Sharol Graves
This is a nonfiction classic, first published in 1977. Beginning with Creation and following through to the usurpation of their lands,Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo) has crafted a powerful and accessible history of Native Americans. It is also a story of survival and the importance of community. Graves' (Absentee Shawnee) vivid and spare illustrations perfectly complement the text. A must read for everyone.
THE WHEEL ON THE SCHOOL by Meindert DeJong
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In Holland, Lina and her friends wonder why there are no longer any storks in their village. They work together to build a nest for the birds on the school, and in doing so discover their individual and collective strengths. I remember loving this book as a kid. When I picked it up as a read aloud, I expected my kids to find it boring. Au contraire! 1955 Newbery Award Winner.
THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE by Joan Aiken
I remember loving this book as a child, and as an adult I love the alliterative title. It takes an ultra talented author like Joan Aiken to turn what could easily be a predictable, gothic plot into an exciting, suspenseful tale. Two cousins persevere against all odds when they are thrown under the protection of rather sinister guardian with the Dickensian name of Mrs. Slighcarp.
THE CASTLE IN THE ATTIC (series) by Elizabeth Winthrop.
The idea of a miniature castle coming to life was irresistible to me as a kid. William’s housekeeper, Mrs. Phillips gives him a model castle set but things go awry when Mrs. Phillips is shrunk down to the size of the castle and William must shrink himself down to rescue her. Dragons, wizards, magic forests and knights make this a wonderful fantasy quest kids will love.
GONE-AWAY LAKE (series) by Elizabeth Enright
Does anything say "summer" more than time at a lake? Siblings, Portia and Foster head out to stay with their cousins at their lake side home. When they arrive, they discover a mysterious ghost town and meet its two remaining inhabitants who teach them the town's secrets. This is a wonderful story of children enjoying a "free-range" summer.
THE RELUCTANT DRAGON by Kenneth Grahame
If your kids balk at the unfamiliar sentence structure and vocabulary of many older classic books, a short novel like this one may be just the ticket. It is a charming, but engaging story. A boy befriends a poetry-loving dragon in the caves near his village. When the rest of the village learns of the dragon, they assume he is a threat and enlist St. George to rid them of the beast. Instead, the boy, dragon and St. George successfully conspire to bring everyone together and show the villagers that their prejudice is misplaced. A wonderful companion book is Tony DiTerlizzi's contemporary retelling of the story, Kenny & the Dragon.
TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson
It is safe to say that the characters in this book are not all virtuous, hard working and self-sacrificing, but it is loads of fun. Youngster Jim goes to look for treasure and gets mixed-up with pirates like the ruthless Long John Silver.