Summer vacation is drawing to a close, but whether you have time to squeeze in one last trip or you just have time to remember the trips you already took, it’s always fun to curl up with a good book about vacation spots. Both YA and picture books abound with these stories, and here are some suggestions if you need a last (literary) getaway for the summer.
YA Pick: The Moon by Night by Madeleine L’Engle (1998 Margaret A. Edwards award winner)
This is still the quintessential camping book to me–the book that still makes me imagine I will one day take my family on a cross-country camping trip, seeing all the great national parks out west. The Moon by Night follows the Austin family (from, among others, Meet the Austins and A Ring of Endless Light) as they make just such a trip, but the vacation gets especially interesting for Vicky when she inadvertently picks up an admirer with a bad boy streak and the romantic plan to pursue her across the country. Vicky’s interactions with Zachary, her family’s disapproval, her upcoming move to New York City, and her ordinary growing up struggles are all on Vicky’s mind in the midst of enjoying the astounding beauty of her surroundings.
YA Pick: Patiently Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
I’ve loved the Alice series since I was a kid, and this is one that stands out as being a good mix of fun and serious issues. Alice, Pamela, and Elizabeth decide to spend part of their summer as assistant counselors for a camp for disadvantaged kids. Their camping experience is a mixture of learning how to handle all sorts of issues (including racial issues) with their young charges and counselor hijinks during their breaks. There’s less romance for Alice than in other installments of the series, but Elizabeth has a summer romance that can keep the romantically-inclined reading!
Picture Book: Carl’s Summer Vacation by Alexandra Day
Lovable Rottweiler Carl gets into adventures with his young charge, Madeleine (now getting to be less of a baby and more of a little girl) while they are supposed to be napping on the back porch of the family’s summer cabin. They enjoy a boat trip (until the boat overturns!), berry picking (before they have to run away from a family of skunks), time on the playground, and sneaking a snack from another family’s picnic. When it’s time to get up for dinner and fireworks, Madeleine’s parents can’t understand why the buddies are so tired. If you enjoy this, there are lots of other Carl episodes.
Picture Book: Lost in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy by Carl R. Sams, II, and Jean Stoick (2005 Independent Publisher Book Award Winner, Children’s Picture Books 6 and under). This isn’t so much a camping story as a story that might inspire young readers to get out into the woods. This husband-and-wife team are nature photographers who took the beautiful, up-close photos that make up the pictures, then created a story to go along with them. Readers follow a young fawn as he waits for his mother. Other animals are sure the fawn is lost, but the fawn knows he’s just supposed to wait…
YA Pick: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
As she spends the last summer before college in her hometown of Colby, NC, Emaline faces unexpected twists in her family, her love life, and her personal goals. She’s accepted to Columbia, but has to settle for the closer state school when her birth father goes back on an offer to help pay; she has a steady boyfriend, but the relationship ends unexpectedly; and she has a job she likes, but her summer is turned upside down by the arrival of a documentary filmmaker from New York. Dessen’s fans will enjoy the return to a familiar setting, and Emaline’s struggles will resonate with anyone who’s been through, or is anticipating, the transition from high school to college.
YA Pick: September Girls by Bennett Madison (2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults). After his mom abandons the family, Sam’s father takes him and his older brother to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for “a summer you’ll never forget!” Sam doesn’t know what he thinks of all this manly togetherness, and things get even stranger when they reach the beach. Beautiful blond girls are everywhere–everywhere–and they all seem interested in Sam (not the normal course of events, especially when his brother is around). As Sam gets to know one Girl in particular, DeeDee, he starts to learn that these girls really aren’t normal. With echoes of The Little Mermaid (the Andersen fairy tale, not the Disney version), and colorful portrayals of male-female relationships (not just the romantic kind), this is a summer read that will stick with you.
YA Pick: The Summer Boys and Summer Girls series, by Hailey Abbott
Those looking for the perfect escapist beach read need look no further. Cousins Ella, Beth, Jamie, and Kelsi, and later Jessica, Lara, and Greer, come to their family’s regular beach rentals in Maine each summer looking for fun, parties, and above all boys. Drama and romance abound, and the bonds that grow between the cousins are as much a part of the story as their romantic endeavors.
Picture Book: Harry by the Sea by Gene Zion, pictures by Margaret Bloy Graham
Fans of Harry the Dirty Dog will enjoy this further adventure of Harry and his (nameless) family as they go to the beach. Harry gets into some seaweed and manages to scare sunbathers all up and down the beach who think he’s a bizarre sea monster. The sea monster aspect makes this fun read a big hit with my kids.
Picture Book: The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen, pictures by Dan Hanna
Ok, so this book isn’t actually a beach book, but it is a great summer read that refers to many of the creatures that might come up in beachy conversations. Add to that the fun of getting kids to say the refrain (it’s a rhyming book) with you in their poutiest voices and you’ve got a winner. Be warned that the fish overcomes his gloominess by becoming a “kiss-kiss” fish, so some readers may be let down by the ending (or feel that it warrants shrieking and running around)!
YA Pick: Are We There Yet? by David Levithan (2009 Popular Paperback for Young Adults)
Two brothers get tricked into traveling in Italy together: Elijah, a soon-to-be senior is laid-back to the extreme, while his older brother Danny has just finished college and is obsessed with his advertising job. Against the beautiful backdrop of Venice, Florence, and Rome, readers learn why the brothers drifted apart and start to see them come back together again.
YA Pick: Plague in the Mirror by Deborah Noyes
After her parents’ divorce, May agrees to spend the summer before her senior year in Florence with her best friend, Liam, and his mom, who is a travel guide researcher. The trip quickly veers away from an average summer-in-Europe experience when May encounters the ghost of a girl, named Cristofana, who looks exactly like May. Cristofana lures May into the Florence she knows, Florence of 1348–right before the Black Death strikes the city. This book has an interesting mix of paranormal, romance, historical fiction, and realistic fiction, and the descriptions of both eras of Florence are vivid enough to appeal to the armchair traveler as well.
Picture Book: Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer
With her characteristic style, little girl pig Olivia takes Venice by storm. She enjoys Venice as only a kid can: with LOTS of gelato, a gondola ride, the joy and fear of feeding the pigeons, and an endless search for the perfect souvenir. This last ends in a “smashing” success that has elicited squeals of glee from my test audience with every single read.
Picture Book: Madeline and the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmens
I almost hesitate to include this, because it is emphatically NOT a politically correct portrayal of the Roma…but the pictures of the French countryside are just beautiful, and I am impressed at how Bemelmens works all these landscapes in while still telling a fun, funny, kid-friendly story. Fans of the other Madeline books will enjoy it, and adults will appreciate the index of all the French locations at the back of the book.
Picture Book: Possum Magic by Mem Fox
Grandma Poss uses her magic to make her grand-possum Hush invisible, but when the two possums want to see Hush again, they run into trouble. They have to travel around Australia eating magic foods in order to make Hush visible again. Although they don’t travel abroad, for those of us who haven’t been to Australia their trips make a delightful visit to a faraway land.
YA Pick: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (2007 Printz Award Honor Book)
After being dumped by his 19th girlfriend named Katherine and lamenting that he’s missed the boat on being a genius, Colin Singleton decides to get out of his hometown, Chicago, with his best friend, Hassan. They make it as far as Gutshot, Tennessee, where they are roped into a summer job of interviewing townspeople for a local history project by the owner of Gutshot’s largest business. Colin participates in the interviewing only reluctantly, spending his spare time on an equation to predict the course of romantic relationships. As the summer goes on, though, Colin and Hassan find out why listening to other peoples stories is so important, and their new coworker, Lindsey, may even help Colin get over his Katherine problems.
YA Pick: Going Bovine by Libba Bray (2010 Printz Award Winner, 2010 Best Books for Young Adults)
In this mother-of-all-road-trip stories, which Publishers Weekly called “inspired lunacy,” Cameron Smith sets out on a quest to find a mysterious doctor that can cure his Creutzfeldt-Jakob (aka Mad Cow) disease, taking along with him a teenage dwarf and a Norse god trapped inside a yard gnome. Inspired by, and referring to, Don Quixote, Going Bovine takes readers on a crazy journey filled with both hilarious and thought-provoking moments.
Picture Book: Let’s Go for a Drive! by Mo Willems
This is possibly my favorite of Willems’ amazing Elephant and Piggie series, and that is saying something. In this installment, careful, serious Gerald has the fun idea of going for a drive. His best friend Piggie joyfully joins in with the preparations–until Gerald’s carefully laid plan hits an unexpected bump.
-Libby Gorman, currently reading The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats