Books to Toss in Your Kids' Beach Bags

We're headed to the beach soon. Truth be told, it's unlikely my girls will have a whole lot of time to read this go 'round, since we're going for a dance competition. But they've been summer reading right along and we have another trip to the beach in August. Here are some of our family favorites for summer reading. There is no rhyme or reason to the way they're listed here. Some are just light, happy reads. Some are much heavier, deeper. As I went through the list (during the third sitting of putting this post together, because everything takes me days to do;-), I recognized that there is a bit of a recurrent theme so appropriate right now. Several of these books emphasize seeking to understand, working to build bridges, and nurturing unlikely friendships. Kind of the ribbon running through this particular summer...

Penderwicks at Point Mouette

This isn't the first in there series and I'd always rather read them in order, but it is the first book recommended when I crowd sourced the small crowd in my family room asking, "What's a good beach book?" This is the one set at the beach if you have someone who wants to read about the beach while at the beach. 

Rosalind heads to the beach for the summer and the rest of the Penderwick sister, together with their friend Jeffrey, go to Maine. In Rosalind's absence, Skye is sister-in-charge in the charming coastal cottage. Lots of typical Penderwick scrapes and adventures in this one. If you don't know the Penderwicks yet, read The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy and Penderwicks on Gardam Street and then this one. It's only mid-July. There's plenty of summer left for it.

Spiderwick Chronicles

This one is included because when I was eliciting suggestions from my kids, I said "Penderwick" and Sarah immediately started lobbying for "Spiderwicks." That's one she met at the beach two years ago.

Using a handmade field guide found in the attic of an old mansion they’ve just moved into, Jared; his twin brother, Simon; and their older sister, Mallory, discover the world of faerie. This is a magical, parallel world with adventure and intrigue and the faeries are determined to keep the Grace children from telling anyone about the mysterious world.


Summer of the Gypsy Moths

This is a beautiful book of empathy and redemption. Stella is eleven years old, staying at her Great Aunt Louise's house on Cape Cod for the summer, in part because her mother is unreliable. Angel is a foster child Aunt Louise has taken in. When Aunt Louise suddenly dies, the girls conspire to keep it a secret so that they can stay where they are. Forced to trust one another and to depend on each other for survival, they come of age together and discover they can forge a family from an unlikely friendship.

One Crazy Summer

Karoline read this on last winter and highly recommends it. It seems particularly appropriate for this summer--a perfect conversation starter for some of the tough conversations that beg to be had in these chaotic days. "In the tumultuous summer of 1968, Delphine and her two sisters travel from Brooklyn to Oakland, Calif., to spend a month with their mother, a radical poet who sends them to the local Black Panther center for summer camp. There, they begin to learn about the fraught relationship between race and power."

Shmoop opines: Rita Williams-Garcia's 2010 novel tackles big issues like racism, government control, unfair arrests, abandonment, and responsibility. But before you bail for a lighter read, you should probably know that this book bagged a bunch of awards, including the National Book Award, Coretta Scott King Award, and the Newbery Medal of Honor when it came out (source). In other words, One Crazy Summer doesn't just dive headfirst into tricky territory; it navigates it with aplomb.


The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles

I loved this book when I was about ten. It's written by Julie Andrews--yes, that beloved Mary Poppins-Maria Von Trapp Julie. Three children and an eccentric professor locate the last living Whangdoodle--a huge mooselike creature who wants nothing more in life than a lady whangdoodle to love. It's a charming story, delightfully written. I can just hear her reading it aloud, which begs the question: Why in the world is there no author-read audio version?


A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

This one brings me back to the summer before my freshman year in high school when I read this book not once, not twice, but three times. Francie Nolan is one tough cookie who is growing up the crime-ridden squalor that is Brooklyn in the early 1900s. It's the story of determination and resilience and the burning passion that can be inspired in the heart of a (very young) writer by words that beg to be set free. (*Please see the content flag in the comments. appropriate for teens, according to your family's standards.)

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Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry

I believe this one is a classic. Truly. Every family should own it and read it together. Maybe now, more than ever before in the our lifetime and the lifetime of our children, we need to be talking about books like this. From the Amazon description:

In all Mildred D. Taylor's unforgettable novels she recounts "not only the joy of growing up in a large and supportive family, but my own feelings of being faced with segregation and bigotry." Her Newbery Medal-winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry tells the story of one African American family, fighting to stay together and strong in the face of brutal racist attacks, illness, poverty, and betrayal in the Deep South of the 1930s. Nine-year-old Cassie Logan, growing up protected by her loving family, has never had reason to suspect that any white person could consider her inferior or wish her harm. But during the course of one devastating year when her community begins to be ripped apart by angry night riders threatening African Americans, she and her three brothers come to understand why the land they own means so much to their Papa. "Look out there, Cassie girl. All that belongs to you. You ain't never had to live on nobody's place but your own and long as I live and the family survives, you'll never have to. That's important. You may not understand that now but one day you will. Then you'll see."

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The Hundred Dresses

This one is about bullies and bystanders and learning valuable lessons, hopefully before it's too late. 

My take is that bullying and "bystandering" has become ubiquitous, though much of it--most of it--is digital now. In the last twenty years, children have become emboldened by their screens. Books like this one heighten empathy and sensitivity. If only they'd read more of the bound words and fewer of the ones through which they scroll, mindlessly while letting their hearts be seared. 

From the Amazon description:

Wanda Petronski lives way up in shabby Boggins Heights, and she doesn't have any friends. Every day she wears a faded blue dress, which wouldn't be too much of a problem if she didn't tell her schoolmates that she had a hundred dresses at home--all silk, all colors, and velvet, too. This lie--albeit understandable in light of her dress-obsessed circle--precipitates peals of laughter from her peers, and she never hears the end of it. One day, after Wanda has been absent from school for a few days, the teacher receives a note from Wanda's father, a Polish immigrant: "Dear teacher: My Wanda will not come to your school any more. Jake also. Now we move away to big city. No more holler Polack. No more ask why funny name. Plenty of funny names in the big city. Yours truly, Jan Petronski."

Maddie, a girl who had stood by while Wanda was taunted about her dresses, feels sick inside: "True, she had not enjoyed listening to Peggy ask Wanda how many dresses she had in her closet, but she had said nothing.... She was a coward.... She had helped to make someone so unhappy that she had had to move away from town." Repentant, Maddie and her friend Peggy head up to Boggins Heights to see if the Petronskis are still there. When they discover the house is empty, Maddie despairs: "Nothing would ever seem good to her again, because just when she was about to enjoy something--like going for a hike with Peggy to look for bayberries or sliding down Barley Hill--she'd bump right smack into the thought that she had made Wanda Petronski move away." Ouch.


Bridge to Terabithia

So, I read this one in college. It was assigned reading for my children's literature class. And after I dried my tears, I picked up the phone and called my best friend from high school, a boy I'd not talked to in several months. A boy I swore I was "totally over." Thirty years and nine kids later, I have a super soft spot for Terabithia;-).

The book is so much better than the movie.

It's not a love story. It's a story about the power of a friendship to transform us.

I'm not one for trigger warnings, but I make an exception here. Spoiler: A child dies tragically. If you have a child (like at least one of mine), who really can't handle the intense emotion of grief in literature yet, steer clear. It's a great book, but it can wait until a little later. I wouldn't hesitate to hand it to my 13-year-old, but I'd hide it from my 7-year-old, not just because of maturity, but because of sensitivity




Because of stories read aloud at the Montessori school, my little girls have been on a Roald Dahl binge. Some of those I could easily forego (Witches is on my least favorite list), but they really loved Matilda. It's "the story of an exceptionally gifted girl who outsmarts her cruel parents and the brutish school headmistress Miss Trunchbull with the help of her magical abilities and her kind teacher Miss Honey." Roald Dahl really does nail humanity's weaknesses and failure exceptionally well, bringing them to life in a books that speak to children without being childish at all.


Number the Stars

I mentioned that we listened to this one a couple of weeks ago. We're still talking about it almost daily. This is a beautiful, haunting book of the friendship of two families--one Christian and one Jewish--during the days of Germany's occupation of Denmark. The strength and bravery of two little girls--and a whole country of Danes--is breathtaking. I can't say enough good things. It's $4 right now for the Amazon Audible version. That means that for $1/hour you can all listen to it for four hours in the car while you drive to whatever summer destination you have in mind. Time so well spent. You'll be so glad you shared it together.

I've got a bunch more, but summer will be over if I keep writing and don't post soon. So, let these be your end-of-July reads and maybe I can squeeze one more post into mid-August, because, really, these are good books for any time at all. The beach just makes them a little sandy and a little water-worn, and maybe a bit more memorable.