Summer is the time to explore, go on adventures in your own neighborhood, and travel to other places and worlds in the pages of a great book. Island Readers & Writers volunteers have selected some excellent reads to make your summer vacation shine even brighter!

Download our easy checklist here!

, by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. Grades K – 8.

This is a children’s atlas unlike many others. The entire oversized book is a work of art, hand-drawn and written with impeccable penmanship. The individual continents and countries are filled with details about important places and significant events, as well as facts about geography, culture, customs and wildlife rendered in what could be wood-block printing in earth tones. Readers of every age will be captivated by all of the accessible facts rendered through this artistic masterpiece. Many a lazy summer afternoon could easily be spent with this atlas – anyone would be thrilled to own it!

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin, by Kathryn Lasky and illustrated by Matthew Trueman. Grades 2 – 5.One Beetle Too Many

Charles Darwin was considered a “bad student,” but not from a lack of curiosity! He was passionate about creating collections with specimens he found while exploring. This book is a true treasure with playful, detailed illustrations and a fun story that follows Charles on his journey on the HMS Beagle as he sailed around South America. He finds so many new specimens for his collections – he even found seashells on a mountaintop! Now how did those get there…?

HandfulofStarsA Handful of Stars, by Cynthia Lord. Grades 3 – 7.

This book is set in Washington County, Maine, and follows the friendship of two girls: Lily, a year-rounder and owner of a blind dog named Lucky; and Salma, a summer resident from a migrant blueberry picking family, who cleverly saves Lucky’s life by luring him away from possible danger on the road with a sandwich. The girls help each other tackle two challenges; Lily hopes to bring back Lucky’s vision, and Salma hopes to be the first migrant entry (and winner!) in the Blueberry Queen Pageant.If You Plant A Seed

If You Plant A Seed, by Kadir Neslon. Grades PreK – 2.

This lovely picture book follows the gardening experiments and play of a rabbit and a mouse, and shows how small acts of kindness can reverberate throughout a whole animal community. Caldecott Honor winner Nelson is an amazing illustrator, and adept at showing the process of growth from seed to plant.

SlobSlob, by Ellen Potter. Grades 3 – 7.

Bullying, not fitting in, sibling relationship, and connecting with the past while creating a future are all topics that Ellen Potter touches on in this engaging, first person story. The book is compelling for its layers of revelations and the way in which Ms. Potter deals with some very heavy, potentially emotional issues in a compassionate way. The setting is the Upper West Side of Manhattan, though the circumstances could easily translate to many other school/home locales. If you like stories that are very reality based, balanced with a bit of sarcastic humor, with a twist of  investigative science and a surprise ending that takes your breath away – then this book fits the bill.The Riverman

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer (The Riverman Trilogy Series: Book 1). Grades 4 – 8.

Twelve year old Alistar Cleary, growing up in Thessaly, NY in 1989, is considered “a good kid,” trusted by others to keep a secret.  When his classmate, Fiona Loomis, tells Alistar that she has chosen him to write her biography, he is drawn into a world where the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred.  Is Fiona’s strange story about the parallel world of Aquavania, where children can shape their own existence, and the mysterious Riverman, who steals the souls of children, a sign of real trauma in Fiona’s life or cause for alarm that her soul might be next? Alistar is determined to protect Fiona as he searches for the truth. In this haunting story, Alistar learns that people are not always who they seem to be and that reality has new dimensions.

Some BugsSome Bugs, Words by Angela DiTerlizzi, Bugs by Brendan Wenzel. Grades PreK – 3.

There are all sorts of bugs in your backyard! A menagerie of creepy crawlies work, travel, and build homes, and can be spotted with only a little observation. This book’s strengths are its fantastic illustrations, juicy verbs, and a challenge to look very hard at the tiny workings and wanderings of the bug world. Also, a “legend” of bugs in the back of the book identifies those featured in the story. A recommended read for anyone who likes nature, using a magnifying glass, or learning more about the bugs with which we share our world.

The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, illustrations by Emily Gravett. Grades 3 – 7.The Imaginary

A man is stealing people’s Imaginaries, and Amanda gets hurt trying to protect her imaginary friend Rudger. Rudger finds out what happens to Imaginaries when their people can’t imagine them any more. Rudger and Amanda are strong and kind characters, although Amanda can be a bit bossy to Rudger.  They truly care for each other, and Amanda’s mother is a strong woman who supports and loves her child no matter what.  One of the book’s strengths is its focus on relationships: between Amanda and Rudger, Amanda and her mother, and Rudger and the Imaginaries he meets.

FortFort, by Cynthia DeFelice. Grades 3 – 7.

Wyatt and Augie build a sturdy fort to sleep in during the last two weeks of their summer vacation. While they camp out, they learn or refine their skills at sling-shooting squirrels, fishing, and building fires. After two bullies leave stinky squirrel guts in their fort to torment them, Wyatt and Augie scheme a no-injury plan to stand up for themselves and show their grit. Great read for middle-school boys!Mama Built A Little Nest

Mama Built A Little Nest, by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Grades PreK – 3.

Explore the great variety of nests that birds build for their eggs, from hummingbird nests made out of spiderwebs to the nest burrowed in the dirt by the burrowing owl. Birds build nests in different places, with different materials, or sometimes just lay their eggs in another bird’s nest! This book is an interesting study of natural avian homes, and a great lesson for kids on the diverse methods of nature. Perfect for budding scientists and bird lovers!

The CrossoverThe Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. Grades 4 – 7.

Kids into sports (especially basketball) will love this book! This story of an ex-basketball super star and his twin sons is easy to read and there are quite a few good life lessons and advice – things that should never be done, things that should be done, proper attitudes, relationships – all great for young minds.

The Storm Whale, by Benji Davies. Grades PreK – 3.The Storm Whale

Noi discovers a little whale washed up on the beach after a storm.  He tries to keep it safe by hiding it in the bathtub and watering it, but after his dad finds the whale, he has to bring him back to the sea where he belongs. This book is packed full of charming illustrations! Also, the main character, a little island boy, is lovable and it’s easy to form a connection with him and his desire to help out the storm whale. A recommended read for anyone who likes ocean or island life, has a fisher(wo)man in the family, or is looking for a tale of short, temporary friendship born out of empathy.

Star StuffStar Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos, by Stephanie Roth Sisson. Grades 1 – 3.

Carl Sagan was a boy that used research to fuel his curiosity. After he became intrigued by stars, he grew up to become Dr. Carl Sagan, and he and his fellow scientists launched the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 into the outer solar system. Young Carl is a precious character and his joy for knowledge, coupled with his imagination, are inspiring and contagious. The idea of every living thing as comprised of star stuff is enough to make anyone proud of their own self. If you like space, the stars, or are also a curious thinker, you will love this book.Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything, by Maira Kalman. Grades 1 – 4.

This book is about Thomas Jefferson, his many interests, and his intriguing, complex life. The author delves into both Jefferson’s accomplishments and flaws, and humanizes a hero while magnifying what made him special, especially his love of “everything:” music, gardening, artifacts, etc. A great book for history lovers or those who love lesser-known facts!

Before AfterBefore After, by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Aregui. Grades PreK – 3.

This wordless book is a treasure trove of pictures that show before and after scenarios, perfect for fueling cognitive adventures of cause and effect. Examples include: landscape before and after a jungle has grown in, an apple before and after a worm got to it, and a stack of playing cards before and after they were built into a house. Anyone who likes to think about the complexity and connectedness of our world will love this book – it promotes critical thinking and imagination.

Return to Augie Hobble, by Lane Smith. Grades 4 – 6.Return to Augie Hobble

Augie Hobble works with his dad at Fairy Tale Place, an amusement park complete with Storybook Village, Birthday Town, Fort Fortitude, and the North Pole. Strange things start happening at the park around the same time that he hunkers down to work on his Creative Arts project, and even weirder things appear in his notebook! After getting slobbered on by a big wolf, Augie thinks he is turning into a werewolf, and with the help of his best friend Britt, he tries to reconcile the odd occurrences and awkward changes going on around him. A great book for boys!

AbuelaAbuela, by Arthur Dorros, Illustrated by Elisa Kleven. Grades PreK – 2.

Rosalba rides the bus with her grandmother, and pictures them flying together over New York City, sitting on a chair-shaped cloud, somersaulting in the air, and seeing the sights of the city from above. Spanish phrases are integrated throughout the story, and a Spanish version is also available. Imaginative, vibrant and fun to read, this book exposes the reader to wonderful art, a bilingual story and special family connections.The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, by Teresa Toten. Grades 8 & up.

There’s a lot going on in Adam’s life: he struggles with OCD, his mom is having issues of her own, and he’s fallen in love with a girl in Group. This book is about young love, friendship, helping each other be brave, accepting one’s self while working towards a better life, and the line between loyalty and betrayal. Adam’s friends in Group all choose a superhero character that best represents them, and the effect it has on their interactions is heartwarming. Adam chooses Batman and, of course, the girl he has a crush on chooses Robin! Includes some mature language.

Creature FeaturesCreature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do, by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page. Grades PreK – 3.

Why are there no feathers on an Egyptian vulture’s face? Why is the horned frog’s mouth so ginormous? What is that weird thing growing on a star-nosed mole’s face? This book answers these questions and many more about animals with interesting physical characteristics. There is a reason for everything! A great read for anyone who is curious about animals, their way of being, and how they use their bodies to live in their respective environments.

The Dark, by Lemony Snicket, illustrations by Jon Klassen. Grades PreK – 1.The Dark

Lazlo is afraid of the dark, much like many children.  It mostly hides outside and the light stops it from coming in. One night the lights go out, and the dark starts to talk to him.  But Lazlo discovers the dark is not as scary as he thought.  This book isn’t as scary as it might seem, but is probably not recommended for the youngest of children or anyone with an intense fear of the dark. Snicket’s writing style and Klassen’s illustrations are a good match!

Out of NowhereOut of Nowhere, by Maria Padian. Grades 7 & up.

After 9/11, highschooler Tom Bouchard’s life gets turned upside down. Set in a fictional Lewiston, Maine and based on actual racial/ethnic occurrences, this writer draws you in quickly to the collision and intersect of very different worlds, on many different levels. The book speaks to justice issues in terms of race, ethnicity, privilege and culture from a very believable high school voice. The language and situations are appropriate for young teens (mature audience alert), and gives a very realistic perspective of high school angst, tensions and growing awareness of larger world issues in your own backyard.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, by Kate Messer. Grades K – 3.Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Kids have a healthy fascination for things they are not able to see, and growth in the garden is one of the small miracles that can be a gateway to science. Messner has captured that interest with each page changing back and forth between what is happening on top of the earth and what is going on in the soil. There is also a helpful glossary in the back for older readers to utilize if they need a fact-refresher. The endpapers include sketches of vegetables for easy identification.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward TulaneThe Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo. Grades 2 – 5.

Edward Tulane is a china rabbit that belongs to a girl named Abilene. Edward knows that Abilene loves him, but he doesn’t really feel love in his own heart, for her, anyone else, or anything else (except maybe his own good looks and his fine handmade suits). When Edward is separated from Abilene, he is faced with long expanses of isolation, periods of new ownership under a variety of characters, and the question of whether his heart is finally coming around to that great big feeling of loving someone else.

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman. Grades 4 – 7.Nightbird

This book has it all: secrets, best friends, ancient family curses, magic, environmental issues, and an oddball town famous for Pink apple pie. Hoffman’s plotting keeps you guessing, and her use of language is delightfully lyrical. For example: “I just stored up my hurts, as if they were a tower made of fallen stars, invisible to most people, but burning brightly inside of me.” Nightbird is a joy to read, and will be an inspiration to budding writers. This book would be especially appealing for girls adjusting to challenging situations.

All The AnswersAll the Answers, by Kate Messner. Grades 4 – 6.

Ava is a worrier.  She worries about her parents getting divorced, her grandparents’ health, getting attacked by goats and everything that happens at school.  When she finds a pencil that answers questions, she and her best friend Sophie think they have all the answers.  But knowing the answers doesn’t always mean not being nervous about things.  Ava figures out how to work through her anxiety, both on her own and by asking for help.   This book would be great for children who struggle with anxiety.