As summer slips away, what better way to ease kids back into academic life than with books set in school? Picture books can help kids get ready for kindergarten and making friends. Chapter books offer mystery and fun for middle-grade readers. And teens will enjoy a sci-fi thriller about genetic manipulation and compelling contemporary romances. Check out our picks for end-of-summer/beginning-of-school reading.
Age 2 to 6
If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't!,by Elise Parsley, is a delightfully offbeat cautionary tale narrated by main character Magnolia, who warns readers not to make the mistake she did -- because it landed her in the principal's office. The art is hilarious and captures the resulting mayhem when Magnolia brings an alligator in for show-and-tell.
Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten, by Marc Brown, soothes preschoolers' worries about starting kindergarten. Monkey isn't sure he'll make new friends, like the snacks, or find the bathroom, but one by one his fears are assuaged as he realizes he's perfectly ready to transition to the experience.
Dory and the Real True Friend,by Abby Hanlon, is the sequel toDory Fantasmagoryand stars a wildly imaginative 6-year-old. Dory is starting first grade and and has to leave her imaginary friend Mary behind. At school, she meets equally imaginative Rosabelle, and the two have exciting adventures, many featuring the imaginary friends and foes from Book 1.
Age 7 to 12
Book Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, is a captivating mystery involving puzzles and codes that's set in San Francisco, where 12-year-old Emily has just moved. The city is home to Garrison Griswold, the creator of Book Scavenger, a game that involves hiding books, finding clues, and tracking them down for points and bragging rights. When Griswold is shot and a rare book in his possession is lost, Emily gets it back but must crack the code before the thieves who attacked Griswold do.
From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, by Meg Cabot, is a middle-grade intro to the author's popular Princess Diaries series, starring Olivia, an "average" sixth-grader who learns she's a princess: She's the biracial half-sister of Mia (star of The Princess Diaries), who was equally surprised when she found out she's related to the royal family of Moldavia.
Ink and Ashes,by Valynne E. Maetani, is an absorbing mystery with a strong, smart, 17-year-old heroine, Claire, who uncovers secrets about her parents' past and suspects her father may have had ties to the yakuza (the Japanese mafia). As she digs, she starts receiving threats that only someone who knows Japanese culture would understand.
Age 13 to 17
Deadly Design, by Debra Dockter, is a suspenseful science-fiction medical thriller about genetic manipulation. After his twin brother dies suddenly of heart failure, 16-year-old Kyle worries he might be in danger. His sleuthing leads to a medical conspiracy, and he learns the genetic time bomb that claimed his twin's life is ticking down his own life expectancy.
Emmy & Oliver, by Robin Benway, is a contemporary realistic novel about teens who resume a friendship -- and then a relationship -- 10 years after an unexpected separation. This poignant exploration of first love between two teens still coping from a traumatic childhood event explores some tough issues (parental kidnapping, overprotective parents, coming out), but Benway keeps the language and story line accessible for young-adult readers.
Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen (The Moon and More), is a teen romance about a relatable girl finding her way with family and friends after having been the victim of a sexual assault. Dessen can always be counted on for nuanced characters and naturally unfolding plots, and she's at her best here.