Summer Recommendations for Young Readers

My young friends Alex and Philip have begun their summer vacation — which, for me, always meant books. Scads and piles and armfuls of books. I'd go to the library a couple of times a week to return the ones I had inhaled and come home with more.

It was a gorgeous week in Los Angeles when, as a fourth grader, I holed myself up in my room and read the the entire Chronicles of Narnia. (It was five days, really.) I still remember shivering from the cold of the eternal winter and the White Witch.

But this is today. What do — no, should — the kids of today read? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here are a few suggestions. (People of an age may recognize a title or two.)

Up the Down Staircase — a New York City high school teacher new to the education system experiences life in a big-city high school.

The Graveyard Book — A toddler wanders into a graveyard one tumultuous night and is raised by its residents.

To Kill a Mockingbird — This classic page-turner is one of my personal favorites. Read the book before you see the movie, if you can, if only so you can experience the amazing world of Scout Finch twice.

Anything by H.P. Lovecraft, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Connie Willis... Read your favorite movie. (Lord of the Rings, anyone?)

Last night, David was thumbing through his Dean Koontz collection to see how much sex was depicted in those books. I chuckled. "I used to read it anyway, even if I didn't understand it," I confessed. "I'd be more worried about gratuitous violence."

So, maybe skip The Strain? (No, on second thought, don't skip it.) Too much swearing? Must be Stephen King — but don't let that stop you, either, not really. Just stop if the writing is too bad — and you alone can decide what that means to you.

Or, you know what? Read a "bad" book if you want to. It's summer.

Don't limit yourself. Go straight from Encyclopedia Brown to Alexandre Dumas to Helter Skelter to Auntie Mame. You'll live. Read what engages you, skip the rest.

Don't let book classifications scare you off, either. Books are written cross-genre, but publishers have to figure out how to market them. So what if it's written for "teens" — it may very well be up your alley anyway. "Classics" are classic for a reason: they're often really, really good. Dumas and Dickens, Doyle and Austen, Stevenson and Wells are fabulous reads, even on the beach. Especially on the beach. Who do you think came up with the idea of the melodrama or swashbuckler?

Enjoy the summer,  and enjoy your books!