March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

What’s On Your Summer Reading List? | Authors Tell All

ummer is what made me a reader—and reading made me a writer.” I love this Deborah Hopkinson quote. It’s both telling and evocative. For many of us it was the books that we enjoyed during those long, leisurely months that turned us into lifelong readers. Days when taking a trip meant going to the public library and returning home with a pile of books of our own choosing.  As adults, the idea of summer reading makes us nostalgic for those unfettered times when we were free to explore and travel anywhere we wanted in a book, emerging hours later, transported. You’ll notice how many of these authors’ summer reading lists leave work behind, hoping to recapture that spirit.

From Graeme Base, author of THE LEGEND OF THE GOLDEN SNAIL (Abrams, 2010):

Summer Reading List? Here in the Land Downunder we’re putting on woolly sweaters and looking at our Winter Reading Lists! On top of mine is, I confess, a disheartening backlog of New Scientist magazines. I subscribe to this generalist weekly about astrophysics and the like in a vain attempt to keep up with my older brother who actually understands all this stuff. The reason I need to get through the backlog is twofold: firstly, I’ve paid for the subscription and the Scottish side of me demands I get my money’s worth. The second (better) reason is that I have three books on the bedside table that are waiting to be opened.

First among them is Anna Funder’s All That I Am. It comes highly recommended by my wife (which is about as high as it gets) which is why it is on the top. She put it there. Second is Almost French by Sarah Turnbull. I know nothing at all about this novel but it was given to me as a present, so we shall see what unfolds. And finally, as always, there is James Joyce’s impenetrable tome Ulysses. I have tried to read this monster no less than three times over the years and failed, though each time making my way a little further through the dense prose and alarming lack of punctuation. Let’s see what this winter holds. (Oh, and good luck with summer up there.)


From Kevin Henkes, author of the forthcoming THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER (Greenwillow Books, September, 2013):

About four years ago I read nearly everything by Willa Cather for the first time. I found her books beautifully crafted, deeply felt, and painfully human. A selection of her letters has just been published by Knopf. I look forward to reading it this summer.


From Candace Fleming, author of PAPA’S MECHANICAL FISH (FSG, 2013):

Before being asked to reveal my summer reading list, it looked like this: Buffalo Bill’s Life Story: An Autobiography by William F. Cody; Buffalo Bill’s America by Louis S. Warren; Anecdotes of “Buffalo Bill” That Have Never Appeared In Print by Dan Winget, and Last of The Great Scouts (Buffalo Bill) by Helen Cody Wetmore and Zane Grey.  (Can you guess whom my next biography is about?)  Once I knew my list was going public, however, I fretted.  Sure, I think these titles are sizzlers.  But I suspect many of you wouldn’t.  And since I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m a complete history nerd, I shuffled a couple titles around.  Topping my list now is And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (I’ve re-read Christie every summer since middle school), followed by Holly Black’s Doll Bones (love that cover), and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (love that author).  I head to my beach house in two weeks.  You know what?  I’m leaving Bill behind.

From Matt Phelan, author of the forthcoming BLUFFTON: MY SUMMER WITH BUSTER KEATON  (Candlewick, July, 2013):

The current line-up includes The Center of Everything by Linda Urban because she is smart and funny and writes smart and funny books. My non-fiction slot is filled by Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure That Took the Victorian World by Storm. If that last title isn’t enticing enough, the “African Adventure” concerns the capture of the first gorilla the West had ever seen. Also, the author’s name is Monte Reel which is a name that fits this book perfectly and would make a great false identity if it didn’t already belong to a real person. (I may still use it.)

I’m also eager to get my hands on a copy of Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures because, if you haven’t heard, it features a super-powered squirrel. Enough said. I’m sure I’ll read at least three P.G. Wodehouse books this summer. Wodehouse is the funniest writer ever and my literary comfort food. He wrote approximately 7,492 books so I’m set for this and many summers to come.


From Meg Medina, author of YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS (Candlewick, 2013) and co-conspirator on Girls of Summer, a curated reading list of summer reads for strong girls:

Nothing says summer to me like reading for hours in the middle of the day with no apologies necessary.

Here’s what’s in my bag:
Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet, and Operation Oleander by Valerie O. Patterson (all young adult titles).

I write across age groups, so for the days when I’m channeling a younger voice: Gigi Amateau offers up the second in her “Horses of the Maury River” series, so I’ll be eager to read Macadoo of the Maury River, and playing with the new app that she’s designed for the series. I’ll also pick up David Almond’s  Mouse Bird Snake Wolf because, frankly, I live in awe of his work.

Finally for those days when all I want is color, poetry, and music, it will be a picture book called Tito Puente: Mambo King/Rey del Mambo by Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael López.


From Deborah Hopkinson, author of the forthcoming THE GREAT TROUBLE, A MYSTERY OF LONDON, THE BLUE DEATH, AND A BOY CALLED EEL (Knopf, October, 2013):

Summer is what made me a reader—and reading made me a writer. Summer in childhood meant reading fiction until dawn.

I still read novels in great gulps like this. There are few greater pleasures.

But as I look at my bay windowsill, which serves as my “future idea bookshelf,” there’s nary a novel in sight. (I’m not counting my six other bookshelves, or the three bins of research books.)

Piled on the windowsill are books on the Tower of London, turtles, World War II, the cartography of cholera, Beatrix Potter, and biographies of scientists, artists, and a 19th-century pickpocket. Tucked in one corner is a work on Oscar Wilde, bought in a moment when I wondered: Are we ready yet for a picture book on Wilde?

The truth is, though, that while I will undoubtedly read most of these this summer, my true summer reading is contained on a small black listening device.  Here I will return to the joy I remember from those summer nights: escape into another world.

Yes, I admit it. I’m hooked on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. I’m listening to book three now. At about 33 hours each, I should have enough Seven Kingdoms intrigue to get me to Labor Day. If not, well, I might just start back at the beginning.


From Aaron Hartzler, author of RAPTURE PRACTICE (Little, Brown, 2013) 

All of my books are arranged on white shelves by color. I lay them sideways in left-justified stacks that are, I admit it, a little OCD: spines out, largest on bottom to smallest on top. This idea was stolen without apology directly from a page in Dwell magazine in 2009, and while impressive to look at, there are times when I think my books are really more an art installation than functional objects.

Truth be told, the piles of books I’m currently reading, (and yes, there are always quite a number going at once) are strewn atop my desk, stacked next to the plaid reading chair in my office, and spilling off my bedside table. The act of reading, it seems, requires me to be a bit more freewheeling than my color-coding allows. The art of finishing a book, however, takes focus, and the following titles will have mine in the coming summer months:

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother by Julia Sweeney
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr
Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick
Some Hope by Edward St. Aubyn
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal


From A. G. Howard, author of SPLINTERED (Abrams, 2013).

This summer I’m going to be doing a lot of world-building as I write my newest book, and one of my favorite things about world-building is crafting creatures, whether they’re horrifying or endearing. So to that end, for inspiration, I’m going to be reading two particular books.

First is the The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth. This book has an intriguing premise (the MC hypothesizes that the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts were evolutionary ancestors of humankind) along with detailed drawings and sketches of the creatures within.

The second book is Unnatural Creatures collected and edited by Neil Gaiman. Not only were these 16 short stories about fantastical creatures chosen by one of my favorite authors, but sales of this book benefit a nonprofit organization that supports students in writing. So it’s win-win. I get inspired, and the kids I write my books for get the support they need to one day be writers and inspire others themselves.


From Tom Angleberger, author of the “ORIGAMI YODA” books (Abrams):

I do love reading on the porch on a beautiful day! I was out there yesterday with Linda Urban’s The Center of Everything.  Hopefully, I’ll be out there a lot this summer with Vader’s Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown, Cardboard by Doug TenNapel and this new book, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. (Yes, that’s really happening! Though an Ian Doescher claims authorship.)


From Megan Whalen Turner, who is working on her next book in her “QUEEN’S THIEF” series (HarperCollins) :

I love reading, really, I do, but starting a new book often feels like diving into a swimming pool on a hot day.  I know I am going to be fine once I am in the water, but I still spend too much time dithering by the side of the pool. As much as I love reading, it’s hard to start new books, find new authors, and try new things. Clearly I am still the same person who read nothing but Walter Farley books for the entirety of fifth grade. Plus ça change and all that. Anyway, I gravitate toward books by authors I know and trust. I re-read books I like.  And sometimes I pick out new things and sternly tell myself to jump in. This summer I have some of all three planned.

I was given Iain M. Banks’s Consider Phlebas for Christmas and I’ve been waiting for a quiet stretch of days to enjoy it properly. I am looking forward to Holly Black’s Black Heart. I’ll be reading Reflections, a collection of Diana Wynne Jones’s nonfiction writing. I am re-reading The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt right now, and it is even better the second time through. In the interests of trying something new, I want to read My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk and London Falling by Paul Cornell, as well as The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, which has been on my to-be-read list for a long time.


From Rae Carson, whose THE BITTER KINGDOM (Greenwillow, 2013) will be published in September.

This summer, I’ll be finishing the first book of my next series, which means I’m unlikely to read any fiction. (I’m also unlikely to do laundry, wash dishes, or bathe regularly.) However, I have the best job ever, because writing this book demands that I dive into some riveting research reads including The Age of Gold by H.W. Brands, The Poker Bride by Christopher Corbett, and Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey collected by Lillian Schlissel. I’ll return to fiction as my reward for finishing. First up will be George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga, starting with a re-read of the amazing A Game of Thrones.


From Suzanne Selfors, author of SMELLS LIKES PIRATES (Little, Brown, 2012):

Reading? What’s that? Seriously, I’m supposed to write AND read? Is that why there’s a huge stack of books next to my bed? Hmmm, let’s see what’s on the top of the stack. It’s a book my teen daughter says I must read–Forgotten, by Cat Patrick. She said it’s a great mystery that kept her guessing the whole time. Next on the stack is a new middle-grade title by local author Kevin Emerson called The Fellowship for Alien Detection. I’ve met him. He’s in a rock band. I’d like to be in a rock band. And if there’s anything new by Wendy Mass, I will be reading it. She’s one of my faves.

But you know, what I’m really keen on reading this summer are some good cookbooks. I want to figure out what to do with chicken breasts besides dump cream-of-mushroom soup on them.


From Stefan Bachmann, author of THE PECULIAR (HarperCollins, 2012):

This summer I’m DETERMINED to read at least the first of  J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books. I still haven’t done this, and I’m sure you’ll agree that’s a terrible thing. After Harry Potter, I’m planning to read some action-y young adult books. The ones I’m most looking forward to are:

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth
2. The Diviners by Libba Bray  (I actually don’t know how action-y this is, but it’s 1920’s + creepiness, so I’m excited.)
3. Reboot by Amy Tintera
4. Prodigy by Marie Lu (the sequel to Legend)
In the middle-grade range, I can’t wait for The Year of Shadows by Claire LeGrand, because everything Claire writes is fantastic. I also have The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald waiting for me, then Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

And now that I see all these handily listed, that’s a lot of books… I hope I have many train and plane rides this summer.


From Steve Sheinkin, author of BOMB; THE RACE TO BUILD—AND STEAL—THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON (Roaring Brook, 2012):

In addition to the usual stack of research-related books, I’m looking forward to reading a couple of Patricia Highsmith’s fantastically creepy “Tom Ripley” novels, and the recent novel The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro. I love anything to do with art forgery. If I had the talent, I think I’d like to be an art forger. After that, who knows? I don’t like to plan to far in advance…

Curriculum Connections

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.



  1. Meghan P. says:

    I want to read K. M. Walton’s YA novels “Cracked” and “Empty”. They sound like good books that are relivant today and make an impact.