May 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

What’s On Your Summer Reading List? | Authors and Illustrators Respond

Every June we query some of our favorite authors and illustrators to find out what’s on their summer reading lists. Not only do we come up with more titles to add to our teetering stacks of books, we learn about some interesting habits and tastes. Take a peek at this year’s list and find out which author sneaks in summer reading time on her Brooklyn stoop in the early hours of the morning when her children are still asleep, what funny guy takes a thematic approach to his selections, and who is reading all about poisons—and why.


From Jack Gantos, author of Dead End in Norvelt and From Norvelt to Nowhere (both FSG, 2013):

Summer often means rereading books I love, and this year it’s no different. My rule is to bundle three books at a time and create a summer sandwich. YA books are on my mind so presently I’m reading The Facts Speak for Themselves by Brock Cole (a brilliant read—powerful, lean in prose, and massive in voice and emotion. This book was overlooked when it was released in 1997. If it were released in today’s YA market, I think it would be massively applauded).

The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll, 1978, still stands up—especially in content. The voice is always a bit uneven, as Carroll can’t make up his mind if he is an adult narrator looking back on his youth or if he is the voice of Carroll the kid in the book. Still, the book is poignant, very real, and full of wicked humor. It lives on!

One of my all-time favorite books is Black Tickets by Jayne Anne Phillips. Every adolescent should read it, as it’s the high end of the art of writing. The prose poems alone stand up as the best in the field, and her short stories are so genuine, beautiful, and soulful that it is hard to read two of them in a row. I used this book in my Adolescent Lit Creative Writing courses, and it transformed all student writing for the better.

From Paul Acampora, author of I Kill the Mockingbird (Roaring Brook, 2014):

I generally create my summertime reading list by begging recommendations from local librarians and booksellers (I’m looking at you, @paBAPL and @letsplaybooks). This summer, I’ll definitely hang out with Scout and the gang from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m also looking forward to W. Jeffrey Bolster’s The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail. I don’t sail, and I don’t fish, so this book will take me there without risk of drowning or having to gut anything. I’ll also read The Guns at Last Light, the final installment of Rick Atkinson’s WWII “Liberation” trilogy. (The first two books are breathtaking.) I’m looking forward to a ton of fiction, including The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín, Drama by Raina Telgemeier, and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs. I’ll revisit favorites by Richard Russo, Roddy Doyle, and Deborah Wiles. Cecil Castelluci’s fantastic Tin Star has inspired me to read a bunch of sci-fi. Also, I can’t wait to listen to great music while rereading Wilfrid Sheed’s wonderful The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty. After that, it’s back to the library!

From Sarah Albee, author of Bugged: How Insects Changed History (Bloomsbury, 2014):

Recently, I was filling the kettle to make a cup of tea and called to my husband in the next room to ask if he’d like one, too.

“No! I don’t!” he yelled back, a trifle too quickly.

Odd, I thought. Then it struck me: maybe his response had something to do with the stack of books next to my bed, the ones I’m dying to plunge into this summer. Here are the titles at the top:

  • Poisons: From Hemlock to Botox to the Killer Bean of Calabar by Peter Macinnis
  • Poison: An Illustrated History by Joel Levy
  • HowDunit: A Book of Poisons for Writers by Serita Stevens and Anne Bannon
  • The Arsenic Century by James C. Whorton

Poison is the subject of my next book, but this is still my pleasure reading pile.
Last summer, I started making my way through Will Durant and Ariel Durant‘s 11-volume series, The Story of Civilization, without dropping a single book on my toe, and I’m going to keep going this summer.

Also on my to-read pile: Phil Mason’s Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids: And Other Small Events That Changed History and Lauren Tarshis’s Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love. (I only recently discovered and fell in love with Emma-Jean when I read her first book, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree. Seriously, I was sitting on the subway with tears of appreciation flying off my face.)

And for those days when I feel like laughing out loud, I’ll read some of my favorite P. G. Wodehouse stories, such as “Purity of the Turf,” “The Great Sermon Handicap,” or “Jeeves and the Song of Songs.”

From Mariko Tamaki, author of This One Summer (First Second, 2014):

I have a few books set aside for cottage times: Faith Erin Hicks’s Friends with Boys (I scored it at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this year) and Merrill Markoe’s Cool, Calm and Contentious, which I’ve been sort of holding off finishing until I’m in more of a hammock and lemonade (and less a hotel and office) kind of place. I’m hoping to reread Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex and Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye (as part of my goal to reread my favorite books more often). And if I finish those, I’m going to get into some Laini Taylor (who I saw at Teen Book Con this year) and grab Lorrie Moore’s new collection of short stories, Bark. So I’ll be doing a lot of reading, is basically what I’m saying.

From Elizabeth Wein, author of Code Name Verity (2012) and Rose Under Fire (2013, both Disney/Hyperion):

I was on a serious reading slump last year where all my reading was for work. I hadn’t chosen a book just for me for about six months. That changed during a bookstore event at the Mainstreet Trading Company, an independent bookstore in Scotland, where the owner offered me a book from her shelves as a gift. I complained that I hadn’t done any pleasure reading for so long I couldn’t even figure out what I wanted to read any more. She put Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate into my hands.

What a smart woman! Now I am hooked on Nancy Mitford! (And BTW, Michelle Cooper’s “The Montmaray Journals”? Forget Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, IMHO. Cooper is a Mitford nut or I’ll eat my hat.) I’ve already eaten up The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, so I’ll be trying out Wigs on the Green or Noblesse Oblige this summer.

I’m also looking forward to reading a new book by an old friend, Katherine Kirkpatrick, whose YA historical novel Between Two Worlds was just released this spring. Its fictional heroine, Billy Bah, is based on an Inuit teen from Greenland who traveled with the family of Admiral Robert E. Peary on a late 19th-century expedition to the North Pole.

From Michelle Knudsen, author of the forthcoming Evil Librarian (Candlewick, 2014):

At the very top of my to-read pile(s) right now are several 2014 releases, including Hope Is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera, Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule, Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy, and Surrounded by Sharks by Michael Northrop. I’m also super excited to dive into a bunch of books I can’t believe I haven’t read yet, including Laini Taylor’s Days of Blood and Starlight and Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue.

In addition to the many, many good old-fashioned paper books (long live paper books!) I will be curling up with in bed, carrying on the subway, reading at the dinner table, etc., there will always be an audiobook in progress on my tiny listening device as well. My summer audio lineup includes some as-yet-unread P. G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, and I’m sure I’ll be listening (again) to some of my favorite Vorkosigan novels (by adult science fiction and fantasy author Lois McMaster Bujold). LOVE those books, and love audio as a way to enjoy beloved stories and catch up on missed classics (although I do sometimes listen to new ones that way, too).

From Gene Luen Yang, co-author (with Sonny Liew) of the forthcoming The Shadow Hero (First Second, 2014):

Kazu Kibuishi’s “Amulet” is a wonderful middle grade graphic novel series. Siblings Emily and Navin find their way into a fantasy world populated by magical creatures of every shape and size. It’s a bit of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia, a bit of Jeff Smith’s Bone, and a lot of Kazu’s own unique brand of charm. Five volumes are out, and I’m two behind. After the sixth volume comes out this August, it’ll be more—if I don’t get cracking.

In Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History, professor Yunte Huang writes about Chang Apana, the real-life Chinese Hawaiian detective who inspired Earl Biggers’s Charlie Chan novels. Huang discusses Charlie Chan’s impact on America in general and Asian America in particular. I read this a few years ago when it first came out and loved it so much I’m planning to read it again.

Swati Avasthi and I are faculty members in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Last year, I heard her read a passage from Chasing Shadows, her part-prose, part-comics novel about three parkour-loving friends who suffer through a tragedy. It was intense and moving. I’ve been meaning to read it ever since, and I finally will this summer.

From Megan McDonald, author of the “Judy Moody” and “Stink” titles (Candlewick):

Summer is flip-flops and fireflies, lemonade stands, and armfuls of books, books, books. For  hammock or beach towel, here are a few I’m dreaming about reading:

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. Smart funny and insightful essays. I read the first essay on a plane (about being a medical actor) and I was hooked. Too bad I left the book behind. Hoping to catch up with it again.

I hauled out my tattered copies of Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women and The Moons of Jupiter when she won the Pulitzer (joy!), and I’ve been slowwwly making my way back through her short story collections, savoring the inner landscapes of her characters. I can’t wait to laugh and cry with Lorrie Moore’s latest: Bark. I’m also excited about the reissues of Jane Gardam’s Crusoe’s Daughter and Old Filth that I just discovered at my local indie.

Kids’ books I’m looking forward to: The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage (what a voice) and The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern (who says you can’t just a book by its cover?) and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (magical!).

From Deborah Wiles, author of Countdown (2010) and Revolution (2014, both Scholastic) in the “Sixties” series:

I’m about to turn on, tune in, and drop out. It’s 1968 for me this summer, as I soak up stories while imagining my characters in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, California—the setting for book three of the “Sixties” trilogy.

On the book table right now: Michael Kaufman’s 1968 as well as Mark Kurlansky’s 1968: The Year That Rocked The World; Bill Graham’s Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out; Stewart Brand’s The Whole Earth Catalog; Barry Miles’s Hippie; Charles Schultz’s The Complete Peanuts 1967–1968; and Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie; and Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night, both about the Vietnam War.

I’ll be gathering resources all summer and will watch them grow on a dedicated Pinterest board, where I’m creating a bibliography for book three. This is how I always begin, by gathering and reading widely. If you know good sources, send them my way!

From Lisa Graff, author of Absolutely Almost (Philomel, 2014):

Summer is usually when I try to get in most of my “grown-up” reading. At the top of my to-read list now is Gulp by Mary Roach. She’s one of my favorite nonfiction writers; I swear, she could make any topic fascinating. I’m also looking forward to finally digging into Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree, and, in the realm of fiction, Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat. And because no list would be complete with a good children’s book on it, I have to add Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s, which I’ve heard amazing things about but somehow missed when it came out.

From Andrea Davis Pinkney, author of the forthcoming The Red Pencil: A Novel Told in Poems, Pictures, and Possibilities (Little, Brown, 2014):

As a Brooklynite, summer reading is done on my front stoop, sometimes very early in the morning. Most days, I wake up before dawn even knows what time it is, and when the squirrels in my neighborhood—and my children—are still snoring. I settle onto our home’s red-brick stairs, where I savor sunrise and quiet, watch the dew mist rising off black concrete, and listen to the harmonies of city pigeons and other urban birds who are my fellow New Yorkers. Then—I read.

Come June, when this crack-of-dawn ritual begins, I’ll be enjoying several books that have touched me deeply in the past and that I look forward to experiencing again. They range from literary to light.

In celebration of the recent passing of Maya Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

A book I reread almost every summer: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Words that make me sing: To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown by Berry Gordy.

Fun reading for lazy days: Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making it Work by Tim Gunn.

The closest I’ll ever come to fashion royalty: Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington.

A novel that’s as flavorful as the fried plantain sold at the corner store on my street: When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago.

From Peter Sís, author of The Pilot and the Little Prince: the Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (FSG, 2014):

I am really, really getting ready to read Shahnameh: Epic of the Persian Kings. I know I need to focus…

The other books waiting on my night table are Floating Word: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer, Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch, Mr. Potter by Jamaica Kincaid, and The Bosnia List by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro. Then the summer will be over, probably….

From Marcus Sedgwick, author of She Is Not Invisible (Roaring Brook, 2014):

My reading this summer is going to be mostly about the unique but sadly neglected British writer, illustrator, painter, and genius Mervyn Peake. As a lifelong fan of his, I’ve been asked to present a session on him this August at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and I need to brush up! So first I’ll reread the books known as the “Titus” trilogy: Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone, which are usually described as gothic fantasy, a term that is as accurate as it is vague. I love these books; they were, and probably still are, a huge influence on me. Then there are three or four good autobiographies that need rereading too. If I have any time after that, I’ve got a stack of books about crime in Paris in the 19th century for research on a book I hope to write sometime soon-ish.

From Margi Preus, author of West of the Moon (Abrams, 2014):

After a steady research diet of such indigestible titles as The Visual Encyclopedia of Nautical Terms Under Sail and Daily Life in Early Modern Japan, I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into novels, including Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, David Rhodes’s Driftless, and Alice McDermott’s Someone.

It being summer, I’m pretty sure I’ll knock off a Flavia de Luce (Alan Bradley) mystery or two and/or something by Colin Cotterill and Donna Leon, and definitely the ARC of Vidar Sundstol’s Only the Dead. (The rest of you must wait until fall, I’m sorry.)

Do I still have time for Orenda by Joseph Boyden?

As for middle grade and YA, I listen to as much as I can on audiobooks as I drive to and from my cabin. Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday was rip-roaring good fun. I’m currently enjoying Laura Amy Schlitz’s Splendors and Glooms. Next up: Kevin Henkes’s The Year of Billy Miller.

When the weather gets stinking hot, there’s only one thing for it: a reclining position and a stack of “Tintin” on the screen porch.

From Holly Black, author of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Little, Brown, 2013):  

I have an assortment of books on my list. I’ve been messing around with a new idea, and so, for research, I’m reading A History of Private Life: Passions of the Renaissance by Roger Chartier, Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800 by Fernand Braudel, and flipping through Oxford’s Concise Dictionary of World-Place Names.

I’m also working my way through Scott Lynch’s incredible Republic of Thieves, the third book in his “Gentleman Bastards” series, and Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds. I’ve got a couple of YA books put aside to read now that I have a little time. Garth Nix’s Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen, E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Doubt Factory.

And with my son, now nearly a year old, I’m reading lots of board books. In particular: Jabari Asim and LeUyen Pham’s Whose Knees are These?, Taro Gomi’s Mommy! Mommy!, and Edward Gibbs’s Little Bee—over and over and over again.

Tom Angleberger, author of The Qwikpick Papers: Poop Fountain! (Abrams, 2014):

Tony DiTerlizzi has wrapped up his “WondLa” series, and I look forward to sitting on the porch, gazing at his incredible artwork, and finally finding out what happens to Eva Nine and Rovender Kitt in The Battle for WondLa.

From Padma Venkatraman, author of A Time to Dance (Penguin Random House, 2014):

When we looked for a home, my family’s # 1 priority was finding one within walking distance of a public library and an independent bookstore, so we could spend rainy summer days buying books written by living authors and sunny summer days borrowing books by dead ones.

(I like supporting my author colleagues, not dead writers’ grandchildren who are feeding off inherited royalties.)

Recently, we found the perfect home. And whatever the weather this summer, I’m hoping the books below will help me forget that “our” home really belongs to our bank!

My list (can’t help subdividing into categories—I’m an oceanographer by training):

—Buy the “Anna Hibiscus” series by Atinuke and other multicultural early reads so my biracial daughter sees diverse protagonists.

—Reread Indian epics and fill gaps in yawning gaps in knowledge of American/European fantasy of classic authors like Madeleine L’Engle, J. R. R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, and modern authors like Jane Yolen, Grace Lin, Franny Billingsley, Nnedi Okorafor, and Neil Gaiman, so I won’t seem too dumb when my multi-ethnic child grows older.

—Squeeze in some not-so-young-adult books, such as Sounds of the River by Da Chen and Unaccustomed Earth Jhumpa Lahiri, and reread some old favorites such as John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, D. H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

From John Rocco, coauthor with Jay Primiano of Swim That Rock (Candlewick, 2014):

Now that I’ve moved back to Los Angeles, summer reading is sort of a 365-day-a-year affair, which is great because I am a slow reader. What’s on tap for me this year is Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, as I adored Interpreter of Maladies and I’m curious to see how she describes the coastal towns in Rhode Island we both hail from. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth is on deck, and I’ll start that as soon as I finish the miraculously magical Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. On my children’s lit stack is Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. The Screaming Staircase: my wife really enjoyed it, and we couldn’t get enough of hisBartimaeus” trilogy. To my eight-year old daughter, I’ll be reading J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach…I can’t wait.

From Jonathan Stroud, author of The “Bartimaeus” trilogy and Lockwood & Company. The Screaming Staircase (2013, both Disney/Hyperion):

This happy summer my deadlines are far away, and I’m not chained to my desk too much. I have plenty of headspace left to dive into other people’s created worlds. Near the top of my teetering bedside book pile is Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints, which won a Los Angeles Times Book Award for Young Adult Literature and looks simply magnificent (plus, I’m always a sucker for a nice slipcase). I’m also very excited to try out Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener, which I’m hoping will provide me with some elegantly fantastical chills. And ever since I unexpectedly loved Erskine Childers’s The Riddle of the Sands, I’ve had a soft spot for seaborne adventuring, so John Rocco and Jay Primiano’s Swim that Rock, a salty adventure set on the coast of New England, is whetting my appetite, too. These three choices should get me started nicely, but since I’m also judging a literary award this year, I anticipate a truckload of other great YA fiction being delivered to my doorstep any day now. One way or another, I should be kept in a state of utter contentment until the beginning of the fall.

Andrea Cremer, author of Invisibility (2013) and  The Inventor’s Secret (2014, both Philomel):

I have so many wonderful memories of the summer reading program at the Vaughn Public Library in my hometown of Ashland, Wisconsin. I still look forward to this season as the stretch of months where I might be able to finally catch up on my TBR list (never true, but a lovely notion nonetheless!). This summer a few books I’ll be losing myself in are: A. S. Byatt’s Ragnarok: The End of the Gods; George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, Marie Lu’s The Young Elites (author perk ARC), and Steve Brezenoff’s Guy in Real Life.

I’ll also be reading for work—writing and teaching. For the sequel to The Inventor’s Secret: Colin Woodard’s The Republic of Pirates, Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse, and Lawrence N. Powell’s The Accidental City. At Macalester College this fall I’ll be teaching New World Orders (eds. John Smolenski and Thomas J. Humphrey), The Name of War and New York Burning by Jill Lepore, and Haunted by Empire by Ann Laura Stoler.

From Tonya Bolden, author of Searching for Sarah Rector (Abrams, 2014):

I’ll be reading a bundle of books this summer for my own works-in-progress. No matter the season, that’s usually the case.

It’s not that I haven’t yearned to read books “just because.” For example, there’s Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and, more recently, George Packard’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. There came a day when I couldn’t wait to crack them open (not at the same time)—and I did, but, unfortunately, they wound up on pause after a few chapters because something of mine called: a manuscript back for a rewrite. Or, confession: it could have been just me allowing myself to be distracted by Every Word: Crossings or a yen to catch up with Modern Family.

I want to do better. I want to do more “just because” reading. I need to work some different mental muscles. So this summer, I aim to go back to Thinking, Quiet and The Unwinding and to get started on (and finish) a book I purchased last December: The Lost Chapters. I bought it because the author, Lisa Anderson, is an old schoolmate. How can I not read her memoir? (Her father was a Mad Man, something I don’t recall knowing when we were young.)

This summer, I am also determined to truly honor two gifts by reading them: Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones and the 10th anniversary edition of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Salvage I received in 2011. The Alchemist (gulp!) in 2006.

I must do better! I need to do better!

I’m also gearing up to spend some summertime with at least one of Sharon Flake’s novels. This after getting a sneak at her forthcoming Unstoppable Octobia May. I feel terrible about coming so late to Sharon Flake.

I’m behind on Barbara Ehrenrich, too.

And Walter Brueggemann.

And Harriet A. Washington’s Medical Apartheid.

And Michelle Alexander and Cornel West’s The New Jim Crow.

And Brenda Wineapple’s Ecstatic Nation.

And Tom Burrell’s Brainwashed.

I’ll never be bored. That’s for sure.


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.