No summer holiday is complete without a good book to read. When it comes to kids’ books, the choice is essentially infinite. Yet you can only pack a small number. Which to choose? Well, you could narrow things down by selecting books that have a holiday theme.
Below, we’ve set out the best fiction and non-fiction books to read in the sunny season. Like your kids on the beach, we’re barely dipping our toes in the ocean, and you’re encouraged to explore further in your local bookshop or library.
Holiday and Adventure Books For Kids
The early master of the kids-go-on-an-adventure romp is surely Enid Blyton. One of the most prodigious authors of all time, Blyton penned hundreds of tales - Wikipedia lists 762 books! Many of her stories have dated, but the best-loved ones have been revised for modern audiences. Her Famous Five and Secret Seven tales perfectly capture the spirit of a holiday adventure. For younger children, the three Faraway Tree books remain timeless classics, even if some of the names (Dick, Fanny, Dame Slap) have been changed to protect the innocent!
Jacqueline Wilson is another prolific and much-loved author, whose best-known works include Tracy Beaker, Hetty Feather and The Dumping Ground. For a taste of summer, check out her 2009 stories Cliffhanger and Buried Alive!, which follow the adventure holidays of two boys.
Julia Donaldson is the reigning monarch of children’s stories. Her tales such as The Gruffalo, Stick Man and Zog have sold in the millions and been adapted for television. One of her most recent books, with illustrator, Lydia Monks, is perfect for summer. What The Ladybird Heard at the Seaside is a rhyming adventure featuring a crime-solving ladybird and a cast of marine characters. Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale is another well-known sea-based adventure.
Seal Surfer by Michael Foreman offers a more introspective and poignant look at seaside discovery. It follows a boy’s relationship with his grandfather and a colony of seals over a number of seasons. The book is particularly noted for its subtle handling of disability issues - many readers don’t notice the boy’s adapted surfboard until the end.
Sticking with the theme of wildlife diaries, My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis (actually authored by Paul Meisel) describes the season from the point of view of a mantis. The protagonist probably has a very different summer to your kids - emerging on a leaf with 150 brothers and sisters… some of whom she eats - but this unique point-of-view tale beautifully conveys the tiny wonders of nature.
Young children will love Summer Supper, a simply sweet success of alliteration, in which every word begins with an S - ”from sowing seeds in spring to savoring succotash”. Despite the self-imposed limitations, the book teaches how food gets from the field to our dinner tables.
Also for smaller children, The Sandcastle That Lola Built by Megan Maynor and Kate Berube teaches the values of cooperation and perseverance, in a seaside setting.
For a spookier side to summer, revisit the 1950s classic Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Phillipa Pearce. Titular Tom is sent away to stay with his uncle and aunt for the school holidays. While there, he encounters a secret garden, and a mysterious friend who seems to be living in a different time.
In a similar vein, E Nesbit’s Five Children and It charts the summer holidays of a group of siblings who move to the countryside and discover a magical, wish-giving creature known as the Psammead. Now 120 years old, the language of the story might be a little stodgy for younger readers, in which case you might be better off with Jacquline Wilson’s more recent reboot called Four Children and It.
Another classic summer yarn is Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey. It’s a simple tale of a family vacation on a Maine island. But the beautiful writing and emphasis of living in the moment make this an inspirational story beloved by generations.
Ice Cream Summer by award-winning Peter Sis is a love letter to the summertime treat, and “proves that ice cream is every bit as enriching for the mind as it is for the taste buds”.
For something altogether more unusual, seek out Shaun Tan’s 2013 picture book Rules of Summer. Across 26 oil paintings, Tan depicts the summer adventures of two boys, and the surreal rules they pick up (“Never leave a red sock on the clothesline”, or “Never leave the back door open overnight”).
Finally, if you’re off on a camping trip, don’t forget to pack A Camping Spree With Mr Magee, by Chris Van Dusen (not to be confused with the Bridgerton creator of the same name!). We just hope your trip goes a little more smoothly than the hapless Mr Magee, who finds himself rolling down a mountain and hanging off a waterfall.
Nonfiction Books For Kids
How To Code A Sandcastle by Josh Funk is, strictly speaking, a fiction book, but one that also teaches valuable lessons about logical thinking and the steps of programming. Using sequences, loops and other coding techniques, a young girl and her robot discover how to code a sandcastle.
The National Trust’s Who’s Hiding books have been a huge hit in our household. These simple flap books aimed at preschoolers are a fun and hands-on way to explore the wildlife around us. Who’s Hiding At The Seaside would be a particularly good choice to take along to the beach… just be careful not to get sand in your flaps!
Usbourne publishes a series of Peep Inside books in a similar vein, with plenty of flap lifting for the under fives. Look Inside Seas and Oceans, Peep Inside the Seashore and Peep Inside a Coral Reef would be the ones to track down here.
National Geographic is particularly strong at children’s factual publishing, led by its monthly print magazine for kids. The NG book range is also worth exploring. Field guides to flowers, insects and trees should be in every curious summer explorer’s backpack, while titles such as Extreme Oceans and Captain Aquatica (a marine biology superhero) would be good on-topic reads for a beach holiday.
Finally, Goodbye Summer Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak is a visual guide to the most colourful change in nature. Beautifully illustrated, it’s part of a series by Pak documenting the changing season.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.