Penguin holding books.

Why You Should Use Themed Summer Reading Lists

Picture a warm summer day. The sun is shining brightly as the clouds drift across the ocean blue sky. A warm gentle breeze is threading itself through the trees and the screens of your back porch. You found the most comfortable chair, the one with the really soft squishy pillows. Usually, your brother grabs it first, but today it is all yours. As you lean back, you smell the fresh new white pages as the following words dance in front of your eyes: 

There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself—not just sometimes, but always. When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in…Nothing really interested him–least of all things that should have.  The Phantom TollboothNorton Juster

This was one of my favorite books to read aloud to my students in the fourth and fifth grade. The idea that you could escape the borders of your own bedroom and travel to a faraway place is what makes books so magical. Books are the passports that allow us to travel to places we have never traveled to before. As teachers, our goal is to encourage our students to love reading for pleasure. We also know that during the summer, it is even more important to keep the love of reading alive. Do you want to send your students home with summer reading lists that have a twist? Then send home summer reading lists based on themes.

Penguin holding books.

Helping Students Explore their Reading Preferences

During the school year, we explore fiction and nonfiction themes during Reader’s Workshop and balanced literacy instruction. Why not extend those themes into the summer months? Most readers find a genre, an author, or a series they love to read. I love mysteries, especially medieval mysteries that include monasteries. I have read all of the Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries. I have also been known to read mysteries that take place during the Victorian era (the early 1900s).

Seasoned readers know what they enjoy and find books that fit their reading tastes. When you read books based on themes, you get to explore how different authors share their versions of the theme with their readers. We should try to extend the thematic approach that we use in our balanced literacy instruction to summer reading to help our students develop their reading preferences. This does not mean you have to spend your weekend researching books and organizing them into themes. There are quality education websites that have this information already available.

Reading Rockets has an awesome page full of themed reading lists that your students can explore with their families during the summer. It is also a great resource for your reading toolkit during the school year. There are 16 theme categories, that list separate sub-themes. These lists include books for children up to 9 years of age.

The lists were developed by Reading Rockets children’s literature expert, Maria Salvadore. You will find a variety of fiction and nonfiction books including new titles and old favorites. Your students and their parents can explore themes such as  Fun and Funny, Seasons, Science and Math, and Creatures.  Dinosaurs are one sub-theme under the Creatures category.



Summer vacation means relaxed schedules and later bedtimes. Reading good literature is just as important at night as it is during the day. The article Go To Sleep with Bedtime Stories for Kids on the website, Sleepopolis, has a detailed list of stories and nursery rhymes for bedtime reading. The list includes classic books like Where the Wild Things Are and fairytales like Thumbelina. Each book and story includes links to online retailers and audiobook websites. It’s definitely worth stopping by Sleepopolis. 

Picture of a child under a blanket reading at bedtime

This summer send your students home with a theme to explore. Share these websites with your students and parents.

Do you know of other websites that list book themes for kids? Leave a comment below or share your own themed book lists for summer reading.

(First published May 25, 2015)