I published this list a year ago to the day, almost and thought I'd re-post it and maybe add to it. However, I could not come up with any newer, better titles in the activity books section, although I did find a few good summer-themed chapter books to add!
Here is a collection of titles that are great for summer vacation! Some are activity books, some are novels and a handful are general non-fiction. All are sure to keep a reader busy in a plane, train or automobile, hammock or beach chair...
Need to keep the kids occupied during a long, hot summer?
Bart King is the man for you (and your kids ages 9 and up)! Author of the superb The Big Book of Boy Stuff and the Big Book of Girl Stuff he has also written these little gems. All of these books will get kids out of the chair and even out of the house doing something nifty and creative, but, I have to tell you that it is IMPOSSIBLE to read any of Bart King's books without turning to the person next to you and reading a paragraph or two out loud to them. The information inside is the kind you (and your kids) will want to share!
The Pocket Guide to Games brings you games your kids can play without computers, joysticks, game boards or even game pieces, in some cases. Most of what you'll need you can find around the house, or at the nearest hardware store. Contents include chapters on Miscellaneous Active Games, Quiet Games, Contests, Feats and Tussles (how can you not be intrigued by that chapter???) and finally Bean Bag and Ball Games. AND there is an INDEX so you don't have to go flipping through the book five times before finding that great game you saw, be it the Human Arcade or Toilet Tag (which does not involve actual toilets but the impersonation of them...) Just reading the game descriptions out loud was amusing for the kids I was with.
Your kids may spend more time reading The Pocket Guide to Mischief than actually making it . . . if you're lucky. There is a lot of great collected information in this book, including stories of pranks played throughout history and lots of funny responses to everyday situations. There are chapters titled, Choosing Your Target or Nemisis, Mischief Quiz!, Harmless Trickery 101, Oldies But Goodies, Bodily Mischief, Lessons From Stravinsky and Spy Games. My favorite chapter is titled, Inspired by the Oxford Dictionary and begins with one of the great historical quotes that heads each chapter (this one is: "No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately." -Michel de Montainge) then goes on, "The Oxford Dictionary of English states that there are 350 useful one-word insults in English." Brilliant!
Gathered from The Big Book of Girl Stuff, which was written with the help of his five sisters and fifty other girls, Bart King brings his great sense of humor and wealth of knowledge to this The Pocket Guide to Girl Stuff. In addition to topics like baby sitting, family, hair and girl emergencies, King also includes a super cool way to determine your Star Wars Nickname in the excellent chapter titled, Nicknames, Handwriting, Words and Doodles, which kept me riveted from start to finish. There is information about celebrity names, celebrities' real names, how to make up your own celebrity name, the meanings attached to letters, how to analyze handwriting and more. In case you were wondering, my Star Wars nickname is Turta Noiri!
Gathered from The Big Book of Boy Stuff, the Pocket Guide to Boy Stuff is full of super cool facts and finds that actually made me a little jealous. Parents, if you are interested in gender equality and well rounded daughters, buy this book for them as well as the Pocket Guide to Girls Stuff! All chapters end in exclamation points, which means they must be excellent, and cover topics like, Activites!, Experiments!, Flying Things!, Gadgets, Tools, & Toys!, Gross Stuff!, Riddles!, Slang!, Weapons! The chapter on Gadgets, Tools and Toys! includes interesting historical information on toys like LEGOS and GI Joes. And, as a word of warning, there is a chapter titled, Fireworks & Explosions! which begins with safety. I was born and raised in the always flammable Southern California and was lucky that I saw sparklers on the 4th of July. My kids, raised here also, have NEVER seen a sparkler. So, naturally I was very concerned when I saw this chapter title and read it through. I know that there are places in this country where kids still get to set off fireworks and hoard them after the 4th passes. My 94 year-old grandmother-in-law who lives in Illinois still has a drawerful in her house and delights my kids with them they visit. So, while this chapter made me really nervous, I think that Bart King handles the topic very seriously and evenhandedly. And, best of all, he has a few little goodies for those of us living in the tinderlands, which include hand grenades made from baking soda and vinegar.
Something to keep your kids busy and creative for most of the summer...
For kids (ages 10 and up) with a slightly more creative and philosophical bent, check out these incredible, interactive, guided journals. We will be bringing (and completing) one on our family summer vacation this year and I know that all three of my kids, ages 16, 11 and 4, will find pages to do.
The amazing Keri Smith, who says, "Everything is interesting," manages to find artistic, creative ways to look at everything from the stickers on fruit - a page in How to Be an Explorer of the World is dedicated to the collection of these, to Exploration #21: Go to your favorite street. (If you can't go there physically, then you can visit in your mind.) Map it out on a piece of paper. Then describe or (otherwise document) everything in detail: the shops, houses, street signs, trees, etc."
If you visit Keri's website there are some great clips of people completing/wrecking pages in their journals. One shows someone completing the page that reads, "Create a drawing using a piece (or several pieces) of your hair." The clip then shows the creative person, equipped with a hot glue gun and a bag of hair left over from a haircut, make a very furry likeness of Big Foot on the journal page. Another clip shows the creative person following the instruction, "Climb up high drop the journal" by flinging it off the 7th floor of a building.
By Keri Smith and published by American Girl, Tear up This Book!: The Sticker, Stencil, Stationary, Games,Crafts, Doodle and Journal Book for Girls! is all of Keri's creativity combined with American Girl's great packaging and suitability for younger kids. Perfect for kids 7 and up.
Somewhere between art and activity is . . . DOODLES!
Humorous and imaginative doodle prompts, perfect for backpacks and, of course, pockets.
Taro Gomi, author and illustrator of the classic, Everyone Poops, has recently published a line of excellent, high quality, very thick (and pricey) doodle books. Doodle All Year happens to be the most compact of the series. Worth checking out for any kids who love to draw and color, ages 4 and up.
We brought a pad of these on our family trip last year and had a great time with them, especially my then three year old who has a fascination with post-it pads... Although these pictures are big, these "Doodle Stickies" are probably the smallest activity books I have listed here.
If you have a long car trip ahead of you, consider these books:
for kids, including, of course, a road atlas. It's never too early to teach your kids, boys especially, how to read a map! At $3.95 each, these books are a great buy.
This book is more than just karaoke. Of course is comes with a CD of 15 songs and three bonus tracks, that is just the music and no words, it also includes a book of song lyrics ( plus three more for the backseaters) and musical activities, trivia, games and choreography. Songs include, "Proud Mary," "The Star Spangled banner," "Kookabura" and "When the Saints go Marching In."
Top-ten quizzes, puzzles,games and tips - all travel related and guaranteed great American Girl quality. Suitable for kids age 7 and up.
More than just a book of crossword puzzles, word searches and tic-tac-toe grids, this Everything book includes creative things to do like design your own post card and invent a new automobile as well as interesting factoids like, "What makes your foot go to sleep?" and "why do we daydream?" At $6.95, this is a great price for so much to do.
The usual combination of puzzles, games, riddles, fill-in-the-blank stories, crossword puzzles, number, license plate games and travel bingo and pages to keep a journal of every trip. Comes with an erasable pen.
Last but not least, a travel-size, paperback edition of Where's Waldo. This book is a compilation of Waldo's world famous excursions compiled from all five of Martin Hanford's engrossing Waldo books. Like all the books, Waldo isn't the only thing you look for on each page, making for hours of searching!
The pressure is off, for now, have some fun and read a
These are just a few of the excellent graphic novels I have reviewed this past year.
Meanwhile by Jason Shiga is THE BOOK for a plane/train/car ride. With over 3, 856 possible endings, you will definitely get your money's worth...
Copper by Kazu Kibuishi takes you on a journey through Bolt City with Copper and his dog Fred as they bounce across giant mushrooms, build and fly their own aircraft and race a lobster... Each comic is a page spread, two at the most. Perfect for picking up and putting down as demanding summer activities require.
The Secret Science Alliance has it all - science, inventions, friends, enemies, action & adventure!!! A book your kids will read again and again.
And, last but not least, some great books about summer and/or vacations to READ!!!
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. Four sisters and summer vacation combine to make this timeless, instant classic.
Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams. Summer is a great time to dive into a great series with books of doorstop proportions and this one will not disappoint. If you really think you (and, really, adults will love this as well) will read this, you probably want to skip my gushing, raving review of the book in which I reveal more than I should have...
Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies has it all - summer camp, aliens, crafts, SPAM!!
The Magic Half is set during the summer and is a great mystery, suspense, time travel story that is hard to put down. I could almost smell the dust in the barn where Horst hid the.... I'll let you read it and figure it out!
Northward to the Moon by Polly Horvath is the sequel to My 100 Adventures. Both are great summer adventure stories, Northward to the Moon, as the cover indicates, has a very long, great car trip that takes up most of the book.
Leepike Ridge another great, suspenseful summer story - with treasure! This would be a super read-out-loud on a camping trip, especially around the campfire at night...
Operation Redwood is yet ANOTHER great summer adventure story. Julian lies to his aunt and uncle so that he can head north to an old grove of redwood trees and protect them from clear cutting! S Terrell French's book is exceedingly well written, her characters are fully formed and the action is great.