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2021 Summer Reading: Intermediate


Need suggestions for summer reading? This year we've super-sized our lists, with a baker's dozen recommendations for different age ranges — including fiction, nonfiction, folklore, and poetry — all published 2020–2021 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.


Picture Books | Easy Readers and Primary Grades | Middle School | High School



Suggested grade level for all entries: 4–6


A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games by Lori Alexander; illus. by Allan Drummond (Houghton)

Alexander tells the riveting story of German Jewish neurologist Ludwig Guttmann, whose radical treatment of WWII paraplegics helped change public perception of people with disabilities. Dr. Guttman’s annual sports competition, first held in 1948, grew into the international Paralympic Games. A mix of period photographs, charts, and Drummond’s lively and engaging drawings illustrate the story. 128 pages.

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma by Luisana Duarte Armendáriz (Tu/Lee & Low)

Nine-year-old narrator Julieta Leal — smart, curious, and prone to causing unintentional trouble — is thrilled to accompany her art-handler dad to Paris. But when the Louvre’s Regent Diamond is stolen, Julieta and her father are the prime suspects. Now Julieta needs to catch the thief and clear their names. An entertaining middle-grade-mystery debut starring an engaging bilingual Mexican American protagonist. 225 pages.

Rise of the Halfling King [Tales of the Feathered Serpent] by David Bowles; illus. by Charlene Bowles (Cinco Puntos)

In this series starter, David Bowles adapts a tale from his anthology Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico for the graphic novel form. This volume focuses on the classic legend of Sayam — the Halfling (part-human, part-alux) king of Uxmal, the ancient city of Late Classic Mayan civilization. Charlene Bowles’s panel illustrations match the thrilling narrative’s fast pace. 64 pages.

No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen (Groundwood)

Eleven-year-old Miriam’s family buys a motel in a tiny upstate New York town. When the motel isn’t as lucrative as her parents had hoped, Miriam (who is Jewish) and a Catholic friend successfully attract visitors by faking an apparition of the Virgin Mary. This summer-in-a-small-town novel, with a mischief-based premise and an old-fashioned feel, also includes exploration of Miriam’s family’s place in the larger community. 144 pages.

Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse (RH Graphic/Random)

In this lighthearted, sweet, and entertaining fantastical graphic novel, eleven-year-old Effie goes to live with her elderly, odd-couple aunts after her mother’s death. Selimene and Carlota run a holistic healing practice — enhanced by benevolent witchcraft — out of their Brooklyn home. Late one night, Effie learns that her own magical powers are emerging, and her apprenticeship begins. The personality-filled art features effectively paced, dynamically sized panels. 240 pages.

A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi (Quill Tree/HarperCollins)

While in Pakistan visiting her grandparents, Mimi meets Sakina, the family cook’s daughter, who dreams of a future that hinges on passing an English test. The girls form a tentative friendship through summer afternoons spent learning English and Urdu, dealing with errant centipedes, and exploring Karachi. Told through alternating viewpoints, the novel examines contemporary urban Pakistan in all its complexity. 320 pages.

Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez (Riordan/Disney-Hyperion)

Sal and Gabi are back in the sequel to Pura Belpré Award–winning Sal & Gabi Break the Universe, only this time they have to fix the universe — and during tech week for their school’s production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Gabi is playing Alice), no less. Featuring a diverse cast of characters both human and AI, Hernandez balances action with playfulness, humor, and heart. 421 pages.

Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

“When she was twelve, Ophelia Harrison saw her first ghost” — that of her father, lynched for voting as a Black man in 1920s Georgia. Fleeing to Pittsburgh, Ophie and her mother find work for an affluent white family — but, as Ophie discovers, Daffodil Manor is haunted by many ghosts. A thoughtful exploration of race and a shivery supernatural page-turner. 336 pages.

Saucy by Cynthia Kadohata; illus. by Marianna Raskin (Dlouhy/Atheneum)

After eleven-and-a-half-year-old Becca, one of a set of quadruplets, brings home an ailing baby pig, life in her family goes from baseline busy to complete mayhem. The tale includes kindly, hapless parents with financial challenges; a grumpy grandmother with a heart of gold; mean girls; and Becca’s three brothers. This funny, lively summer-set story, with scene-setting digital illustrations, also serves as a cautionary tale regarding oh-so-cute pigs as pets. 304 pages.

Tristan Strong Destroys the World by Kwame Mbalia (Riordan/Disney-Hyperion)

In the sequel to CSK honoree Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (rev. 7/20), Tristan must once again save Alke from destruction — a fate intricately tied with that of the real world. Familiar characters, such as Gum Baby and Ayanna, and new African and African American gods, such as Keelboat Annie and Mami Wata, populate the story. Mbalia’s stunning landscapes, suspenseful action sequences, and well-paced story line will keep readers enthralled. 320 pages.

Hard-Boiled Bugs for Breakfast: And Other Tasty Poems by Jack Prelutsky; illus. by Ruth Chan (Greenwillow)

Prelutsky fans specifically, and fans of humorous poetry generally, should find just what they’re looking for here: nonsense confidently delivered in lines that scan satisfyingly, surrounded by Chan’s exuberantly cartooned black-and-white drawings. Along with imaginary creatures and the like, the poems (including concrete and haiku) cover familiar realistic kid-concerns such as homework, sibling conflict — and spinach. 144 pages.

Ways to Grow Love [Ryan Hart] by Renée Watson; illus. by Nina Mata (Bloomsbury)

Rising fifth-grader Ryan Hart (Ways to Make Sunshine, rev. 3/20) brings her own style and wit to each day, whether tackling her library’s summer reading challenge; mediating a family argument (the solution involving an excessive amount of pickle juice); calling out microaggressions; or preparing for her first time at an overnight camp. With each chapter serving as its own short story, this second installment is every bit as enjoyable as the first. 192 pages.

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk (Dutton)

Wolk immerses readers in the Maine woods setting of this Depression-era tale about a family living off the land. Twelve-year-old nature-loving Ellieis at odds with her mother and older sister. She also feels responsible for her father’s coma and tries unconventional methods to wake him. After befriending a solitary boy and an elderly mountain, she figures out how to heal her broken family. An exemplary work of historical fiction. 359 pages.


From the May 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book: Summer Reading. For past years’ summer reading lists from The Horn Book, click on the tag summer reading.

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