If the golden age of reading is roughly 9 to 14, then summer is the golden season. Bike rides to the library, sunscreen-drenched paperbacks at the beach, picture books read aloud on the back porch -- happiness doesn't come much cheaper. Or easier. After all, nearly every family can make these Norman Rockwellish visions a reality.
But what should kids read? Almost anything they want. And lots of it. Better to be enraptured by 300 superhero comics than work one's way joylessly through a hard-backed, earnestly worthy novel such as Les Miserables or A Tale of Two Cities. After all, Superman offers pure pleasure, Jean Valjean represents schoolwork. In my hot youth I once read three Hardy Boys novels in one day (a personal best), and the following week moved on to a couple of Sax Rohmer Fu-Manchu thrillers, then an Agatha Christie omnibus (who ever forgets The ABC Murders?), before ending the summer with Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. With a ghost story anthology, a biography of Rommel, an introduction to geology and a history of code-breaking in beween. Sufficient quantity ultimately leads to a change in quality.
Sometimes, though, parents have trouble finding good transitional books, grown-up titles that appeal to younger teens. Here are a few suggestions:
1) Novelizations. Personally, I loathe the genre, but they can't possibly be any worse than, say, my beloved Rick Brant's electronic adventures (e.g. The Rocket's Shadow). If a kid loves "Star Trek," he can boldly explore every aspect of that universe in what must be, by this point, several hundred books.
2) Classic romances: How many young girls have daydreamed over the regency novels of Georgette Heyer? Or been titillated by the sexy adventures of Sergeanne Golon's irresistible Angelique? Really good readers can move on to Jane Eyre and Jane Austen.
3) Agatha Christie. The sentences are plainer than homespun and the characters make stick figures seem complex, but the plots are brilliantly original. This combination makes turning the pages easy for young readers. If you need something a bit more sophisticated, go for Ian Fleming's James Bond adventures.
4) Science fiction. Start with Robert Heinlein juveniles (e.g. The Star Beast), move up to Jules Verne and a classic anthology such as Adventures in Time and Space, then take the jump to light-speed with some of the great swashbuckling classics, such as Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, William Gibson's Neuromancer, Leigh Brackett's The Sword of Rhiannon, and Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness.
5) Pick a favorite subject and read everything you can find on it. I know a 9th grader who loves military history, and has devoured every one of John Keegan's books. Interested in polar exploration? Start with Alfred Lansing's Endurance (about Shackleton), then go on to a sledgeload of books about Peary and Amundsen and Byrd. The Civil War, the suffragette movement, Alexander the Great, aviation history, coin-collecting, ancient African civilizations -- any of these can make for a summer's reading to remember.