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Summer Reading List

Edward’s Recommended Reading List #1

Encouraging their children to read high-quality literature from a young age is perhaps the best way parents can ensure they develop into strong students who enjoy learning. In the final stages of secondary school, when students have already begun IB coursework or are in the midst of preparing for tests like the AP and SAT, there is typically little time for free reading. Instead, students must devote the time they have to reading the materials they are assigned and will be tested on. In middle school and the early stages of secondary school, however, there is still plenty of time for students to read outside of school, especially during the summertime. So parents of students aged 10 to 16 often ask me, "Edward, what should my child be reading this summer?"

I've created this article to begin to answer that question. Below are lists of books in four important genres (the same four genres tested in IB English curricula), each arranged in ascending order of language difficulty. Each work listed is sufficiently literary so as to count as good, meaningful practice for students preparing for more advanced coursework, but each is also accessible to students in middle school and early secondary school. In fact, thanks to my mom -- who forced us to read quietly for an hour everyday during the summer -- I've read almost all of the books on this list. The Golden Goblet and A Wrinkle in Time are just two that stand out as enduring favorites.

Beside each book is an approximation of the text's score according to the Lexile® Framework for Reading. Non-native English users who have little experience reading English literature should start with books scored between 500 and 800. Native English users and highly proficient English users with experience reading English literature should consider beginning with books scored 900 and above. Please note, however, that the approximate difficulty score takes into account only the complexity of the book's language, not any difficulty related to theme or other textual elements.

Prose Fiction (i.e., novels and short stories)

  1. Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (500)

  2. The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishcman (500)

  3. Holes Louis by Sachar (600)

  4. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (600)

  5. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (600)

  6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (700)

  7. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (700)

  8. The Giver by Lois Lowry (700)

  9. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (700)

  10. The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (800)

  11. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Peterson (800)

  12. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (800)

  13. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (800)

  14. The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds (800)

  15. Shiloh by Phyllis Naylor (800)

  16. Sounder by William H. Armstrong (900)

  17. Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (900)

  18. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (900)

  19. The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (900)

  20. My Father's Dragon by Ruth Chrisman Gannett (900)

  21. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick (1000)

  22. Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (1000)

  23. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1000)

  24. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1100)

  25. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (1100)

Note: One drawback of the Lexile Framework for Reading and similar programs for ranking books by reading level is that they analyze the objective complexity of a literary work’s language without taking into account other elements that may make it difficult, such as theme or the way sometimes seemingly simple language operates in complex ways.

Prose Nonfiction (i.e., biography and memoir)

  1. I Am Third by Gale Sayers (800)

  2. Black Boy by Richard Wright (900)

  3. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1000)

  4. Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (N/A - Graphic Novel)

Note: Although Anne Frank’s autobiography scores higher on Lexile Framework for Reading, really Wrights’s Black Boy is the most challenging text on this list.


  1. Piping Down the Valleys Wild by Nancy Larrick (N/A)

  2. 101 Poems for Children by Carol Ann Duffy, Editor (N/A)

  3. A Child’s Garden of Verses by Rudyard Kipling (1250)

Note: Carol Ann Duffy and Rudyard Kipling are towering figures in British literature, but the collections above are designed for children. Students often study Duffy as part of the IB English Diploma Programme.

Drama (i.e., plays)

  1. Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard (600)

  2. Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansbury (980)

Note: While the above plays are more accessible than most taught in middle school and high school, neither should be classified simply as “Young Adult” literature — both are important dramatic works studied beyond the secondary school level.

About this Reading List

The reading list is the intellectual property of Edward Dunnigan, who holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of Chicago as well as an IB English Language & Literature Certification. In order to create this list, Edward reflected on his own reading habits as a child and young adult, spoke with his mother (a noted early childhood educator), and researched the ways education experts rank works of literature based on the Lexile Framework for Reading and various other systems for determining reading difficulty. The purpose of the reading list is to provide a plan for students to “ramp up” to more difficult texts commonly studied in secondary schools and at university. Please feel free to reach out to Edward at with any questions. He is happy to provide additional recommendations.

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