Summer Reading Tips for Teens

A Library of Congress expert shares popular books to read over summer break.


With most high schools out for the summer, students can now enjoy their break lounging by the pool or, if they're lucky, working. But there's another tradition inseparable from the season—summer reading.

While some books are compulsory, others might just make for good beach reading. Either way, reading over summer break can help prevent knowledge loss before the next school year and improve vocabulary.

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Popular series like Harry Potter and Twilight have made teens more interested in reading than ever, says Jane Gilchrist, director of the Library of Congress Young Readers' Center. According to a Children's Book Council survey, sales of young-adult fiction went up more than a quarter between 1995 and 2005. But now that Harry Potter and Bella's sagas are over, teens will have to look elsewhere for their fantasy fix.

Books from Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series, about a post-apocalyptic world where children are forced to fight to the death, have topped's teen bestseller list in recent months. The series is being adapted into a movie that will be released early next year.

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"Every year, there's somebody who rises up to the top," Gilchrist says. "But on the horizon, I don't see anything new that will obviously be a hit." If you're looking for a thrill, she recommends Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, about an orphaned toddler who is adopted by ghosts. Gaiman is the author of Coraline, about a young girl who discovers a parallel universe where life seems to be better. The book was turned into an Oscar-nominated, stop-motion film in 2009.

While the most recent literature lacks blockbuster potential, Gilchrist has some tips for making the most of summer reading:

1. Look in unexpected places: Many rental properties and summer camps will have a small library of books—take advantage of them, even if all the books are old and dusty. "You need to be open to whatever is around. Pick out something that maybe you've heard about, but was never really interested in reading, and try it," Gilchrist says. "You never know what adventure is waiting for you there."

2. Use books to take a vacation from your vacation: Traveling internationally isn't always easy—language barriers and different schedules can leave you homesick. Bring along a book from home, or find whatever English reading material you can.

In high school, Gilchrist spent a summer in Turkey, where she had trouble finding new books in English. "I found myself in a place that had no television," she says. "I read voraciously." Old copies of Dracula and Black Beauty—books she had little interest in reading before finding herself in Turkey—helped her pass the time on train rides across the country.

3. Savor the book you're reading: Don't race through a book—take time to enjoy it. "So many kids try to amass a huge number of books that they've read," she says. "It's not a race. Try to read just a little bit each day." the finer points of a book if you take your time, she says.

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