10 Summer Reading Challenges for Kids: Earn Prizes for Reading

Earn free books for  your personal library through some fun national summer reading challenges. Photo courtesy of Half Price Books
Earn free books for your personal library through some fun national summer reading challenges. Photo courtesy of Half Price Books

As the school year winds down, many parents start to worry about the dreaded summer slide, or learning loss that can happen over summer break. The good news is, there are so many fun ways to keep kids learning and reading over the summer. One way is to take part in a summer reading challenge.

Summer reading challenges are a fun and engaging way to incentivize kids to read by offering them rewards like free books, pizza, movie tickets, and more. We've rounded up 10 national summer reading challenges offered by bookstore chains, libraries, and companies. Don't forget to check for any local summer reading challenges sponsored by local businesses, sports teams, and libraries as well.

Need some book suggestions for your child's summer reading list 2022? Check out our lists of 100 kids' books every child should read before they grow up, children's books about women leaders, kids' books about race and social justice, and LGBTQ books for kids. Happy reading!

10 National Summer Reading Challenges for Kids

National Summer Reading Challenges: Barnes & Noble

After kids read eight books, they’ll get to pick out a free one at Barnes & Noble. Photo courtesy of Barnes & Noble

1. Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program — Free Book

July 1 – August 31, 2022
In this summer reading challenge, children in grades 1 through 6 can read any eight books of their choice and record them in their B&N Summer Reading Journal. Then they can bring their completed journal to any Barnes & Noble location and pick out a free book from a special display. There are 11 books available for grades 1 and 2, eight for grades 3 and 4, and 12 for grades 5 and 6. The selection includes popular books like Pete the Cat Goes Camping for the youngest readers, Cat Ninja for third- and fourth-graders, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians 1: The Lightning Thief for the oldest readers.

2. Pizza Hut’s Camp BOOK IT! — Free Pizza

June – August
This popular, parent-led summer reading challenge has been around for years. Parents can enroll their kids online and keep track of their reading throughout the summer. When a child meets their reading goal, they'll receive a certificate for a free personal pan pizza via email. Participants will also receive weekly activities and book recommendations. Readers can earn one free pizza per month in June, July, and August!

3. Half Price Books' Summer Reading Camp — Various Rewards

June 1 – August 1, 2022
Sponsored by national bookstore chain Half Price Books, this summer reading challenge is open to kids of all ages, from newborns and toddlers (parents are welcome to read to their little ones) to tween and teens. It features an online reading log where kids can track their reading, download printable activity forms, and more. Those who live near a Half Price Books can also earn $5 Bookworm Bucks and other in-store rewards to spend on anything.

Related: Ultimate Summer Bucket List Ideas: 100 (Mostly) Free Outdoor Games and Activities for Kids

National Summer Reading Challenges: NYPL's reading challenge

Students all over the US can participate in NYPL’s summer reading challenge. Photo by Jonathan Blanc

4. NYPL’s Make Waves — Virtual Badges

June 9 – September 5, 2022
This virtual summer reading challenge for all ages is sponsored by the New York Public Library, but any child in any state can participate. Simply register online, keep track of the minutes spent reading, and earn virtual badges for your efforts. Kids can earn additional badges by completing different online activities. While there aren’t actual prizes attached to the badges, it can still incentivize kids to read more!

5. New York Times Learning Network's Summer Reading Contest — Bragging Rights

June 10 – August 19, 2022
Every Friday, middle and high school students are invited to write about something published on nytimes.com that they read and found interesting. From articles and essays to photos and videos, no format or subject is off-limits. Each Tuesday, the editors will publish their favorite responses. While the only reward here is bragging rights for those students who get published, it’s pretty impressive and would look great on a college application!

6. Scholastic Summer Reading Program — Digital Experiences/Virtual Rewards

May 9 — August 19, 2022
Kids are encouraged to read books and stories online and track their summer reading through Home Base (parents can create a free account), where they’ll have access to select e-books (but can read any books they want). Through the program, kids can connect with other readers, authors, editors, illustrators, and more and earn virtual items and tokens. Plus, the more books kids read, the better chance they have of helping to unlock a donation of 100,000 Scholastic print books to be distributed to underserved kids through Save the Children.

Visit your local library branch online or in person to sign up for Oceans of Possibilities. Photo courtesy of CSLP 2021 

7. Oceans of Possibilities — Prizes Vary by Library

June – August
Created by the Collaborative Summer Library Program, this national summer reading challenge is available at most libraries across the country, both in-person and virtually. While each library will put its own spin on it, this year’s theme is Oceans of Possibilities and focuses on ocean-related books, events, and fun activities. In most cases, kids can earn prizes for reading and completing other activities. Contact your local library for more information.

8. Chuck E. Cheese Reading Rewards Calendar — Free Play Points

All year long
If the thought of more books isn't enough of an incentive to get your kids to read, perhaps some free play points at Chuck E. Cheese will do the trick! This reading rewards calendar can be downloaded and printed every two weeks. Just mark each day that your child has read (you can set the time limit!) and bring it to your local Chuck E. Cheese to redeem for 10 free play points with any food purchase. Do it as many times as you'd like; kids may get a kick out of knowing that the more they read, the more play points they can earn.

9. Showcase Cinemas' Bookworm Wednesdays — Free Movie Tickets

Wednesdays in July
Kids earn a free movie ticket to select children’s films every Wednesday in July when they present a book report to any participating Showcase Cinemas box office. A total of 15 participating theaters include seven in Massachusetts, six in New York, one in Ohio, and one in Rhode Island. Tickets must be reserved in advance online, and seating is limited. Parents, guardians, and kids under six who are accompanying the child also receive free admission. In past years an interactive, pre-recorded storytime episode aired before the movie, and some locations also held a weekly prize drawing.

10. Books-A-Million Summer Reading Adventure — Free Bookmark and Pencil Pouch

All summer
Kids can read any four books from this national bookstore chain's Summer Reading Adventure section online or in-store and write about them in their logbook. Then, they can bring the completed logbook to any Books-A-Million store and receive a free bookmark and pencil pouch.

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