Families can win a Half Pint Lending Library for their neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Half Price Books
Families can win a Half Pint Lending Library for their neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Half Price Books

10 National Summer Reading Challenges Kick Off with Fun Perks

Every year, as the school year winds down, most parents start to worry their child will forget all they learned once summer vacation begins. That's true more than ever this year, with school closings, online classes, and hybrid learning making parents fear that kids have fallen behind.

The good news is, there are so many fun ways to keep kids engaged, learning, and reading. One way is taking part in one (or more) of these national summer reading challenges that offer kids rewards (like free books, pizza, and more!) for participating. Best of all, kids can pack a book and read at summer camp, on a family vacation, or floating on a raft in the backyard pool.

Summer reading challenges are an awesome way for kids to have fun while exploring the wonderful world of books.  Here are 10 national ones kids from any city or state can take part in, and don’t forget to check with your local school, library, and bookstore to see what reading challenges they may have going on this summer, too.

If you're looking for lists of great books for kids, check out our lists of books about women leaders, books about race and social justice, and LGBTQ books to celebrate Pride.

1. Amazon’s Summer Reading Challenge – Free Book

June 15 – August 23
Open to kids in grades K-8, the Summer Reading Challenge runs at Amazon Books locations throughout the country. Kids who read any 7 books over the summer and bring a completed sign-up sheet into a store will receive a personalized Star Reader Certificate and one free book from National Geographic Kids. Sign-up sheets can be picked up in any Amazon physical store, including pop ups and grocery stores.

Also from Amazon, Journey into Reading is a great tool for parents who want to encourage kids to discover new books. It features a weekly rotating list of topics alongside age-appropriate reading recommendations for kids ages 6-12 from the Amazon Books Editors as well as teachers. There are free activity sheets parents can print out for their kids.

2. Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program – Free Book

July 1 – August 31
This program is for kids in grades 1 through 6. Participants can read any 8 books they choose (they do not have to purchase the books from a Barnes & Noble store). They record each book they read and write a few sentences about their favorite part of the book in the B&N Summer Reading Journal, which can be found downloaded. Bring completed forms to any Barnes & Noble and kids get to pick out a free book from the store.

National Summer Reading Challenges: Barnes & Noble

After kids read 8 books, they’ll get to pick out a free book at Barnes & Noble. Photo courtesy of Barnes & Noble

3. Pizza Hut’s Camp BOOK IT!  – Free Pizza

June – August
This popular reading challenge has been around for years. Parents can enroll their kids online and keep track of the books, magazines, and eBooks that they read during the summer. Progress can be tracked online and when a goal is met, a certificate for one Personal Pan Pizza is sent via email and can be redeemed in-store or online. Participants will also receive weekly activities and book recommendations.

4. Half Price Books' Summer Reading Camp – Various Rewards

June – August
Sponsored by Half Price Books, a national bookstore chain, this program 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 runs all summer long and features an online reading log where kids can track their reading, download printable activity forms, and earn monthly store gift certificates. There are also giveaways weekly through August 1 that include the chance to win a Half Pint Lending Library for your neighborhood and a $100 HBP gift card.

National Summer Reading Challenges: NYPL's reading challenge

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

5. NYPL’s Imagine Together – Virtual Badges

June 27 – August 31
This virtual summer program 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 ‘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 still can incentivize kids to read more and that’s the bottom line! Kids ages 6-18 who do live in NYC or one of its boroughs can enter the NYPL’s essay contest for the chance to win cool prizes such as a coding and robotics kit and a pair of Beats headphones.

6. New York Times Learning Network's Summer Reading Contest – Bragging Rights

June 11 –  August 19
Open to middle and high school students, tweens and teens 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 week, 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! (Until September 2021, high school students can get free digital access.)

7. Scholastic Summer Reading Program – Digital Experiences/Virtual Rewards

April 26 – September 3
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 ebooks—but kids 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. Every Thursday, through August 26, well-known authors will host virtual, interactive events. 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.

8. Showcase Cinemas' Bookworm Wednesdays – Free Movie Tickets

July 7, 14, 21, & 28
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. Tickets must be reserved in advance online; seating is limited. Parents, guardians, and kids under six who are accompanying the child also receive free admission. Added bonus: an interactive, pre-recorded storytime episode airs before the movie and some locations also hold a weekly prize drawing.

National Summer Reading Challenges : Tails and Tales

Libraries around the country use the theme of Tails and Tales this year. Image courtesy of Collaborative Summer Library Program 

9. Tails and Tales – Prizes Vary by Library

June – August
Created by the Collaborative Summer Library Program, this is a national summer reading program 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 Tails and Tales and focuses on books, events, and fun activities about animals. In most cases, kids earn prizes for reading and keeping track of the books they’ve read. Contact your local library for more information.

10. Chuck E. Cheese Reading Rewards Calendar – Free Play Points

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

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