Summer in the City: Programming Activities, Books for Metropolitan Kids

Sidewalk chalk art, scavenger hunts, and skyline-themed art projects are just some ways to celebrate an urban summer, along with reading a great book.


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When you imagine a childhood summer, you may envision summer camp, fireside chats, s’mores, and ice cream. For middle grade kids, there’s lots of fiction about summer at camp, with adventures alternately scary, funny, and pulling on your heartstrings. For YA readers, many books set in summertime portray teens in rural settings going to the local lake or working at the nearby country club.

But millions of tweens and teens spend summer in the city. And books that highlight urban summer experiences are harder to come by.

Books about life in the city? Not a problem. Ones about summer? Easy. But finding titles that combine the two proved challenging for me. And if it’s difficult for a librarian, you know it’s even harder for those kids who don’t get to leave the city for summer vacation—and spend their first day back at school dreading the question, “What did you do for your summer break?”

Here are some numbers. My search on Baker & Taylor for “juvenile fiction, summer” produces 1,236 titles. Of these, 549 are for middle grade readers and 54 for teens. When you specify some subheadings, things get trickier. “Juvenile fiction, summer camp” brings back 79 results. But “juvenile fiction, summer, city” yields only 25. Nine of those are for middle grade and only one for teens.

I decided to come up with my own list. To do so, I spent a lot of time pulling up lists of middle grade books set during the summer and researching the setting of each book. Some were easy: two books are literally called Summer in the City. Their catalog subject headings confirmed this by naming the city.

New York City appears to be the winner in this book category, but other locales include Los Angeles and non-U.S. cities such as Montreal and Taipei. A few of my picks may be cheats, since they’re road-trip novels taking place in various locations, including some urban locales.

So don’t think of my middle grade and YA lists as comprehensive, but as places to start celebrating summer in the city. What titles should we add? Chime in on Facebook or tag us on Instagram or X.


Photo courtesy of Karen Jensen

Six City-Themed Programming Ideas

Sidewalk chalk art.This tried-and-true treat is a slam dunk for city fun. You can draw and play sidewalk games like hopscotch, or just give kids some chalk and a piece of sidewalk and see what they come up with. Consider going big and have a teen artist create an elaborate scene and invite people to come and take pictures with it. In 2020, during lockdown, I saw people doing this online. Inspired, I created my own artistic sidewalk scenes and asked others to stop by for photos ( You can also use chalkboard paint to make take-home chalkboards for artmaking (

DIY window paint. For this great urban activity, take two parts dishwashing liquid, one part cornstarch, and food coloring to make your own window paint. You can let participants decorate library windows; it’s removable. See

DIY window clings. If you don’t have permission to decorate library windows, make your own window clings for take-home decorating. Find instructions at

Celebrate the city skyline. There are lots of potential activities around this simple concept. For example, you can host a LEGO program where you invite participants to build their own skyscrapers and create an in-house city skyline for library visitors to view. Take it a step further: photograph that skyline and teach participants how they can turn it into a silhouette with a tool like Canva and create their own comic-book pages.

LEGOs and skylines can be the basis for stop-motion animation movies, too. Have teens make their own city-themed stop-motion movies, and at the end of the summer, hold a festival. Bust out the red carpet and popcorn!

Know-your-city scavenger hunt. Get tweens and teens learning about the history of their city. From simple quiz sheets to trivia nights, there are fun ways to enlighten kids about local history and landmarks. Consider a digital scavenger hunt, where participants take pictures of different elements of city life. You can also create a city-themed virtual escape room. Teen librarian Cindy Shutts outlines virtual escape room how-tos at

Bring summer camp to the library! If you’re really ambitious, create a summer camp for kids who don’t get to go. My local school district holds weeklong mini-camps throughout the summer. Participants choose one of several workshop themes and attend a morning or an afternoon session Monday through Thursday. At your library, consider, for example, a photography mini-camp, and invite someone to come in and teach basic skills to participants. Survival tips, various arts and crafts, cookie decorating, and other activities are all excellent options. And you can tie them in to summer reading themes.

It’s library programming but packaged as summer camp. Sometimes just changing the name of a thing we do well can refresh everyone’s perspective and reinvigorate it—which is what summer break is all about.

Karen Jensen blogs at “Teen Librarian Toolbox” (

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