Review: Summer of the Woods (Virginia Mysteries #1) by Steven K. Smith

Review: Summer of the Woods (Virginia Mysteries #1) by Steven K. SmithSummer of the Woods by Steven K. Smith
Published by MyBoys3 Press on May 11, 2013
Pages: 158
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When ten-year-old Derek and eight-year-old Sam move with their family to Virginia, they have no idea what adventures the summer will bring. As the brothers explore their creaky old house and the deep surrounding woods, they uncover a sixty-year-old mystery of a valuable coin collection stolen from the local museum. Join the boys as they spend their summer running from danger and searching the woods, secret caves, rushing waters, and hidden passageways for treasure and the rare 1877 Indian Head cent coin! Recommended for ages 7-12.

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to you all that I really enjoy middle-grade novels. I review them a lot on Tales Between the Pages. Steven K. Smith writes an engaging early middle-grade series with the first of his Virginia Mysteries, Summer of the Woods. Sam and Derek, eight- and ten-year-old urban transplants to Virginia spend the summer exploring the woods behind their home. They find a lot of adventure, a lot of history, and a lot of trouble. Part Hardy Boys and part Magic Tree House, Summer of the Woods teaches young chapter book readers some important lessons about responsibility.

Summer of the Woods  is a really good chapter book. The story is nicely told in 10 chapters, much like the Magic Treehouse books. The pacing is spot on and is sure to engage young readers and make them want “just one more chapter.” I particularly enjoyed how different Sam and Derek are. Derek is very impulsive, ready to run head on into any adventure without thinking things through. Sam is more grounded and more willing to say, “Wait a minute. Let’s think about this.” Of course, Derek is older and often wins those arguments, but I enjoy how complex the boys are.

I think Summer of the Woods is a great book for younger middle-grade readers. It’s a great stepping-stone book. They get all the benefits of longer chapters without all the fuss of a story line that is too complex. Both boys and girls can relate to Sam and Derek, which is something that surprised me. I half expected a book just for boys (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What I found was that Smith’s writing is more about the experience of being an adventurous child than about being an adventurous *boy.* Though boys will love this book, its lessons are equally applicable to girls too. Even though I think that, in general, girls need to read about strong girl characters, I also think that we need more middle-grade books that appeal to both boys *and* girls.

Perhaps one of the things I like most about Summer of the Woods is that Sam and Derek are independent but realize when it’s time to throw in the towel and get mom and dad. For Derek, this realization comes a little late when he gets hurt after exploring a mine shaft alone in the wee hours of the morning. Though this is a dangerous situation, Smith does not glorify this kind of behavior. Derek’s fear teaches him some valuable lessons about life, responsibility, and what it means to be 10.

Overall, I’m very pleased with Summer of the Woods. Smith makes learning fun by combining history and adventure together in a novel about a pair of brothers who just have to go explore the woods behind the house during the summer. The book is recommended for ages 7-12, which is a pretty accurate range. More advanced readers may find Summer of the Woods too easy but I’m willing to bet that they’ll still enjoy the story.


© 2014 – 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.

  • You had me at creaky old house! I love this kind of middle grade adventure and I’m even more interested that mom and dad do get involved at some point. This sounds like my kind of book and a great read aloud book for when my son gets a little older.

    • I think it’s fairly rare for parents to be involved in middle grade books. But Steve does a great job making them disappear long enough for the boys to get into trouble and come back just in time to teach a good lesson. 🙂

      If you come back tomorrow, the author will have a guest post about that very subject.

  • Greg Hill

    This looks like a great read, and I also like that the parents are included when the going gets tough. That’s realistic after all. Part Hardy Boys and part Magic Treehouse- that’s interesting. Great review!

    • Thanks! Smith does a great job allowing the boys to sneak away from their parents in a plausible way just long enough to get in trouble.

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