Kids’ Books for Summer

School is almost over, and that eager glint is growing in your child’s eyes.

Keep them reading between art camp and swim lessons with our lists of suggested “new classics”—well-reviewed and award-winning books published in the last few years.

PRE-K – 1ST GRADE

The Curious Garden
Written and illustrated by Peter Brown
2010 Illustrator of the Year, * Starred review from Publishers Weekly

Redheaded Liam transforms a bleak cityscape by planting a garden and inspiring others to do so. Soon plants and flowers are sprouting on sidewalks, rooftops, and even an old, abandoned truck. Buoyant green hedges and colorful blossoms push through the brick and concrete, creating a new kind of city full of nature and whimsy.

The House in the Night
Written by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes
2009 Caldecott Medal Winner, * Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist

This gentle bedtime story feels like a descendent of Goodnight Moon. Krommes’ exquisitely intricate black-and-white scratchboard illustrations are anchored by touches of gold, the only color used, as well as Swanson’s sparse but elegant writing. We’re led from home to the night sky and back again, to sleep.

The Lion & the Mouse
Written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
2010 Caldecott Medal Winner, * Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal

The only words in this retelling of the classic fable are lion growls and mouse squeaks. Pinkney recounts the tale through lush, golden watercolor and pencil illustrations that will transport kids to Africa’s Serengeti, where two very different creatures become unlikely friends.

LMNO Peas
Written and illustrated by Keith Baker
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus

It doesn’t get much cuter than peas riding bicycles while wearing tiny, pea-sized bike helmets. A cadre of these energetic vegetables scampers through the alphabet—hence the bikers for “B”—in rhyming text and hilarious illustrations. More peas, please.

Shark vs. Train
Written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus

Two kids pit their toys of choice against one another in a series of trials to determine which is superior, Shark or Train? Of course, it all depends on the challenge: Shark wins at trick-or-treating, but Train has the much louder burp. The silly contests and sharp dialogue match well with the vibrant and comical illustrations, making for one rollicking read.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Written by Philip Christian Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus

When zookeeper Amos McGee catches a cold, the animals he cares so well for repay him in kind; the elephant, for example, sets up their daily game of chess. The gentle story and delicate woodblock print illustrations perfectly portray lessons of friendship and love.

2ND – 4TH GRADES

All Star!: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever
Written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jim Burke
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal

The true story of the bowlegged Pittsburgh coal miner who became one of the greatest shortstops of all time. Wagner, whose work ethic and determination carried him from hardscrabble childhood to Major League Baseball, may be a better role model than some of today’s players. And the most famous baseball card ever? It sold for $3 million at auction in 2007.

Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country)
Written by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Stacy Innerst
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal

This quirky tale demonstrates how Abraham Lincoln, despite having a lot to be cranky about (his childhood was tough, he was homely looking, he often lost elections, and the country nearly split apart under his watch) turned to humor and wit to win over foes and cope with stress. Simple prose and rustic acrylic illustrations make Lincoln a funny and relatable figure in this unconventional biography.

A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home
Written and illustrated by Henry Cole
* Starred review from Publishers Weekly, Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2010

Celeste, a creative, basket-weaving mouse, searches for a new home at a Louisiana plantation where artist John James Audubon and his young apprentice, Joseph, are staying. Celeste befriends Joseph and helps him with his compositions while trying to rescue the wounded birds that Audubon traps for his paintings. Lush and detailed pencil drawings show the world from a mouse’s point of view.

The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis
Written by Barbara O’Connor
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus

Popeye is stuck in boring Fayette, North Carolina, so he’s thrilled to meet the bold Elvis and his uproarious family when their caravan gets indefinitely stuck in some mud. As they track boats made from Yoo-hoo boxes downriver, the boys find friendship and small adventures in this summertime tale, dappled with wit and Southern charm.

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors
Written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beckie Prange
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus

This lovely collection of poems, scientific facts, and vivid linocut illustrations traces the appearance and evolution of surviving organisms on earth, from single-celled diatoms to dandelions to humans. The fusion of taut verse, bold colors, and striking patterns reflects the beauties and intricacies of the biological world. Who knew bacteria could look so pretty?

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Written and illustrated by Grace Lin
2010 Newbery Honor Book, * Starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist

Prompted by the bedtime stories her father tells her, lively Minli sets off on a journey to improve her poor family’s fortunes, and along the way encounters a flightless dragon, a talking fish, greedy monkeys and other creatures of legend. Lin weaves adaptations of Chinese folklore and full-color illustrations throughout the narrative, enhancing the tale’s richness and magic.

TWEEN

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Written by Philip Hoose
2010 Newbery Honor Book, 2009 National Book Award Winner, * Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist

In 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger and was arrested. Though this occurred months before Rosa Parks’ similar protest, Colvin’s place in the Civil Rights Movement has largely been overlooked. No longer, as Hoose gets Colvin to share her story amid a framework of photos, newspaper articles, documents, and sidebars, shedding a fresh perspective on the riotous times.

Dog Days (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 4)
Written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney
* Starred review from Publishers Weekly

The summer sun is shining in the 4th book of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, but Greg Heffley, an “indoor person,” is perfectly content to sit on his couch playing video games. Too bad his mom has other ideas that involve outdoor activities and—ick—family togetherness.

The Dreamer
Written by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sis
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist

This fictionalized account of a young Pablo Neruda imagines how the renowned poet first came to find his voice. Shy but curious, sickly but perceptive, Neruda finds inspiration in nature and daydreams, and strength in words and language. Ryan’s lyrical text evokes some of Neruda’s own works, while Sis’s stippled illustrations swath the tale in magical realism.

The Graveyard Book
written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave Mckean
2009 Newbery Medal Winner, * Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus

Nobody Owens, nicknamed Bod, has grown up in a graveyard with ghosts for guardians. As he ages he faces adventure, life lessons, and an ever-present threat from the terrifying man that murdered his family when he was just a toddler. Gaiman infuses his trademark humor and horror in the folds of this lush and imaginative storytelling.

Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg (Newbery Honor Book)
Written by Rodman Philbrick
2010 Newbery Honor Book, * Starred review from Publishers Weekly

Tall tale-telling Homer encounters danger and adventure as he follows the Union army in search of his soldier brother. Comic escapades with con men and scoundrels butt up against the horrors of the Civil War, until Homer and his brother are reunited at the Battle of Gettysburg.

When You Reach Me
Written by Rebecca Stead
2010 Newbery Medal Winner, * Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus

6th-grader Miranda leads a normal life in 1978 New York, until she begins receiving a series of mysterious notes that seem to know things about her future. Intricately plotted details and storylines, including Miranda’s obsession with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, connect in unexpected and intriguing ways, and Miranda herself feels like a real middle schooler trying to put the pieces together.

TEEN

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth
Written by Lynne Rae Perkins
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus

Having missed the train to camp, unable to reach his Caribbean-bound parents, and stranded alone in nowhere Montana, Ry sets off to try to find his way back to humanity. His journey takes him on detours both poignant and absurd in a narrative that plays with voice and construction, even weaving in a comic strip starring a dog.

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)
Written by Suzanne Collins
2010 Teen Choice Book of the Year
* Starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist

In this popular series’ second installment, Katniss Everdeen returns to the Panem Capitol for the 75th Hunger Games, where she must forge new allegiances while facing even greater peril and heartbreak. The story once again gives the impression of being trapped inside a video game, where anyone can die at any moment, and Katniss remains one of the smartest and fiercest heroines on the page today. Look for the series’ conclusion, Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) , in August.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
Written by Deborah Heiligman
2010 National Book Award Finalist, 2010 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Winner, * Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist

Emma Wedgewood believed in God, and Charles Darwin believed in reason. In a real-life plot fit for Shakespeare, they fell in love and wed. This biography, where science meets romance, skillfully intertwines the Darwins’ love story with the groundbreaking theories of evolution Charles developed partly as a result of his devotion to his religious wife.

Happyface
Written and illustrated by Stephen Emond
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus

After a family tragedy, the shy, artistic Happyface reinvents himself as the class clown and suddenly becomes popular; however, the mask of happiness grows increasingly difficult to wear. Happyface tells his story through his witty, self-deprecating, and often moving illustrated journal, where sometimes it’s easier to draw what he feels than to write it. The result is a truly authentic teen voice and character.

Leviathan
Written by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Keith Thompson
* Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal

A steampunk re-imagining of World War I sets German Clankers against British Darwinists, where heavily armed machines battle biologically enhanced animals. Amid the chaos, Aleksandar, a dethroned Clanker, meets Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service, and the two must join forces or risk annihilation. As he did in his Uglies series, Westerfeld creates a unique lexicon for this world, and Thompson’s illustrations bring the futuristic Clanker and Darwinist inventions to life.

What I Saw And How I Lied
Written by Judy Blundell
2008 National Book Award Winner, * Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal

In this noir thriller set in 1947, 15-year-old Evie vacations to Florida with her parents and falls in love with an older man, a romance that is encouraged by her mother’s friend but not by her mother. When a boating accident leads to a suspicious death, Evie finds her perceptions of herself and her relationships changing as she sifts through the secrets, lies, affairs, and sins of the adults around her in a quest to discover the truth.

For more reading ideas, check out our list of fantasy book suggestions.

Want something for yourself? Here’s a great list of summer reads for adults.