School is out, which means little ones are enjoying long afternoons filled with favorite summer activities—including curling up with a book for a little quiet time post-pool or play date. To help us stock our shelves with picks that will delight the younger set, we asked Kaitie Radel, bookseller at Tampa, Florida’s Oxford Exchange, for recommendations for the junior crowd, ages 3 to 18. Here, she shares delightful picture books, middle-grade titles that will pique curiosity, and young adult selections that will keep kids turning the pages even after lights-out.
PICTURE BOOKS (AGES 3-8)
Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox: On Monday, Llama finds cake. A lot of cake. What he doesn’t know is that, by Friday, this discovery will cause the end of the universe. This silly picture book for fans of lighthearted humor like Dragons Love Tacos, pops with bright, imaginative illustrations that will walk your young reader through all the days of the week—even beyond the apocalypse.
Because by Mo Willems and Amber Ren: The perfect picture book for young aspirational musicians, Because tells the story of Hilary Purrington, a modern composer whose entire career was inspired by one orchestra concert she saw as a young girl. But the concert only happened because of the time, effort, and passion of other musicians. This story explores cause and effect, and how one song that was created long ago can shape the life of someone today. For those who appreciate multimedia additions, a recording of the song featured in this book can be found on the composer’s website.
Abner and Ian Get Right-Side Up by Dave Eggers and Laura Park: Abner and Ian have a problem—they’re sideways, and they hope you have the solution! This charming picture book interacts directly with the young reader, the characters prompting them to interact physically with the book and its characters. The result is a fun, invigorating, 80-page storytime, complete with a robust vocabulary that adults can enjoy and children can learn from.
We Are The Gardeners by Joanna Gaines and Julianna Swaney: This beautiful, flower-filled picture book is perfect for any family who wants to introduce gardening as an outdoor summer hobby. The true story explores how one family learns how to care for indoor plants, and eventually graduates to an outdoor garden. The book also stresses the importance of not giving up on something you love, even if you fail the first time. It is the perfect read for any child who has ever wanted a green thumb of their own.
MIDDLE GRADE (Ages 8-12)
The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson by Quinn Sosna-Spear: A whimsical fantasy novel set in a world that feels like it jumped off the pages of Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketchbook, The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson is a delight for children who have ever hoped to create something revolutionary. When Walter’s mother forbids him from creating his chaotic inventions, he decides to run away from home to follow his destiny as an apprentice inventor, following in the footsteps of his late father. This book is perfect for young people fascinated by the works of Tim Burton or Roald Dahl, or any unusual combination of the strange and ordinary.
Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson: For the child who is fascinated with space, Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry is a cleverly written nonfiction book that will inspire young scientists to consider their place in the galaxy. The adult counterpart to this nonfiction book has been a regular on the New York Times Bestseller List, but this children’s version is a delight all on its own, with colorful visual elements such as bright illustrations of atoms and NASA photographs of celestial bodies. Warning: expect stargazing!
Garbage Island by Fred Koehler: Archie is a shrew who lives on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with a handful of other small creatures stranded at sea. He’s too creative for his own good, and his wild inventions cause havoc, leading the entire island to believe he’s putting them all in danger. The real danger is beneath their feet, though, because when the Garbage Island comes apart, Archie and the mayor, Popli, are stranded at sea, and must fight through perils both natural and man-made to get back home. Garbage Island is a modern, adventurous Redwall for the environmentally conscious pre-teen.
The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin: Caitlyn Breen has started seventh grade at a new school out in the middle-of-rural-nowhere. The claustrophobic class size here is 10 people, and nobody can stop talking about a student who is no longer there: Paulie Fink, who was apparently a kid of many talents before he disappeared. Caitlyn decides to hold a school competition to find the “Next Great Paulie Fink” to fill his shoes, while simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of just who Paulie was. This heartwarming book is told through several voices, interviews, and documents, making it a fun and touching read for any middle schooler wondering about their place in the world.
YOUNG ADULT (Ages 12-18)
On The Come Up by Angie Thomas: Bri is the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, so she’s got big shoes to fill if she wants to become the greatest rapper of all time. This book shares a down-to-earth depiction of the modern black American family, and the girl who burns at the core of it, complete with her own written raps that bring the book to life. From the author who wrote The Hate U Give comes another insightful and unflinching depiction of a young black teen who will rise above her circumstances, no matter the cost.
Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan: In this Russian-inspired fantasy novel, set in a world where war has ravaged its people for centuries, the protagonists are a cleric who can speak to the gods, a prince desperate to find his own path, and a mage who believes he is a monster. These three characters from very different backgrounds must unite to assassinate the king and save the kingdom. For fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series, Wicked Saints is a passionate, epic novel that is sure to be the next big YA fantasy hit.
Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich: For the Broadway-obsessed teen, Dear Evan Hansen is a novel based on the electric hit musical of the same title. Evan Hansen regularly writes therapeutic letters to himself, but when one of those letters is found on the body of a dead classmate, everyone believes Evan was his dearest friend. He is thrown headlong into being the sole comfort for a grieving family, and is finally noticed—by everyone, including the girl of his dreams. Trapped in a silver web of his own lies, Evan eventually must come to terms with his dishonesty, creating a heartwarming and touching read.
Hide With Me by Sorboni Banerjee: When Cade finds a bleeding girl on his father’s farm, she has only one request: “hide me.” What ensues is a page turner in which both Cade and this girl, who prefers to go by Jane Doe, find a connection—and a spark—in their shared troubled pasts. But when things get heated with a dangerous Mexican cartel, will Jane and Cade be able to save each other, and themselves? This teen novel is carefully crafted with layers of heartbreaking relatable experiences. With crime intrigue and the setting of a stifling hot Texas summer, Hide With Me is a fun, invigorating read for teens who love a thrill.