After months of making their way through distance learning programs with their children, many parents are embracing the slower pace of summer days. While these next few months may look very different than they have in years past in a variety of ways, spending a few hours in the shade (or curled up in a chair with the air conditioning running) with a good book will undoubtedly remain a popular seasonal pastime for all ages. For advice on which titles to put on our kids’ to-read lists, we asked three booksellers for their recommendations for summer 2020. Here, Amanda Kranias of the Blue Manatee Literacy Project in Cincinnati, Ohio, Laura Taylor of Oxford Exchange in Tampa Bay, Florida, and Julia McCrea Kudravetz of New Dominion Bookshop in Charlottesville, Virginia, share their top picks, from picture books that will delight little ones to YA novels certain to engage even the most reluctant teen reader.
PICTURE BOOKS (AGES 3-8)
Saturday by Oge Mora, recommended by Amanda Kranias: In this warm and tender story by the Caldecott Honor-winning creator of Thank You, Omu!, join a mother and daughter on an up-and-down journey that reminds them of what’s best about Saturdays: precious time together. This special book tackles both racial diversity and class diversity in a way that feels authentic.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers, lyrics by Fred Rogers, illustrations by Luke Flowers, recommended by Julia McCrea Kudravetz: Mr. Rogers is having a well-deserved moment—the kindness, compassion, and respect he showed for children still serves as a wonderful guide today. This marvelous illustrated book collects the words to his songs, and just might bring a tear to your eye or have you singing along. The lessons are great for children, and like the best books for children, reach out to parents as well. Use this as a conversation-starter, a sing-along, or a nostalgia trip!
My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, recommended by Laura Taylor: What could be more beautiful than a blossoming friendship? My Best Friend is a heartwarming story that explores just what happens when two young girls meet for the first time in the park and experience the joy of each other’s friendship.
The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen, recommended by Amanda Kranias: With stunning artwork and a rhyming text, the illustrator of the popular Mercy Watson books tells a tale of human-animal connection full of humor and heart. Expect repeated reading sessions as children pore over panoramic spreads that invite them to find each of the 15 animals as they navigate running aground off the coast of Maine.
The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs by Fiona Robinson Abrams, recommended by Julia McCrea Kudravetz: This lovely picture book tells the story of Anna Atkins, a 19th century girl who became a pioneer in the new field of photography with her father’s encouragement. Her blue-and-white botanical cyanotypes have recently been on display at MOMA and the Princeton University Art Museum. Curious kids will be interested to learn about the first pinhole cameras and Anna’s trailblazing images of the flowers and ferns she found in her environment. Pair the book with a classic “sunprint” craft afternoon!
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, recommended by Laura Taylor: Sulwe is a truly inspiring picture book that delves into colorism and the beauty of being unique. Follow along with Sulwe as she embarks on a magical journey of self-discovery.
Usborne’s Big Picture Book: Dinosaurs by Laura Cowan, recommended by Julia McCrea Kudravetz: Need I say more? If you know a child going through the “dinosaur phase,” this is the perfect gift. Colorful drawings, lively, readable text, and exciting section headings such as “Sea Beasts” and “Massive Dinosaur Fight!” ensure that dino-mania continues every bedtime! Usborne’s educational books are famous for their illustrations, and these do not disappoint.
A Book for Escargot by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Sydney Hanson, recommended by Laura Taylor: This interactive picture book follows a snail who only wants two things: to be your favorite animal and reach the tasty salad waiting for him at the end!
Little Tree by Loren Long, recommended by Amanda Kranias: This gentle but powerful story about a young tree who holds tight to his leaves, even as everyone else lets theirs drop, is a heartfelt ode to the challenges of growing up and letting go. This book is as poignant for parents as it is for kids—and quite perfect for graduates.
MIDDLE GRADE (AGES 8-12)
Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypaker, recommended by Laura Taylor: At summer camp, anything can happen. A daydream-prone boy and a girl who plants secret gardens protect their sanctuary from impending doom in Here in the Real World.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Koningsburg, recommended by Julia McCrea Kudravetz: This is a Newberry-award winning classic that I always love to recommend to kids going back to discover the “greats.” It’s new to them! Two siblings, Claudia and Jamie, run away from home to New York (in a kinder, gentler time), hiding out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and scavenging coins from the fountains. Ever dream of climbing into the exhibits? Our two young heroes do, and solve the mystery of who carved a statue of an angel that has been anonymously donated to the museum. (Spoiler alert: the secret can be found in Ms. Frankweiler’s files). I just love this book for its intelligent treatment of children and its dry humor.
Clean Getaway by Nic Sonte, recommended by Amanda Kranias: Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, this road-trip story by a New York Times Bestselling author through American race relations past and present follows an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem —his G’ma included.
The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate, recommended by Laura Taylor: The One and Only Bob tells the story of a courageous dog as he embarks on a dangerous journey. Join Bob, Ivan, and Ruby in this stunning sequel as he tries to find his long-lost sibling with the help of some very close friends.
Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun, recommended by Amanda Kranias: Ideal for summer reading, middle-grade readers will cheer on Korean American Pippa Park in this compelling reimagining of Great Expectations. Navigating friendships and cyberbullying at a new school, Pippa reinvents herself and discovers who she really is.
Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer by John Grisham, recommended by Julia McCrea Kudravetz: John Grisham is famous for his adult legal thrillers, but he also writes these swiftly-paced and socially-minded tales for young readers. The protagonist, Theo Boone, is the Doogie Howser of the law, solving cases that just happen to come his way and giving legal advice to his schoolmates. In Kid Lawyer (the first in a series that could keep a kid reading all summer), Theo solves a crime and establishes himself as the best legal mind in town (under the age of 15!). Perfect for readers interested in social justice and the law, with a little mystery thrown in.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Joy McCullough, recommended by Amanda Kranias: In this story told from alternating perspectives, a girl with a passion for science and a boy who dreams of writing fantasy novels must figure out how to get along now that their parents are dating in this lively, endearing novel. Offering a realistic snapshot of modern families and the challenges that arise when trying to blend them, this character-driven story handles their inner turmoil with sensitivity and doesn’t skimp on plot.
Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes, recommended by Laura Taylor: Trey and Donte have always been brothers, but the world doesn’t see them the same way. Unlike his brother, Donte is bullied by the other kids at Middlefield Prep because of his darker skin. He finds his refuge in fencing, but he finds his journey to being accepted is more complicated than he ever imagined. With his brother and mentors, will he be able to stand up for himself?
YOUNG ADULT (AGES 12-18)
Kent State by Deborah Wiles, recommended by Amanda Kranias: This book, from a two-time National Book Award finalist, focuses on one of the darkest moments in our history—when American troops killed four American students protesting the Vietnam War. Told from the perspective of a protestor, Guardsman, townie, and student, Deborah Wiles’s Kent State gives a moving, terrifying, galvanizing picture of what happened that weekend in Ohio—an event that, even 50 years later, still resonates deeply.
The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer, recommended by Laura Taylor: Today, George Washington is known as the first president of the United States, but in the 18th century, he was known as the leader of a revolution against the indomitable British Empire. Historian Brad Meltzer shows the intricate and secret plot devised to take him down, and how Washington managed to evade it in the days leading up to July 4th, 1776.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, recommended by Amanda Kranias: At long last, Hunger Games fans can get their hands on this long-teased prequel. In Collins’ new book, she takes us back to the 10th annual Hunger Games where Coriolnaus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as mentor in the Games to a female tribute in District 12. The odds are not in his favor.
Chain of Gold by Casanda Clare, recommended by Laura Taylor: Cordelia wants to be a hero, but her family wants her to be a bride. When a new, unknown demon strikes London, she has a chance to prove herself. Chain of Gold continues the Shadowhunters saga as the first book to the brand-new Last Hours series. This magical setting is perfect for both new readers and long-time fans alike.
Don’t Call the Wolf by Aleksandra Ross, recommended by Amanda Kranias: This gorgeous fantasy, inspired by a Polish fairy tale, features a fierce young queen, exhausted young soldier, and a fearsome golden dragon. The twisty journey is full of tension, romance, and folklore.
Anna K by Jenny Lee, recommended by Laura Taylor: Anna lives a sparkling life at the pinnacle of Manhattan society; she has a boyfriend, a dog, and always makes her Korean-American father proud. But upon a chance encounter with Alexei, who has a reputation as a bad boy, her world turns upside down as they fall desperately in love. In an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina, Jenny Lee brings a story of first love and heartbreak to dazzling city light.
GRAPHIC NOVELS (AGES 8-16)
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks, recommended by Amanda Kranias: This lovely graphic novel tells the untold story of the trail-blazing women of Group 9, NASA’s first mixed gender class, and the challenges they undertook convincing the powers that be that women had a rightful place in space.
Once Upon a Space Time by Jeff Brown, recommended by Amanda Kranias: From the acclaimed author of the Jedi Academy books comes the first release in a hilarious space-themed graphic novel series. The story follows two normal kids who have been selected to leave Earth and join their new alien classmates on an intergalactic research mission to Mars. Hijinx and hilarity ensure.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile, recommended by Amanda Kranias: This is a fresh look at the Newbery Medal–winning book. The story is told in verse set against the backdrop of evocative illustrations. Lively poems—a mix of free verse and hip-hop—draws the reader in while using basketball as a metaphor for life. This graphic novel will resonate with fans of the original book and inspire a new audience of players, artists, and poets.