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2019 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Picture Books

Need suggestions for beach reading or books to bring to summer camp? Here are our top ten books for different age ranges — including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry — all published 2018–2019 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

For a handy take-along list of titles, download our printable PDF.

Easy Readers and Primary Grades | Intermediate | Middle School | High School

Picture Books

Suggested grade level for all entries: PS–2

The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol (Roaring Brook)

The “strongest guys in the whole forest” are the Little Guys — small pastel-colored creatures with acorn-cap hats and stick arms and legs. This presumed root-for-the-underdog story takes a humorously unexpected turn as close observation shows the Little Guys obnoxiously stealing from the other forest animals (“None for you! All for us!”). Brosgol’s jewel-toned mixed-media illustrations are imbued with humor both subtle and exaggerated, enhancing and extending the spare text. 40 pages.

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke; illus. by Van Thanh Rudd (Candlewick)

A child in an unnamed village “where we live inside our mud-for-walls home” describes the diversions of daily life, including zooming about with “my crazy brothers” on a “patchwork bike” built of scrap. Clarke’s spare, mellifluous language is hand-lettered on Rudd’s rough, tactile paintings composed of heavy acrylic paint on recycled cardboard. The illustration choices reflect the book’s theme — exposing the harsh reality of life while acknowledging the resilience that comes from homemade joy. 40 pages.

Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale (Porter/Roaring Brook)

Die-cuts serve useful and playful purpose in this blue- and beige-colored introduction to Earth’s various meetings of water and landforms. A boy fishes on a lake while a girl plays ashore; turn the page, and the lake becomes an island where the girl is (temporarily) stranded. The cleverness continues as a bay becomes a cape, a strait an isthmus, etc., with funny little human dramas to encourage close examination. 32 pages.

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (Little, Brown)
Caldecott Honor, Steptoe Illustrator Winner

The “scrumptious scent” of grandmotherly Omu’s thick red stew wafts out from her apartment; a little boy inquires after the delicious smell, followed by a peckish police officer and more until Omu’s generosity means that she has no stew left for dinner. But everyone returns, this time to share with Omu. Mixed-media layers give the collage illustrations depth. Mora times her story perfectly, and repetition will encourage group participation. 32 pages.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (Porter/Holiday)
Belpré Illustrator Winner

Two “migrantes,” a mother and her infant son, arrive on “the other side.” Here they meet cultural challenges (customs, language) that are resolved at the San Francisco Public Library, with its “unimaginable” wealth of books that offer paths to literacy, community, even a career. Occasional Spanish words enrich the succinct, gently poetic text, illustrated with rich and vibrant pen-and-ink, acrylic, and collage art. Back matter sets the narrative in personal and historical context. Concurrently published in Spanish as Soñadores. 40 pages.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero; illus. by Zeke Peña (Kokila/Penguin)

When Papi gets home from work, young Daisy grabs their motorcycle helmets, eager to zoom through their neighborhood before the sun goes down. Joyous digital and hand-painted watercolor illustrations capture the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and colors. The text’s nuanced alliteration, its use of Spanglish, and the realistic linguistic mix in the illustrations (even the cat says both meow and miau) mark the specificity shaping Daisy’s memory-making. Concurrently published in Spanish as Mi papi tiene una moto. 40 pages.

¡Vamos!: Let’s Go to the Market by Raúl the Third; color by Elaine Bay (Versify/Houghton)

Little Lobo and his dog Bernabé deliver goods to their friends in the Mercado de Cuauhtémoc. Detailed comics-style illustrations feature anthropomorphic creatures, objects, and places; colors are largely muted so they don’t compete with the many items on riotously bustling and crowded pages. Most objects are labeled in Spanish, like a visual dictionary, and cultural references (a cinema called Buñuel; Cantinflas and Frida Kahlo puppets) are interspersed throughout. Glos. 40 pages.

Another by Christian Robinson (Atheneum)

Robinson offers a smart, sly, and imaginative wordless story about a girl and her cat embarking on a fantastical adventure. The girl follows the cat through a portal into another dimension — and another and another, each time prompting readers to turn the book. After encountering her own double, the girl (plus cat) finally makes it back home. A subtle visual punch line at book’s end will reward careful viewers. 56 pages.

Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons by Laura Purdie Salas; illus. by Mercè López (Millbrook)

Salas explores the seasons through poetry — with a twist. Divided into sections by season, each “riddle-ku” poem uses innovative language to represent something traditionally associated with that season. (For a summertime fireworks display: “you gasp as I roar, / my mane EXPLODING, sizzling— / lion of the sky!”) In addition to helping readers solve the puzzles, López’s acrylic and digital illustrations capture movement and texture through strong lines and seasonal hues. 32 pages.

Dogs in Space by Vix Southgate; illus. by Iris Deppe (Kane Miller)

Soviet dogs Belka and Strelka became, in 1960, among the first animals to return, alive, from orbital flight. Southgate and Deppe tell and show their story with suspense, enthusiasm, and little anthropomorphism. The automatically appealing narrative is bolstered by useful scientific facts (“Strelka’s puppies prove spaceflight is not harmful”). With a zip equal to the story, the pictures use well-outlined, simple forms in depicting the dogs in various visual configurations. Timeline. 32 pages.

From the May 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book: Summer Reading. For past years’ summer reading lists from The Horn Book, click on the tag summer reading.

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