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2020 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Intermediate


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 2019–2020 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.


Picture Books | Easy Readers and Primary Grades | Middle School | High School



Suggested grade level for all entries: 4–6


Up Verses Down: Poems, Paintings, and Serious Nonsense by Calef Brown (Ottaviano/Holt)

Brown presents poems categorized by subject (“People Are People,” “Foodstuffs,” “Sleepy Time”) and bracketed by poetry about poetry. The poems are mostly free-flowing and full of clever rhymes and wordplay. His signature color-saturated acrylic-and-gouache paintings are as absurd as ever, but with the added realistic element of a diverse human cast. Hand this to readers with active imaginations, particularly if they’re writers themselves. 80 pages.

Comics: Easy as ABC!: The Essential Guide to Comics for Kids by Ivan Brunetti; illus. by the author and various artists (TOON)

Brunetti presents a noteworthy and intriguing comics how-to. The encouraging text and approachable illustrations serve as the book’s primary content, while regular sidebars by world-class cartoonists add variety, interest, and information. An initial focus on drawing characters gradually shifts to a survey of broader comics fundamentals. Some really great tips can immediately be incorporated into anyone’s cartooning repertoire. 56 pages.

Stella Díaz Never Gives Up by Angela Dominguez (Roaring Brook)

Stella attends summer camp at Shedd Aquarium and finds new friends among her “fellow sea-creature enthusiasts.” She eventually manages to bring her friends and family on board with her new environmental group focused on saving the oceans — the Sea Musketeers. Cheerful black-and-white illustrations are scattered throughout. 196 pages.

The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott; illus. by Geneva B (Random)

This quick-paced, suspenseful, and entertaining sequel to Dragons in a Bag alternates between Jaxon, the previous book’s protagonist, and Kavita, sister of Jaxon’s best friend Vikram, as they attempt to return the dragons to the realm of magic. Will they do it in time? If not, what will happen? 170 pages.

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn; illus. by Isabelle Follath (Tundra)

In 1902 Torquay, England, twelve-year-old Aggie befriends a Belgian refugee, Hector Perot, and investigates a murder roiling the town. Jocelyn keeps readers guessing throughout, but the eventual reveal of the perpetrator is believable, carefully clued, and satisfying. A solid dose of tart wit makes it an extra-enjoyable read. An author’s note explains that the story is inspired by Agatha Christie’s childhood. 325 pages.

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly; illus. by Lian Cho (Greenwillow)

Lalani lives on Sanlagita, a fantastical island under the control of an all-powerful menyoro. After finding a foreign creature living on the island’s sacred mountain, Lalani sets in motion a challenge to the menyoro’s authority, beginning with her departure from home. Kelly does an excellent job of world-building, with folklore-like chapters interspersed throughout. 388 pages.

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai (Holt)

Newly arrived in Australia with his mother and (annoying) little brother, all Jingwen wants to do is bake the elaborate cakes he and his late father perfected without Mom discovering he’s breaking her no-baking rule. Lai’s frequent, blue-tinged illustrations provide comic relief along Jingwen’s journey through grief and adjusting to life in an “alien” world. 380 pages.

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell (Tu/Lee & Low)

In 1954, eight-year-old Regina Petit and her family — members of the Umpqua tribe — are forced to leave home after the U.S. government terminates their tribal designation. They move to Los Angeles, where Regina tries to adapt, making friends outside her culture and figuring out what it means to be Indian. The straightforward, easygoing narrative is shot through with deadpan, subversive humor. 209 pages.

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone; illus. by Dawud Anyabwile (Crown)

When G’ma asks Scoob to go on “a little adventure,” he doesn’t hesitate to say yes. Once inside her “sweet ride” — the new RV she bought after selling her house — Scoob isn’t so sure he made the right choice, due to G’ma’s unusual behavior. Occasional maps and illustrations appear throughout, highlighting important moments in each chapter. An entertaining and unexpected intergenerational caper. 229 pages.

Stargazing by Jen Wang; color by Lark Pien (First Second/Roaring Brook)

When a new girl — unconventional, self-confident, uninhibited Moon — and her single mom move into Christine’s family’s in-law apartment, life gets more interesting for rule-follower (and parent-pleaser) Christine. A major health scare for Moon lends drama, but everything turns out okay. Panels in a variety of shapes and sizes and a judicious use of white space pace the graphic novel effectively. A natural for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer L. Holm, and Victoria Jamieson. 218 pages.

From the May 2020 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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