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


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


Picture Books

Suggested grade level for all entries: PS–2


Summer Song by Kevin Henkes; illus. by Laura Dronzek (Greenwillow)

Henkes and Dronzek complete their seasonal quartet (beginning with When Spring Comes) with a joyful ode celebrating summer’s myriad natural wonders. Dronzek’s bright acrylic paintings, employing luscious greens and blues, reflect both the energy of summer and the gentle rhythm of the text. 40 pages.

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann (Candlewick)

City-dweller Ernestine is excited to go camping with her aunt and cousin. Though faced with new challenges (tent pitching is harder than it looks!), she rises to the occasion. With bedtime comes homesickness — but Aunt Jackie knows just the thing. “Let’s go look at the stars,” which are shown in a stunning double-page spread in deep purple and black. 56 pages.

Johnny’s Pheasant by Cheryl Minnema; illus. by Julie Flett (Minnesota)

When Johnny spots a motionless pheasant near the road, he convinces his grandma to bring it home. Johnny believes it’s still alive; Grandma thinks she can use its feathers for her craftwork. To their amazement, the bird rouses (“Hoot! Hoot!”) and leaves behind the gift of a feather. An engaging and humorous intergenerational story of patience, hope, and surprise. 32 pages.

Goodnight, Veggies by Diana Murray; illus. by Zachariah OHora (Houghton)

As the sun sets over a rooftop community garden, it’s time for the vegetables to get some rest. In OHora’s sweet and funny acrylic art, all the veggies have endearing facial expressions. The (intentional) sleepiness of the rhyming text’s action is balanced by the presence of a lively earthworm in a baseball cap who swoops through the color-saturated double-page spreads. 32 pages.

Hike by Pete Oswald (Candlewick)

In this heartwarming, gently humorous wordless story, a father and child head out from their city home to go on a daylong hike — and plant a tree. Oswald’s use of earth tones and textures reinforces the beauty of the natural world and the importance of sustaining it through simple family traditions like this one. 40 pages.

A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis (Porter/Holiday)

In this exuberant celebration of a summer day, readers engage with compelling page-turns to solve simple nature riddles. Portis offers viewers a sensory experience; we hear a stream and a cricket, feel an inchworm on our finger, and more. The palette features the earthy shades of nature. A playful, captivating guessing game. 40 pages.

The Old Truck by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey (Norton)

On a family farm, a hard-working truck ages alongside the little girl who lives there — and who in the end becomes the “new farmer.” The retro illustrations, showing a tightknit African American farming family, are infused with cheer and playfulness. 40 pages.

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

In this entertaining adventure, Little Lobo and canine sidekick Bernabé run lunch errands for the hungry luchadores. As they visit food trucks, we get a mouthwatering tour of culinary delicacies. The abundance of labels (in English, Spanish, and Spanglish) throughout vibrant, bustling illustrations sneaks in a vocabulary lesson. 40 pages.

Jules vs. the Ocean by Jessie Sima (Simon)

Intent on impressing her older sister, Jules plans to build a big sand castle. However, the ocean repeatedly foils her plans. The sisters eventually work together to construct a splendid sand castle…that’s spectacularly destroyed by a massive wave. A funny, felicitous summer read. 48 pages.

Octopus Stew by Eric Velasquez (Holiday)

Ramsey’s grandma begins prepping pulpo guisado, an octopus stew — and suddenly, strange things start happening in her kitchen. With the exaggerated detail of a tall tale (effectively conveyed in the oil-paint illustrations) and the pacing and sound effects (“Bloop, Bloop, Bloop, Brrrr”) of oral storytelling, Velasquez’s intergenerational story is filled with food, laughter, and love. 40 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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