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2021 Summer Reading: Easy Readers and Primary Grades

 

Need suggestions for summer reading? This year we've super-sized our lists, with a baker's dozen recommendations for different age ranges — including fiction, nonfiction, folklore, and poetry — all published 2020–2021 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

 

Picture Books | Intermediate | Middle School | High School

 

Easy Readers and Primary Grades

Suggested grade level for all entries: 1–3 

 

Starla Jean by Elana K. Arnold; illus. by A. N. Kang (Roaring Brook)

“If you can catch it, you can keep it,” says Starla Jean’s dad about a chicken she finds at the park. Starla Jean secures the hen before the end of chapter two and Opal Egg wiles her way into the hearts of Starla Jean’s skeptical family. This entertaining early chapter book, with large font and snappy text, is heavily illustrated with eye-catching, dynamic art. 96 pages.

Too Small Tola by Atinuke; illus. by Onyinye Iwu (Candlewick)

Tola is small, but she is mighty. In three episodic chapters, she perseveres to help family members and those in her wider Lagos community. Atinuke’s writing is rich with imagery and replicates the music and rhythm of Tola’s daily life. A friendly format and universal emotional truths help immerse readers in Tola’s world. 96 pages.

Willa the Wisp [The Fabled Stables] by Jonathan Auxier; illus. by Olga Demidova (Amulet/Abrams)

Auggie is caretaker of the one-of-a-kind creatures at the magical Fabled Stables, such as the Long-Beaked Curmudgeon and the Yawning Abyss. A new creature, the wisp, is set to arrive — but unfortunately, the wisp needs to be rescued first, and adventures ensue. Plentiful illustrations with small bursts of text make for a high-energy early chapter book full of fantastical twists and turns. 96 pages.

Sharuko: El arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello / Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello by Monica Brown; illus. by Elisa Chavarri; trans. into Spanish by Adriana Domínguez (Children’s/Lee & Low)

Born in 1880 “in the shadow of the Andes mountains,” Julio C. Tello — nicknamed Sharuko for his brave disposition — was a groundbreaking Indigenous Peruvian archaeologist and educator. This bilingual picture-book biography highlights Sharuko’s work and accomplishments, centering Indigenous Peruvian science and art. The illustrations’ eye-catching textures and motifs invite visual inquiry. 40 pages.

Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds by Elise Gravel (HarperAlley/HarperCollins)

In this amusing comic-format adventure, boastful crow Arlo meets Pips, a little yellow bird, who questions whether crows really are “the very best birds.” Over the course of three short chapters, their friendship forms and small adventures unfold. Crow facts (many supporting Arlo’s claim) are sprinkled throughout. Gravel’s blocky cartoon birds on minimal backgrounds keep things simple for new readers. 64 pages.

Billy Miller Makes a Wish by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow)

This welcome and warmhearted sequel to The Year of Billy Miller (rev. 9/13) finds rising third-grader Billy worrying about his eighth birthday wish: a non-boring summer. Henkes is a master of characterization, deftly using dabs of telling details to build his characters. “Excitement” comes in many forms (both positive and not); but by the end — about that wish — Billy “wouldn’t change it for anything.” 192 pages.

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow)

Filipino American girl Marisol, star of this engaging chapter book, has the perfect climbing tree in her Louisiana backyard, but the list of things she fears is long — and that magnolia tree is at the top. Will she face up to frightening things and climb it? Kelly’s writing has the unhurried pace of an unscheduled summer day, and her frequent delightfully quirky line drawings add humor and personality. 160 pages.

The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)

In this suspenseful collection of five connected (and deeply strange!) short stories in picture-book form, composed solely of dialogue, Klassen introduces readers to a turtle, an armadillo, and a snake — all in hats, of course — plus an alien and the book title’s meteor. Klassen’s characteristically deadpan humor refuses to patronize readers; he lets them in on the joke, as always, by putting them one step ahead of the protagonists. 96 pages.

The Biggest Roller Coaster and The Great Bunk Bed Battle [Fox Tails] by Tina Kügler (Acorn/Scholastic)

In this lighthearted and lively early reader series, anthropomorphized Fox siblings Fritz and Franny’s experiences — at an amusement park and at bedtime — are depicted with imagination and playfulness. In each title, the events of three short chapters come together to make one cohesive story arc. Usefully repetitive dialogue is presented via speech balloons, with vibrant-hued illustrations complementing the humorous tales. 48 pages.

The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation by Alice B. McGinty; illus. by Shonto Begay (Schwartz & Wade/Random)

Cody wakes up thirsty. How will his family fill their water glasses, or keep the animals safe, or wash the dishes? Happily, the Water Lady is on her way, to refill the three big barrels outside his house. This illuminating picture book set in the Navajo Nation about a contemporary child’s experience with water insecurity features textured watercolor illustrations by a Dineh’ (Navajo) artist. 40 pages.

Tag Team and Training Day [El Toro & Friends] by Raúl the Third; color by Elaine Bay (Versify/Houghton)

Simple sentences and recognizable — yet entirely fresh and original — plot structures set up young readers for accomplishment in this comic-book-style easy-reader spinoff series of the author’s ¡Vamos! picture books (beginning with ¡Vamos!: Let’s Go to the Market, rev. 3/20). Visual and linguistic whirls and twirls match the fast-paced tempo of lucha libre, as stars El Toro and La Oink Oink clean up El Coliseo (Tag Team) and rooster Kooky Dooky trains El Toro (Training Day). 56 pages.

The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field by Scott Riley; illus. by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien (Millbrook)

Set in 1986, this inspiring true story of determination and teamwork tells of young Prasit Hemmin and his friends’ wild plan to build a floating soccer field off the docks of their Thai island home and form the Panyee Football Club (still in existence). The lively and expressive pen and digital illustrations are filled with happy smiles and strong kicks. 40 pages.

Dear Treefrog by Joyce Sidman; illus. by Diana Sudyka (Houghton)

In this nonfiction-leaning early-chapter-book in verse, a young girl is lonely in her new home — but enjoys observing a small treefrog in the garden every day. Sidman’s narrative, composed of a series of short poems and science-facts sidebars, also relates how the girl eventually finds a human friend to join her. Sudyka’s watercolors showcase the settings and give life to the quiet pleasures of sharing nature. 40 pages.

 

From the May 2021 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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