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2022 Summer Reading: Picture Books


Need suggestions for beach reading or books to bring to summer camp? Each of our lists — for all age ranges and including fiction, nonfiction, folklore, and poetry — includes thirteen selections (a baker's dozen!), all published 2021–2022 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.


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


Picture Books

Suggested grade level for all entries: PS–2


Together We Ride by Valerie Bolling; illus. by Kaylani Juanita (Chronicle)

A little girl learns to ride a bike in her suburban Bay Area neighborhood, her father by her side until off she goes on her own. “Push, goodbyed / Pump, FLY! / What pride!” Brief and inventive rhyming text perfectly conveys the action and emotions, while the illustrations — with their celebration of Black hair — extend the appealing story. 32 pages.

I’m Not Small by Nina Crews (Greenwillow)

“I am big! I am going outside on my own!” Once out the door, the narrator feels — and looks, in the vast illustration featuring tall trees and open skies — very small. Encounters with diminutive creatures remind the child that big and small are relative; that it’s possible to be both at once. The adventure is little, but the relatable emotions loom large. 32 pages.

A Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle; illus. by Sara Palacios (Atheneum)

A smiling, curly-haired girl visiting her abuelo in Cuba describes walking with him past the street vendors who announce their goods through song: “Mango, limón, coco, melón.” Fond reminiscences, colorful illustrations, and a nuanced cultural depiction make for a warm ode to Engle’s beloved isla. Concurrently published in Spanish. 40 pages.

The Tide Pool Waits by Candace Fleming; illus. by Amy Hevron (Porter/Holiday)

This informative nonfiction picture book provides a detailed look at the tide-pool ecology of the Pacific Coast, the “astonishing world” of creatures that wait in seawater collected among rocks on the shore until the next high tide. Fleming captures the ocean’s movement with drama (the waves “CR-A-A-A-A-SH” and then “cr-e-e-e-e-p out”); Hevron’s textured illustrations invite close inspection. 40 pages.

Uncle John’s City Garden by Bernette G. Ford; illus. by Frank Morrison (Holiday)

Three African American siblings help their uncle cultivate a garden in an empty lot in their city neighborhood. At summer’s end, at the family cookout, their succotash shines because Uncle John and the kids grew the ingredients themselves. Color-saturated illustrations radiate the yellows of summer heat and the garden’s earth tones. A visually lush, sensory-rich family story. 32 pages.

Little Houses by Kevin Henkes; illus. by Laura Dronzek (Greenwillow)

A girl and her grandmother search for shells along the shore. “Grandma reminds me that the shells are little houses. And that gets me thinking,” the child says, as she begins to wonder about the inhabitants of these tiny homes. Bold-hued, naturalistic illustrations maintain the windswept qualities of a visit to the beach, infusing the meditative narrative with movement. 40 pages.

Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan; illus. by Mercè López (Dlouhy/Atheneum)

Young Musa and his sister hop aboard the daladala that will drive them from town to the Zanzibar shore. As more and more people — and livestock and milk pails — board, Musa expresses dismay: “Can there really be / enough room for a cycle, two goats, and me?’” Khan’s rhymes are electric, her wordplay flawless; while López’s mixed-media illustrations hustle and bustle along with all the colorful activity. 40 pages.

A Day for Sandcastles by JonArno Lawson; illus. by Qin Leng (Candlewick)

Two adults and three children take the bus to the beach and spend the day building and rebuilding sandcastles in this wordless picture book. While a rich array of people surrounds them — sunbathing, picnicking, playing — the children and their creations are the illustrations’ focus, each iteration of sandcastle growing ever more elaborate (and higher up the shoreline). 48 pages.

Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty; illus. by David Roberts (Chronicle)

A family of five has a lot to do before Grandma’s visit. A job list is on the refrigerator, spelled out with colorful magnetic letters, but the family pet sneakily rearranges the words, hoping to escape the dreaded “I’ll bathe the cat.” Cleanly rendered illustrations show the multiracial, two-dad family dutifully following orders while things go hilariously wrong over and over. 48 pages.

Climb On! by Baptiste Paul; illus. by Jacqueline Alcántara (NorthSouth)

Annou ale! Off we go!” A dad and his full-of-energy daughter hike to the “tippy top” of their verdant Caribbean island, where they can see their whole town and the sea beyond. The adventurous duo encourages each other in Creole, and the accompanying English text makes for easy reading, as does its spacious, verse-like placement amid the lush full-bleed illustrations. 32 pages.

A Seed Grows by Antoinette Portis (Porter/Holiday)

Portis details the life cycle of a sunflower in ten sequential steps. A single phrase (“a seed falls” / “and settles in the soil”) on left-hand pages faces a bright, uncluttered illustration mirroring the action. The story’s climax — the flower’s blossoming — is shown in a gorgeous lift-up spread. Clear, engaging, beautiful, and perfectly pitched to its young audience. 40 pages.

Solitary Animals: Introverts of the Wild by Joshua David Stein; illus. by Dominique Ramsey (Rise/Penguin Workshop)

Stein introduces four solitary species and contrasts their contented solo lifestyles with social animals in similar habitats. The visually stunning and dynamic illustrations favor inky black, indigo, and light blue backgrounds, against which the contrastingly colorful animals seem to glow. 48 pages.

Big Truck Little Island by Chris Van Dusen (Candlewick)

When a massive tractor trailer jack-knifes on a small coastal island’s main road, blocking traffic in both directions, four kids come up with a genius solution that’s a testament to island ingenuity and neighborliness. Van Dusen is in full command of his rhyming text; dynamic color-saturated illustrations capture the excitement of an out-of-the-ordinary event. 32 pages.


From the April 2022 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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