2023 Summer Reading: Beginning Readers and Primary Grades


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 2022–2023 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.


Picture Books | Intermediate | Middle School | High School


Beginning Readers and Primary Grades

Suggested grade level for all entries: 1–3


Rica Baptista: Llamas, Iguanas, and My Very Best Friend by Janet Costa Bates; illus. by Gladys Jose (Candlewick)

After overhearing a conversation that leads her to believe her best friend, Laini, is moving, eight-year-old Rica feels even more urgency to get a pet. The girls brainstorm ways to convince Rica’s parents that she is responsible enough to care for one — with mixed results. Rica’s first-person narration is convincing and endearing; cartoon-style illustrations pepper the breezy chapter book. 128 pp.

The Tree and the River by Aaron Becker (Candlewick)

In this wordless picture book, an idyllic forested valley is split by a river. Over an undefined span of time, conflicts arise between an agricultural community on one side and an industrialized community on the other. A single tree remains a constant presence. The illustrations are imaginative, precise, and enigmatic. As with Journey (rev. 9/13) and sequels, Becker’s world-building feels dramatic and cinematic. 32 pp.

Shark Princess by Nidhi Chanani; color by Elizabeth Kramer (Viking)

This early comics series introduces shark best friends Kitana and Mack. Kitana declares herself Shark Princess; Mack plays along. When they find a crown in a ship’s wreckage, Kitana encourages Mack to declare himself a princess too. Chanani has lots of fun with language, tossing in puns for the chapter-book crowd. The story is gentle, but the theme — each of us gets to decide what to label ourselves — is deep. 80 pp.

Evergreen by Matthew Cordell (Feiwel)

Young squirrel Evergreen is afraid of just about everything. When Mama asks her to deliver soup to Granny Oak, Evergreen sets off through the woods with trepidation, and her journey is full of unexpected incidents. Cordell’s picture book, with its longer-than-usual text, is broken into six engaging parts. Fine-lined pen-and-ink drawings convey both the coziness of Evergreen’s world and the tension of life as part of the woodland food chain. 48 pp.

Let’s Go! [I Like to Read: Comics] by Michael Emberley (Holiday)

This fast-paced early-reader comic begins with a party invitation in the form of a paper airplane. “LET’S GO!” declare the invitees (the characters from I Did It!, rev. 9/22). A series of setbacks impedes the crew’s progress; however, cooperation and creative problem-solving prevail. Emberley’s cartooning is complex and compelling, while the dialogue-only text is intentionally repetitive and charismatic. Imaginative, playful, and deceptively unassuming. 40 pp.

Lemon Bird: Can Help! by Paulina Ganucheau (RH Graphic/Random)

In this cute and kooky graphic novel, populated by fruit-animal hybrid characters, Lemon Bird helps free Pupkin from some vines. They play, and then fall asleep in a pickup truck that drives away. On their way back home, the two work together to help others. All ends well in this offbeat, action-packed adventure illustrated with sweet and surreal pictures in an array of jewel tones. 112 pp.

Remember by Joy Harjo; illus. by Michaela Goade (Random House Studio/Random)

In this lustrous celebration of generational memory by Native creators, Harjo’s poem speaks to a web of belonging that extends beyond literal family to the earth, its flora and fauna, and its peoples. Goade draws from her own heritage, incorporating the unmistakable iconography of Pacific Northwest Coast art, with circles emphasizing the cyclical nature of life. “Remember,” closes the text, and children will. 40 pp.

Bear and Bird: The Picnic and Other Stories by Jarvis (Candlewick)

In four stories, best friends Bear and Bird navigate misunderstandings and hurt feelings, always managing to remember how much they value each other so they can turn a difficult situation into a happy one. Jarvis skillfully writes about small adventures and emotional upheavals of childhood. Loose, cheerful digital illustrations on almost every page make this early chapter book approachable. 64 pp.

Dogs: A History of Our Best Friends by Lita Judge (Abrams)

Beginning when Paleolithic hominins first started domesticating dogs, Judge traces the symbiotic relationship between humans and canines, showing how dogs have been helpers, healers, and even fashion accessories. In turn, humans have provided dogs with shelter, food, and companionship. These lovable “face-licking, sandwich-snatching family members” appear to share with humans the “love hormone” oxytocin, joyously displayed here in many of the expressive illustrations. 56 pp.

Elena Rides by Juana Medina (Candlewick)

Medina gives new readers an inviting, cheerful take on learning to ride a bike. Elena, an elephant, straps on her helmet and, with the encouragement of her bird friend, attempts to ride a two-wheeler. The illustrations use thick lines and bold solid colors to focus attention; the text is minimal, but it’s also musical, playful, and fun to read aloud. Concurrently published in Spanish as Elena monta en bici as well as in a bilingual (English/Spanish) edition. 32 pp.

Violet & Jobie in the Wild by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow)

House-mouse siblings Violet and Jobie live a cozy life until they’re caught in a trap and released in a faraway park. They meet a wise old mouse who helps them both learn to stay safe and appreciate the world around them. The fast-paced plot keeps this gentle survival story moving. Frequent spot-art vignettes are full of insights about life and funny details. 240 pp.

The Song That Called Them Home by David A. Robertson; illus. by Maya McKibbin (Tundra)

One summer’s day, Lauren and her younger brother, James, take their canoe out to fish. Suddenly, the boat tips over and James is taken away by the Memekwesewak (“little people”). Lauren pursues them, swimming through “a watery pathway” to another world, until their grandfather calls them home. A satisfying story about the strength of family bonds, persistence, and determination inspired by Memekwesewak stories from “Indigenous communities across Turtle Island.” 48 pp.

Beaky Barnes: Egg on the Loose by David Ezra Stein (Penguin Workshop)

Stein’s early graphic novel, full of slapstick comedy, is an offbeat pun-filled romp. A fried egg falls out of a food inspector’s sandwich, setting off an improbable series of events that ends with a human-sized chicken, Beaky, (in disguise) protecting her only egg from the inspector (who has lost his clothes and is wearing a barrel). Sketchy pen drawings with watercolor add even more humor to the goofy goings-on. 128 pp.


From the April 2023 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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