2023 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 2022–2023 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


My Dad Is a Tree by Jon Agee (Rocky Pond/Penguin)

Madeleine pretends to be a tree (“because a tree gets to stay outside all day long!”), and Dad agrees to join in the imaginative play. Agee keeps the compositions and dialogue uncluttered and unfussy, and children will delight in the visual hyperbole. This entertaining story expresses what children know so well: playing outside can be filled with surprises. 40 pp.

Ancient Night by David Álvarez with David Bowles; illus. by David Álvarez (Em Querido/Levine Querido)

In an original weaving together of several Mesoamerican tales, Rabbit pours sweet agave sap into the moon to keep it shining night after night. Opossum steals the sap, unintentionally extinguishing the moonlight, but brings back a pot of fire from under the earth to set high in the sky as the sun. Stunning illustrations by acclaimed Mexican artist Álvarez combine with Bowles’s spellbinding, poetic text. 40 pp.

Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius: A True Story About an Amazing Swimmer by Lynne Cox; illus. by Richard Jones (Schwartz/Random)

After becoming entangled in a fishing net, Yoshi, a real-life loggerhead turtle, is brought to a Cape Town aquarium, where she lives for twenty years. When reintroduced into the wild, she surprisingly returns to her heretofore unknown native beach in Australia, where she mates and deposits her eggs — a 22,998-mile journey. An appended author’s note by the record-breaking athlete describes Cox’s inspiration: “I am intrigued by Yoshi’s story because I too am a long-distance swimmer.” 40 pp.

Animals in Pants by Suzy Levinson; illus. by Kristen Howdeshell and Kevin Howdeshell (Cameron/Abrams)

A child introduces the book’s topic forcefully: “What? YOU’VE NEVER SEEN ANIMALS IN PANTS?!?” Twenty-three short and funny poems cover a wide variety of animals and the many types of pants they might wear. Vibrant illustrations are filled with textures and patterns, resembling a combination of collage and stamped art. At the end, the child is back hinting at a sequel: “What? YOU’VE NEVER SEEN ANIMALS IN HATS?!?” 32 pp.

Once upon a Book by Grace Lin and Kate Messner; illus. by Grace Lin (Little, Brown)

Upon opening her book, young Alice is invited inside by one of the animal characters. She climbs in and embarks on a thrilling journey of the imagination, traveling to different settings: a coral reef, outer space, and more. The text builds patterns and a pleasing rhythm with repetition; Lin’s lush full-bleed spreads invite readers into this appealing home-and-back-again adventure starring an Asian protagonist. 40 pp.

My Powerful Hair by Carole Lindstrom; illus. by Steph Littlebird (Abrams)

In lyrical storytelling text, Lindstrom describes her protagonist’s eagerness for her hair to grow: “Our ancestors say / Our hair is our memories. / Our source of strength.” Her mom’s hair was short because it was “too wild”; her grandmother’s was cut off at an Indian boarding school. Littlebird captures the closeness of the family in bright colors set against woodgrain-like backgrounds. Appended with a short glossary of Ojibwe words. 48 pp.

Hey Otter! Hey Beaver! by Brian Pinkney (Greenwillow)

Otter sees sticks and branches as toys, Beaver sees them as tools to build a dam. So, the pair spends a happy day jostling over who gets the twigs. Pinkney’s exuberant illustrations reinforce that the frolicking is all in good fun. The patterned, rhythmic dialogue makes for a musical read-aloud; the word repetition, straightforward plot, and clear images make it a fine choice for new readers too. 40 pp.

The Last Plastic Straw: A Plastic Problem and Finding Ways to Fix It [Books for a Better Earth] by Dee Romito; illus. by Ziyue Chen (Holiday)

A fascinating history of straws traces drinking tubes from ancient Sumer to the mass-produced plastic straws we know today. Crisp digital illustrations showcase the variety of materials tried, the beverages they were designed for, and the people who used them. Romito also focuses on the effect of single-use plastics on the environment, emphasizing actions young people can take. 40 pp.

Wild Blue: Taming a Big-Kid Bike by Dashka Slater; illus. by Laura Hughes (Candlewick)

Wild Blue, a big-kid bicycle, is a challenge for narrator Kayla. She saddles Wild Blue up, but: “Daddy! This bike’s not tame enough to ride!” Both art and text do an excellent job inhabiting that space between imagination (Wild Blue as a horse) and real life. In the end Kayla denies that she’s tamed her new bicycle: “She’s still wild…but so am I.” 32 pp.

Jump In! by Shadra Strickland (Bloomsbury)

It’s a warm day, and a diverse group of children in a city neighborhood heads to the playground. One child calls out “Jump in!” The kids — and then more members of the community — line up to show their jump-roping style. Brimming with energy, the colorful textured digital paintings enhance the rhyming text. Strickland captures the sheer joy found in community play. 32 pp.

Little Land by Diana Sudyka (Little, Brown)

Sudyka begins in the prehistoric past, imagining what "a little bit of land" could have looked like. When more and more humans move in, the palette turns from primarily vibrant greens to dismal grays. Vivid colors reappear when a group of children stop to “look closely, and listen, too,” tending the land with care. Sudyka’s illustrations burst with a symphony of colors. 48 pp.

Off the Wall by Theodore Taylor III (Roaring Brook)

In a colorful offering that’s part fish-out-of-water story, part ode to street art, narrator Sam is unhappy about moving. The only Black child in their new classroom, Sam misses the city until spying a graffitied building: “It reminded me of home — loud and energetic.” A community painting project helps Sam feel welcome. Taylor’s bold comics-style illustrations provide ample visuals to explore. 48 pp.

Dark on Light by Dianne White; illus. by Felicita Sala (Beach Lane/Simon)

Three children head into the deepening night of the countryside — passing animals, smelling lavender — in search of their dog. Happily reunited, they return home to two loving adults who wrap them in warmth, read them stories, and tuck them in. A series of lyrical quatrains, almost mesmerizing in their effect, is accompanied by glorious watercolor, gouache, and colored-pencil art. An exemplary, revelatory bedtime book. 40 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.

Horn Book
Horn Book

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.