2024 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 2023–2024 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


Not Just the Driver! by Sara Holly Ackerman; illus. by Robert Neubecker (Beach Lane/Simon)

This spirited look at mass transportation vehicles showcases some of the vital but less visible jobs involved in making them move. "Who makes buses rev and go / through detours, gridlock, storms, and snow? / Block by block, who smooths the journey— / potholed, hilly, twisty, turn-y? / IT'S NOT JUST THE DRIVER!" Full of small, amusing details to notice, the bright digital illustrations clarify how a team works together to get a complex job done. 32 pp.

Ahoy! by Sophie Blackall (Schwartz/Random)

While a parent vacuums the living room, a child gathers items needed for a pretend sea voyage. Soon, we are plunged into the book's make-believe world — child and adult aboard a fully rigged multi-masted schooner — on the high seas, about to encounter a storm (and sharks!). The mixed-media and digital illustrations are alternately gorgeous and rich in character and humor. Blackall excels at setting the stage for the imaginary play, immersing us in the book's invented world. 48 pp.

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

At the pool, Ma teaches her son how to swim as Dad and older sister (from Together We Ride, rev. 5/22) cheer him on. Bolling's short rhyming text is accessible to those just dipping their toes into the reading waters. Juanita's illustrations in muted tones include lots of details: Dad's tattoo, Ma and Sister's swim caps, textured hair, and varied skin tones — cultural touches that embrace and celebrate diversity. 40 pp.

The Wonderful Wisdom of Ants by Philip Bunting (Crown)

This nonfiction overview combines cleverly designed graphics and a funny text to convey major concepts about ants. Compositions are thoughtful and effective, with expressive-eyed insects marching across the pages. Humorous yet still scientifically spot-on phrases pop up throughout. The final pages connect ant behaviors to another social species — humans — so that readers can be like ants and "leave the Earth in better shape than it was when you got here." 32 pp.

Sumo Libre by Joe Cepeda (Little, Brown)

Neighbors Max and Kenji love wrestling. But Max thinks lucha libre is the “greatest,” while Kenji thinks sumo is the “best.” When they show each other their favorite moves — and try to prove which is truly the winning style — the match devolves into a real tussle. Cepeda's brightly colored, hand-painted illustrations in his recognizable loose style are detailed and engaging — and may inspire future sumo libre wrestlers. 40 pp.

Don’t Blow Your Top! by Ame Dyckman; illus. by Abhi Alwar (Orchard/Scholastic)

When a bird accidentally drops a coconut on Little Volcano: "Would Little Volcano…BLOW THEIR TOP?" Big Volcano provides gentle reminders about how to calm down: deep breathing, counting to five, thinking happy thoughts. And then the bird returns and drops two unexpected coconuts. "KABOOOOOOOM!" After the ash and lava settle, Big Volcano is empathetically reassuring. Animated digital illustrations, with vibrant saturated colors, give the volcanoes lots of personality. 40 pp.

The Last Stand by Antwan Eady; illus. by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey (Knopf)

The plight of Black farmers takes center stage in this affecting picture book. A boy and his grandfather faithfully take their produce to a farmers' market every Saturday. Papa's stall is the only one occupied, but "it wasn’t always this way." The Pumphreys' expressive illustrations, created using handmade stamps and edited digitally, highlight the richness of the harvest. When Papa is too tired to carry on this work, his customers deliver a meal consisting of the bounty from his land. 40 pp.

Let’s Go! by Julie Flett (Greystone Kids)

Every day, a child wistfully watches other kids skateboarding. After receiving Mom's old skateboard, the child gains confidence about joining in. Flett's spare text, with its naturally incorporated Cree language refrain, "haw êkwa," ably and empathetically reflects a child's nervousness and excitement about trying something new. The muted tones of the digitally composed pastel and pencil drawings complement the narrative. The book beautifully highlights the value of perseverance along with the joy of skateboarding. 40 pp.

A Friend for Eddy by Ann Kim Ha (Greenwillow)

Eddy the fish lives by himself in a little glass bowl. "Eddy peered out, wondering if...a friend would pass by." Meanwhile, a pair of black, feline-shaped ears indicates that he is less alone than he realizes. Bright-orange Eddy pops on the rich cerulean background, while the black cat recedes into it with the exception of the two yellow eyes that are about the shape and size of the fish himself. Mercifully this dramatic, visually appealing friendship tale takes a happy and surprising final turn. 40 pp.

My Block Looks Like by Janelle Harper; illus. by Frank Morrison (Viking)

Harper and Morrison's vibrant picture book focuses on a Black tween girl's trip through her city neighborhood on her way to a dance audition. She leaps joyfully through scenes that include a subway, a street crossing, a busy playground, and other locations. Morrison's illustrations provide rich sensory detail and energy to support the narrator's observations of those who "sparkle under streetlamps." 40 pp.

Monster Hands by Karen Kane and Jonaz McMillan; illus. by Dion MBD (Paulsen/Penguin)

At night, Milo reads about a monster under the bed. Oh, no! In his fearful dilemma, he turns to his friend Mel, who is looking out her window from across the street. Mel has many ideas about how to scare a monster away, and with American Sign Language (ASL) and his flashlight, Milo manages to sign-shout and shadow-play that monster into oblivion. Clever use of panels and framing make the children's signing particularly viewer-friendly, and illustrator MBD depicts clearly and expressively ASL's dynamism. 32 pp.

Hello: How Nüwa Created the World by Viola Wang (Little Bee)

In this story (inspired by the Chinese myth of Nüwa, who crafted humankind), Nüwa yearns for a simple yet profound thing: someone to say "hello" to. After reaching out to the creatures around her with no response, she molds a new friend from the mud, then creates more friends who spread across the world. The illustrations, rendered in bold neon colors, bring this world playfully to life. 40 pp.

Are You Big? by Mo Willems (Union Square)

Big, bigger, or downright astronomical — it's all relative in Willems’s concept book. A round-headed, stick-limbed child smiles at the reader; text opposite asks, "Are you big?" On the square, solid-colored page, the kid looks plenty large. Then, a bespectacled hot air balloon arrives, dwarfing the perplexed child. Each previously big figure is then bumped down the line. Appealing collage-style illustrations, oversized typography, and a just-right touch of escalating absurdity keep the joke feeling fresh throughout. A playful introduction to the importance of perspective that brings big laughs. 32 pp.

From the April 2024 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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