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Great Summer Reading for Kids

Top children's books from the past 12 months, selected by The Horn Book

You've heard it before: Good summer reading keeps kids' skills sharp. But what to read? Here are the top 48 children's books published in the past 12 months, as selected by The Horn Book, which has reviewed children’s and young adult literature for more than 80 years.

The list includes picture books for young readers, followed by books for early readers (grades PreK-2), intermediate readers (grades 4-6), middle schoolers (grades 6-8) and high school readers (grades 8 & up.).

Click here to sign up for The Horn Book’s free monthly e-newsletter for parents.

Picture Books

My Garden written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, $17.99). Pastel-colored sweets and a random collection of everyday items fill a little girl’s imaginary garden. Grade level: PreK–2. 32 pages.

Pond Circle written by Betsy Franco, illustrated by Stefano Vitale (McElderry, $16). Accompanied by creative oil paintings on wood, Franco’s cumulative text builds excitement in this exploration of the food chain in a pond. Grade level: PreK–2. 32 pages.

Thunder-BoomerThunder-Boomer! written by Shutta Crum, illustrated by Carol Thompson (Clarion, $16). A satisfying picture book captures all the drama and power of a summer storm even as it rewards readers with a smaller-scale, homey story. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

All the World written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/Simon, $17.99). Simple rhyming text and spacious illustrations tell the story of a West Coast family’s day, which concludes with a celebration. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Hooray for Summer! written and illustrated by Kazuo Iwamura (NorthSouth, $16.95). In this old-fashioned picture book translated from the Japanese, three little squirrel children play outside until a sudden thunderstorm blows in. Grade level: K–3. 28 pages.

Killer Ants written by Nicholas Nirgiotis, illustrated by Emma Stevenson (Holiday, $17.95). Nirgiotis brings readers into the ant world via its scariest inhabitants but also includes plenty of fascinating information and colorful close-up illustrations. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Poetrees written and illustrated by Douglas Florian (Beach Lane/Simon, $16). The popular poet-illustrator celebrates the utility and diversity of trees in poems and freely rendered multimedia art. Grade level: K–3. 48 pages.

Ready for Anything! written and illustrated by Keiko Kasza (Putnam, $16.99). Despite the nice weather, melodramatic Raccoon ponders what could go wrong if he and his friend Duck go on a picnic. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Robot Zot! written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by David Shannon (Simon, $17.99). Household appliances become the fierce opponents of Robot Zot during his quest to save his betrothed, a lady toy cell phone. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Sky Magic selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Mariusz Stawarski (Dutton, $17.99). Striking and boldly colored images fuel this collection of poetry dedicated to the sky, from day to night. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
 

The Circus Ship written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen (Candlewick, $16.99). Humorous illustrations and poems from a variety of perspectives reinvent the true story of a circus shipwreck. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

The Lion & the Mouse illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown, $16.99). Pinkney’s detailed pencil and watercolor art beautifully conveys Aesop’s fable of kindness rewarded. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

The Patterson Puppies and the Rainy Day written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick, $14.99). The puppy siblings cure their rainy day blues by throwing an indoor beach bash. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Henry Aaron’s Dream written and illustrated by Matt Tavares (Candlewick, $16.99). In this picture book biography, Tavares describes Aaron’s rise from a boy who “didn’t have a bat” to a baseball star. Grade level: 1–5. 40 pages.

Early Readers (grades PreK-2)

Cat the Cat, Who Is That? and Let’s Say Hi to Friends Who Fly! both written and illustrated by Mo Willems (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins, $10.99 each). Simple phrasing and speech bubbles tell these funny stories of enjoying old friends and making new ones (Cat the Cat) and meeting all sorts of flying animals . . . including Rhino the Rhino (Let’s Say Hi). Preschool–K. 32 pages.

A Birthday for Bear written by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Candlewick, $13.55). While Bear maintains it is not his birthday, Mouse challenges him, causing an amusing debate. Grade level: K–2. 56 pages.

Elephants Cannot Dance!, I Am Going!, and Pigs Make Me Sneeze! all written and illustrated by Mo Willems (Hyperion, $8.99 each). In Willems’s Elephant & Piggie series, Gerald the elephant’s whiny curmudgeon character meshes well with perky friend Piggie, as the two participate in smart, funny situations that allow youngsters, on their own, to discover the pleasure of reading a good story. Grade level: K–2. 58 pages.

Intermediate Readers (grades 4-6) 

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters written by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Schwartz & Wade/Random, $15.99). In his second book, second grader Alvin, little sister Anibelly, and their dad go camping, coming face-to-face with the troubles, hilarities, and joys of the outdoors. 170 pages

Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware written by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Beach Lane/Simon, $6.99). In spoof of foreign adventure novels, Jasper, Katie, and Lily (Whales on Stilts, The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen) again save the world when they set off a chain of events in which the friends help monks retrieve stolen artifacts. 423 pages.

Leaving the Bellweathers written by Kristin Clark Venuti (Egmont, $15.99). Butler Tristan Benway pens a tell-all tome as he counts down the weeks and days until he’s finished serving the unconventional Bellweather family in their lighthouse home. 242 pages.

Mudville written by Kurtis Scaletta (Knopf, $16.99) After twenty-two years of rain in Moundville, the sun has finally come out, and twelve-year-old baseball lover Roy assembles a team that brings life to a whole town. 266 pages.
 

My Life as a Book (to be published in July, 2010) written by Janet Tashjian, illustrated by Jake Tashjian (Ottaviano/Holt, $16.99). In Derek’s twelve-year-old mind, summer means liberation . . . that is until his parents send him to Learning Camp; Derek’s humorous narration takes readers through his many trials and tribulations. 214 pages.

One Crazy Summer written by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad/HarperCollins, $15.99). Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters spend the summer of 1968 in Oakland visiting the mother who deserted them and getting an unexpected education in revolution from the Black Panthers. 218 pages.

The Cowgirl Way: Hats Off to America’s Women of the West (to be published in July, 2010) written by Holly George-Warren (Houghton, $18). Perfect for horse-loving girls, this nonfiction title celebrates cowgirls and their contribution as rodeo riders, bulldoggers, singers, and movie stars. 107 pages.

The Dream Stealer written by Sid Fleischman, illustrated by Peter Sis (Greenwillow, $16.99). An omniscient narrator describes eight-year-old Susana’s encounters with the nightmare-capturing Dream Stealer, who grows weary of his mission and starts collecting happy dreams. 90 pages.

The Magician’s Elephant written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka (Candlewick, $16.99). In this allegorical and surreal novel about the triumph of hope over despair, Peter searches for his sister, instructed by a fortuneteller to “follow the elephant.” 202 pages.

The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes written by Kelly Easton, illustrated by Greg Swearingen (Lamb/Random, $15.99). In this contemporary fantasy, Libby does everything from communicating with animals to discovering “lifting soda,” which carries her into a city filled with adventures. 201 pages.

Thumb and the Bad Guys written by Ken Roberts, illustrated by Leanne Franson (Groundwood, $17.95) Thumb and his friend Susan try sleuthing in their isolated Canadian village, encountering fishy characters like Old Kirk McKenna and a new teacher who wears thick makeup and an obvious wig. 120 pages.

When You Reach Me written by Rebecca Stead (Lamb/Random, $15.99). Sixth grader Miranda has an ordinary life until she starts receiving anonymous notes that appear to foretell the future. 197 pages.

Middle School  (grades 6-8)

A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts written by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Coleman Polhemus (Ottaviano/Holt, $16.99). Eight gruesome stories that feature Chinese cuisine comprise an eight-course banquet to satisfy hungry readers (and ghosts). 180 pages.

A Kiss in Time written by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen, 16.99). In this fun-filled update of “Sleeping Beauty,” Princess Talia is awakened by Jack, a Florida teen. As the two characters navigate the modern world, Talia turns Jack’s life upside down. 371 pages.

Cat Burglar Black written and illustrated by Richard Sala (First Second/Roaring Brook, $16.99). In this suspenseful graphic novel, K., a cat burglar teen, enrolls in Bellsong Academy for Girls, only to find that the school is actually a criminal society. 128 pages.

Crunch written by Leslie Connor (Tegen/HarperCollins, $17.89). When their parents get stuck because of a severe fuel shortage, the five Marriss children must spend a summer fending for themselves and running the family bike business. 330 pages.

Firebirds Soaring: An Anthology of Original Speculative Fiction edited by Sharyn November, illustrated by Mike Dringenberg (Penguin/Firebird, $19.99). Incorporating both well- and lesser-known authors, this latest Firebirds anthology of new stories explores the fuzzy border between fantasy and reality. 577 pages.

Lawn Boy Returns written by Gary Paulsen (Lamb/Random, $12.99). With “The Summer of Lawn” almost over, the still unnamed twelve-year-old narrator from Lawn Boy experiences complication upon complication. 103 pages.

Notes from the Dog written by Gary Paulsen (Lamb/Random, $15.99). Finn, a shy teenager, is brought out of his shell by a new, cancer-stricken neighbor, who communicates her desire for a garden through dog-delivered notes. 135 pages.
 

Operation Redwood written by S. Terrrell French (Amulet/Abrams, $16.95). When Julian finds an email criticizing his uncle’s investment company for trying to destroy a redwood forest, he embarks on a campaign to save the trees. 355 pages.

The Lost Conspiracy written by Frances Hardinge (Bowen/HarperCollins, $16.99). Hathin is caretaker for her sister Arilou, one of the Lost — those whose senses are “loosely tethered” to their bodies. After inspectors arrive to test Arilou’s gift, the siblings are launched on a trek that changes their world. 568 pages.

High School (grade 8 & up)

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend written by Emily Horner (Dial, $16.99). Devastated by her best friend Julia’s death, Cass takes off on a cross-country bike trip; when she returns, she reconciles with friends and begins a wary romance with her old enemy Heather. 263 pages.

Catching Fire written by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, $17.99). Set six months after Katniss and Peeta won the Hunger Games, this story relays the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Games with page-turning suspense and fascinating horror, setting the stage for a grand finale. 391 pages.

Going Bovine written by Libba Bray (Delacorte, $17.99). Cameron, a teenager with mad cow disease, is determined to save the world with the help of his hypochondriac dwarf friend, in this madcap romp where reality and fantasy are often indistinguishable. 481 pages.

In the Path of Falling Objects written by Andrew Smith (Feiwel, $17.99). In this 1970s-set survival adventure, Arizona-bound brothers Jonah and Simon catch a suspenseful ride with flirtatious Lilly and ominous Mitch. 326 pages.

The Eternal Smile written by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim (First Second/Roaring Brook, $16.95). Three graphic novellas with seemingly unrelated main characters in each — a monk, a frog, and a subjugated office worker — address the extraordinary nature of dreaming and waking up. 170 pages.

The Secret Life of Prince Charming written by Deb Caletti (Simon, $16.99). Quinn struggles to understand the true nature of romantic love, as she sets out on a crazy road trip with her younger sister and older half-sister. 323 pages.

The Stolen One written by Suzanne Crowley (Greenwillow, $17.99). Set in the day of Elizabeth I, orphaned Kat journeys to London where she becomes the queen’s lady-in-waiting — a decision inspired by Kat’s resemblance to her father, the queen’s ex-lover. 416 pages.

Reprinted by permission of The Horn Book. To sign up for The Horn Book’s free monthly e-newsletter for parents, visit www.hbook.com/newsletter/subscribe.html

 

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