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Great Summer Reading for Kids

Top children's books from the past 12 months for summer reading 2014, 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 50 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. Click by age group, then take a look at still-relevant summer reading lists going back to 2010 for great older titles. Then make sure to come back and comment below to let us know how your kids liked the suggestions. (Want a pretty, printable PDF of the list? Click here.)

 

Picture books

Early readers & younger fiction (grades PreK-3)

Intermediate readers (grades 4-6)

Middle schoolers (grades 6-8)

High schoolers (grades 9-12)

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Picture Books (fiction and nonfiction)

Splash, Anna Hibiscus!

By Atinuke; illustrated by Lauren Tobia (Kane Miller)

Anna (Anna Hibiscus' Song) and her family take a trip to the beach. Everyone else is too busy — reading, talking, digging in the sand — to go in the water, so she takes a dip by herself. Her ensuing joy entices the others. (40 pages)


Journey

Written and illustrated by Aaron Becker (Candlewick; Caldecott Honor Book)

In the tradition of Harold and the Purple Crayon, this wordless story follows a girl who uses a (red) crayon to draw herself into other worlds. The worlds she enters are lush, detailed and elaborate, and she gets pulled into a rescue mission involving a purple bird. (40 pages)


Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Written and illustrated by Peter Brown (Little, Brown)

Upright Mr. Tiger, bored in his very drab, very proper community, drops to all fours, sheds his clothing, and runs wild — and for the first time looks happy. The townsfolk are appalled . . . then they, too, unleash their animal natures. (48 pages)


Gaston

By Kelly DiPucchio; illustrated by Christian Robinson (Atheneum)

Dog Gaston looms over his teacup-sized poodle sisters. In the park they meet a family like theirs but in reverse: bulldogs Rocky, Ricky, Bruno and petite Antoinette. Were Gaston and Antoinette switched at birth? And, if so, should they switch back? (40 pages)


Locomotive

Written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Jackson/Atheneum; Caldecott Medal Winner, Sibert Honor Book) 

Striking cinematic front endpapers describe the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad, then a historical-fiction-meets-travelogue narrative zeroes in on one family's journey from Omaha to San Francisco. (64 pages)


Flora and the Flamingo

Written and illustrated by Molly Idle (Chronicle; Caldecott Honor Book)

In this unique wordless picture book, a little girl mimics a flamingo's graceful movements. The bird, at first annoyed, eventually relents and teaches her ballet. The book is cinematic, comedic and balletic, with dynamic pacing and physical comedy facilitated by ingenious pull-down flaps. (40 pages)


Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems

Selected by Paul B. Janeczko; illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Candlewick)

Child-friendly mixed-media illustrations enhance this collection's 36 excellent brief poems. Most of the verses are by familiar poets (Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes), including those known for their children’s verse (Alice Schertle, Charlotte Zolotow). (48 pages)


Niño Wrestles the World

Written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Porter/Roaring Brook; Belpré Illustrator Award)

Pint-sized Niño, fearless luchador (and big brother), dons his red mask, ready to take on all comers. He battles a series of imagined foes from Mexican history and popular culture before facing the trickiest of opponents: las hermanitas! (40 pages)


Parrots Over Puerto Rico

By Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore; illustrated by Susan L. Roth (Lee & Low; Sibert Award Winner)

In this gorgeously illustrated history of the endangered Puerto Rican parrot, the blue-and-green birds witness early settlement on the island; decline disastrously in numbers due to human population growth and invasive species; then slowly make a comeback thanks to conservation efforts. (48 pages)


Mr. Wuffles!

Written and illustrated by David Wiesner (Clarion; Caldecott Honor Book)

Housecat Mr. Wuffles toys with a tiny spaceship. The ship’s little green passengers, assisted by a ladybug, flee to the space under a radiator, which harbors a thriving insect civilization. Friendship ensues, food and technology are shared, repairs are made and the cat is foiled. (32 pages)

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Early Readers and Younger Fiction (grades PreK–3)

Big Bad Wolf and Itsy Bitsy Spider [Urgency Emergency]

Written and illustrated by Dosh Archer  (Whitman)

New readers are in for a treat with these British imports set in an emergency room where Doctor Glenda (a dog) and Nurse Percy (a rooster) ably assist their nursery-rhyme- and fairy-tale-character patients. (48 pages each)


The Miniature World of Marvin & James [Masterpiece Adventures]


By Elise Broach; illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Ottaviano/Holt)

This amiable debut in an early chapter book series follows the friendship of beetle Marvin and human boy James (from Broach’s middle-grade novel Masterpiece). Marvin helps James pack for a week-long trip to the beach, then has adventures of his own inside the house. (104 pages)


Dog Days [Carver Chronicles]

By Karen English; illustrated by Laura Freeman (Clarion)

In this companion series to English’s Nikki and Deja books, Gavin is starting to fit in at Carver Elementary School. On the home front, he and his new pal Richard accidentally break a snow globe belonging to Gavin's sister, and Gavin must take on a challenging dog-walking gig to earn the money to replace it. (122 pages)


Fortunately, the Milk

By Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Skottie Young (Harper/HarperCollins)

A father goes out for milk for his children's cereal. He's abducted by aliens, escapes from pirates and saves the universe from destruction. Dad arrives home safely and tells the shaggy-dog tale to his kids — who, naturally, don't believe a word of it. (113 pages)


The Year of Billy Miller

Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow; Newbery Honor Book)

Billy starts off on the wrong foot with his second-grade teacher; his seat isn't next to his best friend; and he worries he may not be smart enough for school. The book is divided into four parts (each focusing on an important person in Billy's life) that together offer a vivid portrait of a boy coming into his confidence. (229 pages)


Ling & Ting Share a Birthday

Written and illustrated by Grace Lin (Little, Brown)

The terrific twins from Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! are back in this birthday-themed offering, this time buying presents, baking cakes and making wishes. Once again, young readers will enjoy spotting the differences (big and small) between these identical twin sisters with distinct personalities. (48 pages)


The Big Wet Balloon

Written and illustrated by Liniers (Toon/Candlewick)

Matilda teaches her little sister Clemmie how to catch raindrops on her tongue, jump in puddles and search for worms, as pictured in the panels of this early reader comic. Amid her excitement, Matilda mistakenly releases Clemmie's precious red birthday balloon into the sky. (40 pages)


Lulu and the Cat in the Bag

By Hilary McKay; illustrated by Priscilla Lamont (Whitman)

Grandmother Nan is taking care of Lulu and her cousin Mellie, and they're all staying at Lulu's house so they can tend to her many rescued pets. When kindhearted Lulu finds a large cat on her doorstep, there's a problem: Nan is not a cat person. (84 pages)


The Watermelon Seed

Written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (Hyperion; Geisel Award Winner)

A watermelon-loving crocodile imagines the worst after swallowing a seed: "it's growing in my guts! Soon vines will come out of my ears!" After much fretting, the croc burps and brings the seed back up. Crisis over . . . until the next bite. (32 pages)


A Big Guy Took My Ball!

Written and illustrated by Mo Willems (Hyperion; Geisel Honor Book)

Piggie is upset when a "big guy" takes her "big ball." In fact, the ball belongs to a whale, who calls it his "little" ball. When Piggie and Gerald learn that the whale is lonely, they invent a new game for the trio to play together. (64 pages)

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Intermediate Fiction and Nonfiction (grades 4-6)

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

By Kathi Appelt; illustrated by Jennifer Bricking (Atheneum)

A gang of feral hogs is thundering toward Bayou Tourterelle, delirious at the prospect of wild sugarcane; raccoon Swamp Scouts Bingo and J'miah are ready for them. A human drama unfolds, too, as Chap Brayburn and his mother try to save the bayou from being turned into a theme park. (330 pages)


Doll Bones

By Holly Black: illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (McElderry) Newbery Honor Book(Atheneum)

Twelve-year-old Zach and his friends Poppy and Alice play an elaborate game with their dolls. When Poppy is haunted by dreams of a girl whose ashes are inside the game's queen doll, the kids embark on an adventure to lay the girl's ghost to rest. (247 pages)


Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

By Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by K. G. Campbell (Candlewick; Newbery Medal winner)

Ten-year-old Flora's life changes when she saves a squirrel from a near-death experience with a vacuum cleaner. Flora's lively imagination allows her to believe resilient "Ulysses" is bound for superhero greatness. There's only one problem: her self-absorbed, squirrel-hating mother. (232 pages)


From Norvelt to Nowhere

By Jack Gantos (Farrar)

In 2012 Newbery Medal winner Dead End in Norvelt, Mr. Spizz allegedly poisoned seven old ladies to get to his true love, Miss Volker. Now Miss Volker enlists narrator Jack to accompany her on a wild road trip as she hunts down Spizz . (278 pages)


The Thing About Luck

By Cynthia Kadohata; illustrated by Julia Kuo (Atheneum; National Book Award winner)

Twelve-year-old Summer's parents are helping relatives in Japan, so they can't go "on harvest" this year. Summer’s grandfather, Jiichan, comes out of retirement to drive a combine, while her grandmother, Obaachan, cooks for the work crew. When a crisis hits, Summer gathers her courage and saves the day. (273 pages)


Bluffton: My Summers with Buster

Written and illustrated by Matt Phelan (Candlewick)

This graphic novel tells the fictionalized story of young Buster Keaton's summertime stays in Bluffton, Michigan, with the Actor's Colony. Townie Henry is enchanted by the acting folk, and begins to dream of joining the show. (227 pages)


Romeo Blue

By Phoebe Stone (Levine/Scholastic)

This sequel to The Romeo and Juliet Code continues the adventures of Flissy and the Bathburn clan in 1942 Bottlebay, Maine. Though the Coast Guard is patrolling for U-boats, life goes on, with boy-girl crushes, school dances and, as always, secrets. Then a surprise arrival upends Flissy's expectations in ways that are breathtakingly complex. (350 pages)


One Came Home

By Amy Timberlake (Knopf; Newbery Honor book)

In this gripping and entertaining mystery set in 1870s Wisconsin, protagonist Georgie's older sister Agatha is found dead (but unrecognizable). Sure there has been a mistake, Georgie and her sister's unwelcome suitor Billy McCabe set off to find Agatha — or, at least, to find out how she died. (259 pages)


How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story

By Tim Tingle (RoadRunner)

Narrator Isaac — a ghost — is alive and well at the start of this Trail of Tears story, beginning in the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi in 1830. But soon there is Treaty Talk, followed by the arrival of Nahullo (white) men, and the Choctaw must begin their journey west. (145 pages)


The Dolphins of Shark Bay [Scientists in the Field]

By Pamela S. Turner; photos by Scott Tuason (Houghton)

In the ocean waters of Western Australia, scientists investigate the behaviors of the highly intelligent bottlenose dolphin, which, unique among the species, uses tools. The detailed descriptions of the scientists' day-to-day activities provide a window into the practice of animal behavior studies. (76 pages)

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Middle School Fiction and Nonfiction (grades 6-8)

Outside In

By Sarah Ellis (Groundwood)

Lynn, raised by an irresponsible, unreliable bohemian mother, yearns for normalcy. After meeting Blossom, a girl whose family lives off the grid in a self-sufficient underground bunker, Lynn begins to see her city and her own experience through new eyes. (207 pages)


If I Ever Get Out of Here

By Eric Gansworth (Levine/Scholastic)

Lewis, from the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in 1970s upstate New York, is beginning seventh grade at a mostly white junior high, and he's tired of not fitting in. A friendship with newcomer George helps Lewis cope with loneliness and bullying. But does it constitute a betrayal of his identity? (360 pages)


The Clockwork Scarab [Stoker & Holmes]

By Colleen Gleeson (Chronicle)

In alternate Victorian London, Mina Holmes (Sherlock's niece) and Evaline Stoker (Bram's sister) team up to solve a series of murders involving high-society girls, the British Museum and ancient Egyptian artifacts. The story veers into sci-fi when an unwitting time-traveler, modern-day boy Dylan, arrives. (356 pages)


The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius

By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan (Porter/Roaring Brook; Sibert Honor book)

"Eccentric" is an apt word for Ohr, a Mississippi blacksmith's son (1857–1918) who reinvented himself as a potter. Greenberg and Jordan have produced a magisterial portrait that's both a character study and an appreciation of their subject's oeuvre. (56 pages)


Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design

Written and illustrated by Chip Kidd (Workman)

This overview makes graphic design immediate and accessible, posing questions and answering them in engaging ways. The first four chapters — "Form," "Typography," "Content," "Concept" — tackle design essentials and some advanced ideas. The final chapter presents "10 Design Projects." (160 pages)


Far Far Away

By Tom McNeal (Knopf)

Jeremy has the ability to hear ghosts; long-dead Jacob Grimm becomes his mentor and guardian. With Jacob's help, Jeremy becomes a whiz at school and charms his crush Ginger — but the presence of the malevolent "Finder of Occasions" gives the story a shiver of horror as dark as any of the Grimm tales. (373 pages)


Cress [Lunar Chronicles]

By Marissa Meyer (Feiwel)

This fairy tale/sci-fi hybrid series continues with a "Rapunzel"-inspired story. Cress, taken from her Lunar parents as a baby, is forced to live alone on a satellite, spying on the Earthens for Queen Levana. But her real loyalty lies with cyborg Cinder's plan to protect Earth by dethroning the queen. (550 pages)


The Cracks in the Kingdom [Colors of Madeleine]

By Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine/Scholastic)

In this sequel to the Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor winner A Corner of White, Madeleine (in Cambridge, England) and Elliot (in the Kingdom of Cello) continue to communicate through a "crack" between the two worlds. When the Cello royal family goes missing in Madeleine's world, Madeleine and Elliot attempt to cross over themselves. (499 pages)


When I Was the Greatest

By Jason Reynolds (Atheneum)

Ali's thing is boxing, Noodles's is comic books and Needles's is . . . knitting, to help control his Tourette's syndrome. The three friends live in Brooklyn’s tough Bed-Stuy neighborhood, but the book also shows how zip codes are just one aspect of people’s lives. (232 pages)


Counting by 7s

By Holly Goldberg Sloan (Dial)

After her parents’ death, oddball 12-year-old genius Willow Chance is taken in by her only friend, high schooler Mai Nguyen, Mai's mother and her surly brother Quang-ha. These initially disparate characters, plus cab driver Jairo Hernandez, ultimately connect to form a new family. What sets this book apart are its lack of sentimentality and its truly multicultural cast. (380 pages)

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High School Fiction and Nonfiction (grades 9-12)

He Said, She Said

By Kwame Alexander (Amistad/HarperTeen)

Claudia Clarke — sharp, opinionated and Harvard-bound — is the only girl who isn't impressed by quarterback Omar "T-Diddy" Smalls. Omar takes a bet that he can win Claudia over, and when his usual seduction tactics fail, he applies his social clout to Claudia's cause du jour. (330 pages)


All the Truth That's in Me

By Julie Berry (Viking)

Eighteen-year-old narrator Judith is ostracized from her claustrophobic village after a trauma that left her mute. Readers gradually learn "all the truth" about the incident and the village itself as Judith speaks directly (though only in her head) to her love, Lucas. (274 pages)


If You Could Be Mine

By Sara Farizan (Algonquin)

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend Nasrin for years. But the girls live in Iran, where their love is illegal. When Nasrin accepts a marriage proposal, both girls must face the untenable future of their relationship; Sahar hatches a desperate plan for them to be together. (247 pages)


Maggot Moon

By Sally Gardner; illustrated by Julian Crouch (Candlewick; Printz Honor book)

In an alternate dystopian United Kingdom, the Motherland regime consigns undesirables to the derelict housing of Zone Seven. When his friend Hector disappears, Standish sets out to rescue him and uncovers a shocking government hoax. (281 pages)


March: Book One

By John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf)

In this memoir told in graphic novel form, Congressman John Lewis — the last surviving member of the "Big Six" civil rights leaders — recounts his formative years, beginning with 1965's infamous "Bloody Sunday." From this violently chaotic event the narrative fast-forwards to the morning of Barack Obama's January 2009 inauguration. (128 pages)


We Were Liars

By E. Lockhart (Delacorte)

At 15, Cady survived an unspecified accident on the private island where her wealthy family and her love interest Gat spend their summers. Two summers later, Cady battles the resultant migraines and memory loss to piece together what really happened, building to a shocking reveal. (228 pages)


Fangirl

By Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's Griffin)

Change-resistant college freshman Cath holes up in her dorm room writing fantasy fan fiction. As the year progresses, she is pushed outside her comfort zone by her snarky roommate, her love interest and her loving but dysfunctional family. 438 pages.


Midwinterblood

By Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook; Printz Medal winner)

Seven interconnected short stories progress backward through the history of a remote Scandinavian island, from 2073 to a "Time Unknown." Together the tales gradually reveal the ritual that brings bloody death and forbidden love to "Blessed Island." (263 pages)


Rose Under Fire

By Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion)

This WWII-set companion to Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor winner Code Name Verity follows eighteen-year-old American pilot Rose Justice. Captured while delivering supplies and personnel, Rose is sent to notorious German women's concentration camp Ravensbrück, where she's befriended by victims of Nazi medical experiments. (360 pages)


Boxers & Saints

Written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang; color by Lark Pien (First Second/Roaring Brook)

This "diptych" of graphic novels (with touches of magical realism and humor) is set during China's Boxer Rebellion. In Boxers, Little Bao learns to harness the power of ancient gods to fight the spread of Christianity, while in Saints, Four-Girl sits squarely on the other side of the rebellion. (328 and 172 pages)

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