With these long, lazy days of summer stretching out before us, there’s no better time to dive into a new book. From lobster to lunch ladies, sleepovers to Star Wars, this top ten list of the best children’s books for summer is an eclectic collection sure to tickle the fancy of your little ones. Age ranges are indicated for each book but are by no means a required reading age, but rather a general idea of which books are for younger or older children. Many of the books listed for four and five-year-olds, for example, would be enjoyed by two-year-olds as well.
What! Cried Granny
Written by Kate Lum
Illustrated by Adrian Johnson
If ever there existed a book that truly captures the lengths that grandparents will go for their grandchildren, it’s Kate Lum’s What! Cried Granny. In it, a little boy is visiting his Granny for a sleep-over. When it’s discovered that the boy doesn’t have a bed, Granny comes to the rescue with hammer and nails and a few coats of paint. Need a blankie? Granny’ll dye the wool. Come without your teddy bear? Granny will make a giant one from scratch. I adore this book and so do my boys, especially when I read it out loud and use a crotchety old lady voice for Granny. The illustrations by Adrian Johnson are divine and the book speaks to the sheer lengths we’ll go to for the little ones we love…
Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie
Written by Julie Sternberg
Illustrated by Matthew Cordell
I had heard wonderful things about Julie Sternberg’s book Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, so I made a bee-line for the Storyteller bookstore in Lafayette. Like many other books I’ve loved, I was initially drawn to the cover art (by Matthew Cordell) with its simple illustration of a little girl writing a letter. Sternberg has created an unforgettable character in Eleanor, who must learn to adjust when her beloved babysitter Bibi moves to Florida to be with her father. Eleanor struggles through various stages of grief and ultimately learns to accept and love her new babysitter. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie speaks beautifully to the emotions of a child who has suffered a loss. This book will serve that magical literary purpose that books so rarely do: making a child feel better and smile through tears.
Written and illustrated by Stephen Savage
Only the most brilliant illustrators can pull off a completely wordless book, and Stephen Savage has such talent in spades. In his adorable book, Where’s Walrus?, not a word is needed as the titular walrus escapes from the local zoo and quickly disguises himself among a whimsical bevy of scenarios. Hidden among men in fedoras at the counter of a diner? Check. Hidden among Rockette-like dancers in a kick-line? Check. Young children will delight in the exercise of finding the walrus in a delightful array of places and older children and adults will love the retro look and feel of Savage’s colorful illustrations. It’s as if Mad Men met Where’s Waldo at the zoo one day and decided to write a book.
All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
Written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Oh my goodness, how I adore Dan Yaccarino. From the days of yore when my children watched Oswald (his adorable animated tale of a blue octopus and his friends – made even better by the fact that the Penguin was voiced by Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley) to his unbelievably fabulous collection of children’s books (Every Friday, Unlovable, and Lawn to Lawn being some of my favorites) Yaccarino never fails to impress, inspire and delight. And now, he’s topped them all—All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel is the heartwarming true story of Yaccarino’s immigrant ancestors and their amazing journey to the United States. As a child whose great-great-grandfather came from Italy through Ellis Island as well, this book holds a remarkable significance for me.
Remember the Lunch Ladies we had growing up? Hair nets. Sausage Surprise. Mustaches. Today’s Lunch Ladies are so much cooler. Not perhaps as cool as the Lunch Lady in Jarrett Krosoczka’s awesome book, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, since she can fly and drives a scooter with a “sloppy joe” button that allows her to cream her evil nemeses…ooo…and a “spatucopter” which sounds exactly like what is it – a spatula that can fly. Krosoczka’s graphic novels (yes, this is just the first in a set of Lunch Lady adventures!) are fantastic – fast-paced, entertaining and with just the right amount of kid humor to keep your children engaged and asking for more. Sure, she may have yellow rubber gloves and wear Mom jeans, but in this graphic novel, the Lunch Lady’s the coolest thing since sliced bread, or Sausage Surprise as the case may be.
Written by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
In honor of my older son, I offer you his favorite book, The Twits. Written by none other than Roald Dahl (who’s like a celebrity around our house), The Twits details the, well, twitty, awful, ridiculous, offensive and downright hilarious adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Twit. The Twits, as their name might suggest, are two of the foulest people you could ever meet. Mr. Twit has a beard which he never cleans and, as such, has a collection of food items like fishsticks and chicken livers, adhered to it which he licks when he wants a slight snack. Mrs. Twit has a “wonky nose” and “stick-out teeth” and likes to hit cats and small children with her walking stick. And together, they wreak havoc among others and themselves. That is, until, their pet monkeys (the Muggle-Wump family) decide they’ve had enough and exact their twisted, upside-down revenge. This book is Dahl at his finest – wicked, clever, a tad nauseating and altogether fabulous.
Ira Sleeps Over
Written and illustrated by Bernard Waber
Last night at dinner, we were talking about my son’s impending slumber party and the excitement inherent in such an adventure. Pizza! Movies! Cake with store-bought frosting! And my husband remembered reading Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber. In it, a little boy named Ira is excited beyond belief for an upcoming sleepover at his friend Reggie’s house. But when his older sister asks if he’ll be taking his teddy bear, Tah Tah, to Reggie’s house, Ira starts to wonder what his friend’s reaction could be to this. Will Reggie make fun of him? Will he want to be friends anymore? Ira decides to leave Tah Tah at home, only to find that Reggie has a little secret of his own…and the two friends share a wonderful, touching moment together. Written in 1975, Waber’s book not only stands the test of time for any child today on the brink of a summer sleepover – but it lingers in the memories of nostalgic grown-ups too.
Star Wars: A Pop-up Guide to the Galaxy
Created by Matthew Reinhart
Around our house, Star Wars is King. And not in some sort of ineffectual, outdated Monarchy kind of way. I mean, truly Kingly – in charge, ever-present and downright overpowering. We talk about Star Wars, we dream about Star Wars, at times we dress like Star Wars, and we read every book available on the topic. So imagine my utter delight when my mom purchased Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy for my sons. My boys found themselves completely blissed out on every eye-popping, 3-D page. (Pssst…there’s even a light-up light saber…). This is the perfect gift for any Star Wars-oholic, young and old… made by the expert hands of pop-up author Matthew Reinhart. It’s so awesome, they even keep it in plastic wrap at the book store. I mean, how can you resist?
My Listography: My Amazing Life in Lists
Written by Lisa Nola
Illustrated by Nathaniel Russell
I love making lists and I especially love checking things off of my lists. Chores. To-dos. Dream vacations. New Year’s Resolutions. So imagine my sheer delight to find Lisa Nola’s My Listography: My Amazing Life in Lists. It’s a list book for children – like a journal with categories of things like “favorite things about your family” and “if your parents left you alone for a day”… Each page offers a fantastic springboard for creativity and imagination for your children and (don’t tell them this but…) will offer some great practice in writing for over the summer!
One Morning in Maine
Written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey
I love Maine. Everything about it. The ocean. The lobster. The osprey. The way the salt sticks to you like powder and the way the lobster boats hum in the morning. So, of course, I adore the quintessential Maine writer, Robert McCloskey. But you don’t have to be a Mainephile to love Robert McCloskey and his brilliant ode to The Pine Tree State: “One Morning in Maine.” You might recognize Sal from her adventures in Blueberries for Sal (plink, plank, plunk) and this time she’s going on another adventure to Buck’s Harbor with her father and little Jane. The simplicity of the day – a loose tooth, a loon on the water, rolling up her pants to dig clams – all make for a magical McCloskey day matched beautifully with his black and white pencil illustrations. If you’ve never read this book, please do. It’s not only a Caldecott Honor book, but it’s the kind of book you don’t find every day… magical for no other reason than it just is.
Katie Zeigler is the author of children’s book blog, My Mama’s Goodnight. Every week My Mama’s Goodnight provides one children’s book recommendation to you, covering a wide variety of age ranges, interests and subject matters, all with the hope of giving you the perfect book to buy from your local bookstore, to check out from your local library or to give as a gift at that next birthday party!