Want to find some great summer reading books your kids during the summer break? Here are some of my favorite picks for rising Kindergarten – 6th Grade students chosen from School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2016 provided by expert school librarians across the country.
With strong characters, fun plots, and wonderful storytelling, all the following books will provide plenty of entertainment for student readers.
On a dark night, a white cat slinks through a stone abbey until it reaches a monk’s candlelit chamber. There, each spends the late hours absorbed in patient work—the monk over his books, the cat outside a mouse’s hole—until they welcome the dawn together. Adapted from the anonymous Irish poem “Pangur Bán,” the simple, lyrical text combines with shadowy ink and watercolor images into a beautifully illustrated ode to companionship and the pursuit of knowledge.
Every day at the seashore, a man works at a lonely job: finding glass bottles and traveling great distances to deliver the messages they contain. Then he finds a mysterious party invitation, and while attending the event, he discovers connection and community. The heart-tugging, contemplative story is extended in Stead’s dreamy, poignant illustrations, which evoke both the foggy landscape and the vulnerable charm of the characters. A perfect pairing of text and art.
One autumn night, a young owl awakens and goes for a brief moonlit flight while his parents and siblings slumber. Godwin’s text—a spare reverso poem comprised of a few sight words per page—and Dunlavey’s breathtaking illustrations, dominated by lush hues of blue, combine for a serene, lyrical tale that’s bound to instill a love of poetry in children.
The star of two previous showstoppers, Flora returns in another inventive, deceptively simple title. Here, Flora meets not one but two birds—a pair of peacocks who inspire dancing, drama, and, finally, reconciliation and friendship. Both vibrant and spare, Idle’s artwork once again dazzles as it tells a layered story without a single word.
With simple doodles, Medina adeptly transforms photographs of sumptuous fruits and vegetables into an array of cheery animals. The author counts her enchantingly quirky creations (“one avocado deer,” “two radish mice”), resulting in an exuberant, mouth-watering medley that’s sure to have children eager to master their arithmetic skills—and bound to inspire budding gourmands. The concept book has never been so fun.
In this capper to Klassen’s delightfully sly “Hat” trilogy,” two wide-eyed tortoises covet a 10-gallon hat. The economy of words, simple shapes, and rich textures highlight the stark beauty of the desert landscape and allow readers to appreciate the understated drama and humor. A surprisingly tender ending—with just the barest hint of surrealism—emphasizes the power of sacrifice and the endurance of friendship.
This is hard for a librarian to resist. Brimming with personality, two independently minded felines named Verne and Stevenson prove to be reluctant readers until their determined owner finds “just right” books for his pupils. Charming full-page and spot watercolor paintings offer readers clues to the tales these appropriately named pets might enjoy.
In spreads that begin wordlessly, scratchboard and watercolor images introduce a child as she says good-bye to her mother, an airline pilot. Then snow mounts, rendering travel impossible, and the mother returns home in time for a full day of sledding and indoor coziness. With remarkable artwork and poetry, two multi-award-winning children’s book creators elevate a simple family scenario into a profound celebration of love, shared comfort, and the sparkling, transformative beauty of winter.
With the unassuming conceit of a woolgathering walk with his dog, Stead provides readers with snapshots of his creative process as he synthesizes seeds of ideas, conversational tidbits, and artful suggestions from the natural world in surprising and delightful ways. The illustrations—a mixture of Polaroid images, monoprints, and collage—are sheer Stead and simply brilliant.
A duckling taking a walk stumbles upon a book only to discover it contains no pictures (the outrage!). However, the duckling decides to give the pictureless book a chance, and embarks on a journey through a landscape of familiar and unfamiliar words. The pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations expand in color and imagination as the value of reading becomes clear. Humorously tender and always sympathetic, this title captures the magic of a child’s first venture into independent reading.
In this beguiling chapter book sprinkled with Spanish, Juana lives in Bogotá, Colombia, and loves to read under the covers, eat brussels sprouts, and play with her best amigo, Lucas, her ever-loyal pooch. However, she detests her school uniform and having to learn English, until her grandfather (Abue) gives her the best motivation to master the language: a visit to Spaceland, a U.S. amusement park, if her grades improve. Juana’s first-person account is readily relatable, assisted by the clean layout and fanciful illustrations.
Detective Gordon (a bumbling toad) and his protégé, Buffy (a cheerful mouse), tackle cases involving missing cake tins and an unidentified neighborhood bully. As the diminutive creature is taught the rules of the trade—from “investigate everything” to “be prepared to be eaten up!”—readers will quickly discern who the ace gumshoe truly is. A genial introduction to chapter books and an affectionate duo, featuring colorful, lissome art.
Grades 3 – 6
This luminous companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky complements—and may even outshine—its predecessors. When the Tiger Emperor kidnaps Pinmei’s grandmother, she sets out, along with her mysterious friend Yishan, to find the legendary stone that lights the night sky. Chinese folklore is incorporated throughout, as are Lin’s jewel-like full-color illustrations. Fantasy, mystery, and adventure combine through elegant storytelling. This is Lin at the top of her game.
Though Roz, a robot, is initially viewed with suspicion when she finds herself on an isolated island, she soon becomes part of the natural order, parenting an orphaned gosling and providing shelter for the animals. But is there really a place for her within this ecosystem? Interspersed with charming black-and-white illustrations, this sweetly quirky fish-out-of-water tale will have readers contemplating questions about life, death, consciousness, and artificial intelligence.
After their mother dies, Soledad and Ming’s father brings his daughters and his new wife from the Philippines to the United States—and soon abandons them. Their stepmother, Vea, is angry and abusive, and Soledad spins stories for her younger sister to help them both survive. Themes of resilience, sisterhood, and the power of the imagination are interwoven in this tender, ultimately hopeful tale.
Bookmarked between two weddings, this is a story of love, family, and friendship. Beginning with wedding number one, Archer Magill recounts his elementary school days leading up to middle school and wedding number two (the present). The boy’s search for and appreciation of nuanced male role models is inspiring and timely, as is his teacher’s treatment of antigay bullying. A light, refreshing read, wonderfully written by the always winning Peck.
In an unusual tribute to The Canterbury Tales, a hodgepodge of different narrators in 1242 France introduce readers to three unusual children and one remarkable dog. As their individual stories unfold and their paths collide, tension reaches a fever pitch as an agent of the Inquisition nips at their heels. Gidwitz’s epic medieval adventure packs in boisterous action, richly depicted history, and lovable underdog characters, all illuminated by Aly’s stunning artwork. The Middle Ages have never been as exciting or as funny.
When 11-year-old worrywart Genie and his big brother, Ernie, leave Brooklyn and go to their grandparents’ home in rural Virginia, it seems as though they have been dropped on another planet. The city boys are introduced to another way of life and to their blind grandfather, who goes to extreme lengths to conceal his disability. A rich and rewarding coming-of-age story about family and courage, told with laugh-out-loud humor and a great deal of heart.
When Topher, Steve, and Brand learn that Ms. Bixby is terminally ill, they decide to cut class and give their beloved teacher a truly special tribute, but nothing goes as planned. Simultaneously heartrending, uproariously funny, and affirming, this is that rare story that centers on loss yet isn’t overwhelmed by grief or pain; at its heart, this tale celebrates life, friendship, and the importance of finding one’s own voice.
In a vividly created fantastical realm, a baby is left in the forest, according to an annual tradition of sacrifice. Discovered by a kind witch, who mistakenly feeds the child moonlight, the girl grows up with a potent power she must learn to control. This swiftly paced and highly imaginative title expertly weaves myriad threads into a memorable story that will easily enchant readers.
Hoping to attract the attention of her father, who has left home, and her mother, a young girl takes up twirling. While the baton lessons go south immediately, Raymie befriends two similarly vulnerable, lonely kids confronting their own family issues and who, like her, are trying to make sense of a sometimes bewildering world. Filled with heart and hope, DiCamillo’s latest masterpiece is populated with characters whom readers won’t soon forget.
And of course, Academy will have the Battle of the Books. View the list of Sunshine State Young Readers’ Awards we will be reading for next year’s competition!
Academy at the Lakes is a PreK3 – 12th Grade independent school located in North Tampa. We celebrate the love of learning and the joy in the journey.