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Fun summer reading suggestions for children 12 and under

Campbell Hill Elementary kindergarten students work on reading skills in  Washington. (Elaine Thompson/AP)
Campbell Hill Elementary kindergarten students work on reading skills in Washington. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks with Virginia Children’s Book Festival executive director Juanita Giles about recommendations for books for kids 12 and under.

Book recommendations from Juanita Giles for children ages 12 and younger

Picture books

  • Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book” by Carrie Tillotson, illustrated by Estrela Lourenço
    • What’s better than a picture book that makes kids and parents both laugh? A counting book with a twist; bananas can’t wait to make their entrance, but wait they must. And so do kids!
  • I Want to Be a Vase by Julio Torres, illustrated by Julian Glander
    • Poor plunger, relegated to the bathroom. Plunger doesn’t WANT to be in the bathroom next to the toilet. Plunger wants to be a vase, welcoming people with beauty and lovely smells. Poor plunger. Will he ever get to be a vase? Funny, charming and a fun read with the kids in your life.
  • Endlessly Ever After: Pick YOUR Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings” by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Dan Santat
    • Who hasn’t wanted Little Red Riding Hood to make different choices? I mean, we all know what’s going to happen, right? Wrong. This ingenious choose-your-path book lets the reader help Red make other choices, but how will they turn out? Can she really avoid the wolf? And what about Grandma? Kids and parents will want to read this book again and again (and probably holler at Red to not go that way!)
  • The Wills and the Won’ts” by Angela Woolfe, illustrated by Roland Garrigue
    • “An angry old Won’t and a cheerless young Will / lived next to each other, on top of a hill. / They squabbled and quarrelled, did nothing but fight. / If one said, “It’s day,” said the other, “It’s night.” / “Your dog wrecked my roses!” “Your trees are too tall!” / “There’s one way to end this: / WE’RE BUILDING A WALL!” What happens when Will and Won’t can’t agree on anything? Their feud affects everyone, and it’s up to little May to figure out how to help them get along and tear the wall down. A wonderfully entertaining read-aloud, this book is sure to be a favorite of kids and parents alike.


Upper and lower elementary

  • Expedition Backyard: Exploring Nature from Country to City” by Rosemary Mosco and Binglin Hu
    • A nonfiction chapter book graphic novel about two best friends — a mole and vole — on their everyday expeditions to find beautiful plants, meet new animals and learn more about the world around them. Each day, Mole and Vole venture out into the world to see what they can find in their own backyard, and through their adventures, these two explorers get to know every part of their local environment. The story of these two best friends brings to life a nonfiction adventure of finding wonder in nature everywhere, no matter where you live. This book also includes fun activities for kids to do at home, including how to keep your own nature journal.
  • Once Upon a Tim” by Stuart Gibbs, illustrated by Stacy Curtis
    • Tim is a peasant boy who wants to be a knight and he works hard to be clever and always do the right thing, but what is he to do when he wasn’t born a prince. “Once Upon a Tim” sees Tim seize his chance when the evil Stinx kidnaps a princess from a neighboring kingdom. But what if the princess doesn’t need to be rescued? And the magician can only do card tricks? A fun, silly, and entertaining graphic novel.
  • Planet Omar: Unexpected Super Spy” by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik
    • The second in Mian’s Omar series, this highly-illustrated mystery will be devoured by any kid that reads it. When Omar decides to raise money to help his family’s mosque get a new roof, his imagination goes wild when the money goes missing. Omar is determined to track down the thief, and hilarity ensues. Perfect to bridge the chapter book/graphic novel divide.
  • Rule Breaker Princess” by Gita V. Reddy
    • When Princess Akhila was born, she cried so hard her face turned purple, and her mother, the queen, was not happy. Princesses are not supposed to cry like other babies. But crying was not the last royal rule Akhila would break. Her parents are determined to have her act like a princess, and Akhila is determined to redefine the role altogether. A short, early chapter book for advancing readers.
  • The Cricket in Times Square” (updated and revised) by George Selden, Stacy Lee, illustrated by Garth Williams
    • This classic story of Tucker, the streetwise city mouse, and Chester, the country cricket who finds himself in the heart of New York City, is back in this updated edition. Full of adventures, friendship, and surprises, “The Cricket in Times Square” is a perfect book for beginning readers or to read aloud together.


Middle grade

  • Black Sand Beach #3: Have You Seen the Darkness?” by Richard Fairgray
    • This middle-grade graphic novel series about a haunted summer vacation is called a “boredom buster.” Dash and the crew are on a mission to save their summer vacation home from competing evils. After reading Dash’s journal from the previous summer — the summer he doesn’t remember — the kids piece together that Dash’s new ghost girl friends were really puppets of a darker evil that collects the identities of its victims.
  • How to Heal a Gryphon” by Meg Cannistra
    • With her 13th birthday just around the corner, Giada Bellantuono has to make a big decision: Will she join the family business and become a healer or follow her dreams? But even though she knows her calling is to heal vulnerable animals, using her powers to treat magical creatures is decidedly not allowed. When a group of witches kidnaps her beloved older brother, Rocco, and her parents are away, Giada is the only person left who can rescue him. Swept into the magical underground city of Malavita, Giada will need the help of her new companions to save her brother—or risk losing him forever.
  • Honest June: The Show Must Go On” by Tina Wells, illustrated by Brittney Bond
    • Tina Wells’ second installment of her June series brings June to the brink of disaster. Having fallen under a truth-telling curse in book one, June tells all her truths in a top-secret blog, but now it might be revealed to the whole school. She’s spent all her energy on learning how to tell the truth when it isn’t what people want to hear. How will she explain her private blog to her friends and family?
  • Tales to Keep You Up at Night” by Dan Poblocki, illustrations by Marie Bergeron
    • Amelia finds a handwritten note in her grandmother’s attic telling her “not to read this book,” so of course she does. Full of strange stories about happenings in nearby towns, baby witches, an old well, and more, Amelia starts to find these are more than just stories. Eerie, scary, and creepy in the best way, including in its illustrations. If you want your kids to read past their bedtime, this is the book for you.
  • Gaia Goddess of Earth (Tales of Great Goddesses)” by Imogen Greenberg, illustrated by Isabel Greenberg
    • What middle schooler doesn’t become obsessed with Greek Mythology? In this new episode of “Tales of Great Goddesses” we follow Gaia as she creates the world and as inevitably as it is, a man (her husband) takes credit for her hard work and becomes insatiable with power. The power grabs keep coming when Zeus takes power from his father and saves his siblings. However, Zeus too succumbs to the lure of power and swears to rid anyone who tries to take it from him. Gaia is, of course, furious and will not let the Earth and all she created fall to the blunder of Zeus. Soon Gaia finds her strength and eventually finds the peace and harmony she so longs for.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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