Summer Reading Guide: For the New Readers

June 23, 2022 § Leave a comment

Whooooboy. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: today’s early readers have it GOOD! The wealth of talent being channeled into creating early graphic novels and early chapter books has never been greater than it is right now, and our lucky kiddos get to reap the benefits. Learning to read is all about generating momentum—from there, confidence swells—so it’s vital to have a bottomless array of choices.

Today, I’ve got a comprehensive round up of 2022 releases for newly independent readers at a variety of reading levels. Some of the storylines are sweet, others funny. Some are educational, all are entertaining, and every one is part of a series, which means more to come! (If you need more while you’re waiting, check out previous round ups here and here, many of which have sequels out.)

Of course, many of these make engaging read alouds as well. Just remember at these ages to keep reading those picture books too, for their rich vocabulary, nuanced storytelling, and gorgeous art. It shouldn’t be one or the other. Elementary kids need both to thrive in developing literacy skills and a lifetime love of reading!

The books in this post are arranged according to length and number of words per page. I’ve indicated whether each title is a graphic novel or a traditional chapter book, and I’ve included one interior shot per book to give you an idea of what the layout looks like. (And because they’re so dang cute!)

For fans of Sophie Mouse

The Flower Garden (graphic novel)
by Renée Kurilla
Ages 6-9

Vivid colors, garden gnomes, and a “Honey, I shrunk the kids”-vibe makes the The Flower Garden a true summery delight. Bonus for friendship dynamics that are genuine and (ultimately) reciprocal.

Best friends, Anna and Tess, fall asleep in the garden one summer afternoon after planting seeds of pollinator plants to help save the honeybees. When they awaken, not only have all their seeds magically sprouted into colorful wildflowers as far as the eye can see, but Anna and Tess are themselves the size of the bees they’re working to protect. With their new grounds-eye view, they meet a gnome named Maple, who shows them how to jump on toadstools and swing from dandelions. But when Maple offers to give them a tour of her underground burrow and Anna quickly accepts, Tess puts her foot down: they’re straying too far from home. Will their friendship survive this difference of opinion, and will the two find their way home again?

For fans of Catwad & Unicorn Diaries

Cat & Cat Adventures: The Quest for Snacks & The Goblet of Infinity (graphic novels)
by Susie Yi
Ages 6-9

Cuteness abounds in this cheerful fantasy starring two teleporting, food-motivated cats that move through the spirit-magic universe, where there’s a new challenge around every bend and nothing is as it seems.

In the first book, The Quest for Snacks, Squash and Ginny undertake a mission to secure the ingredients for a potion that will yield unlimited snacks. Their journey takes them through Mermaid Ocean and over Mount Lava, but when they reach the Enchanted Rain Forest, their success runs dry…literally. In The Goblet of Infinity, a quest for a magical goblet takes them to the Land of the Unibears, where one unibear informs them that the goblet has been stolen by the evil Dragon Witch. Will the two be brave enough to track down the witch and confront her? Only if they can avoid being sucked into the Bum Bum Bog, and only if they learn to look beyond first impressions.

For fans of Fox and Chick and Narwhal & Jelly

Stick and Stone: Explore and More (graphic novel)
by Beth Ferry & Kristen Cella
Ages 6-9

If the name Beth Ferry doesn’t mean anything, I’m not going to let you miss out for another second. And I don’t just mean on her wonderful picture books, like this summer gem from a few years ago. I’m referring to her other early graphic novels, too, like Fox and Rabbit and Crab and Snail. In short, she writes odd-couple friendships brilliantly. Stick and Stone: Explore and More is the first in a new series based on her picture books with Tom Lichtenheld about the same characters. You don’t need to have read those earlier books to enjoy these for a slightly older audience. Basically, Stick and Stone are friends, respectively leery of and eager for adventure, and their dialogue is pitch-perfect. Even my eleven year old was head over heels for this one.

The book is actually two summer stories in one. In the first, Stick and Stone get swept up—literally—in an alphabet game that a Nature Girl is playing. In the second, after Stone wishes on a dandelion for an even bigger adventure, the two are selected for a…CAMPFIRE?! How on earth are they going to get out of this fiery fiasco? Whatever life deals them, the two weather with grace and humor, learning to make space for each other’s quirks and preferences. “Stick, as long as you’re you, I’d wish to be me!”

For fans of Simon and Chester, Bird & Squirrel, and Pea, Bee & Jay

Bug Scouts: Out in the Wild (graphic novel)
by Mike Lowery
Ages 6-9

If you know Mike Lowery from his Everything Awesome About [insert dinosaurs, sharks, and space) non-fiction series, you know he is BIG on fun and funny, and now he turns his loosely-drawn, kid-like comics into an early reader series about a group of friends who call themselves the Bug Scouts.

I have yet to meet a kid who didn’t fall big for this series opener (the second is out this fall), which is bursting with puns and shenanigans. You’ve got Doug, an ambiguous bug species (“scientific name: ‘somekindicus bugicus’”), who loves a good hike; Abby, a worm, who’s all about securing as many badges as possible; Luna, a lightning bug, who has a mind for facts (the weirder the better), and Josh, a spider, who’s just in it for the snacks (preferably hot dogs on pizza). They meet in a secret treehouse, practice their oath—“All bugs are awesome/ and that is a fact./ Raise your leg or antenna/ and let’s make a pact…”—and try to avoid being eaten by frogs.

Sir Ladybug (graphic novel)
by Corey R. Tabor
Ages 6-9

Sir Ladybug is another ensemble friendship series (the second is out next week!) that’s heavy on humorous banter. You may know Corey R. Tabor from Mel Fell, the clever 2021 picture book that surprised everyone by winning a Caldecott Honor, so it’s safe to say he has his pulse on what today’s kids (and their erudite parents) find funny. Here, that includes the occasional nod to Minecraft (and Williams Carlos William’s wheelbarrow poem).

Sir Ladybug may sport a jaunty dandelion puff on his head and “adventure tennies” on his itty bitty feet, but just because he looks the part doesn’t mean he’s keen to be the hero his roly-poly buddy, Pell, pegs him to be when he stands on a rock and introduces him to a colony of ants. But it is true that Ladybug carries a sword, it is true that he can bake life-changing cakes, and it is also true that quests seem to find him. Like a frightened caterpillar, who needs help talking a black-capped chickadee out of eating him. Will he accept the challenge and become the mighty hero his friends want him to be?

As chickadee would say, there are some “fancy words,” so this may work best for kids already accustomed to working out meaning from pictures.

For fans of Animal Planet

Surviving the Wild: Rainbow the Koala and Star the Elephant (graphic novels)
by Remy Lai
Ages 6-9

Calling all animal lovers! The first two titles in this dramatic, wildlife-focused graphic novel series, by critically-acclaimed comics creator Remy Lai, boasts adorable animals and lessons in ecology and conservation. Each title is based on real events—the 2019 Australian bush fire and an incident from deforestation in 1990 Malaysia, respectively—and highlights self-reliance and adaptability among the devastating effects of climate change.

Rainbow the Koala follows a baby koala, as she learns to separate from his mother and find his own food and shelter. But when his home is threatened by a rapidly-spreading bush fire, his survival skills are put to the test. In Star the Elephant, after the decimation of a bamboo forest forces Star and her family to seek out a new home on the other side of the sea, Star is accidentally separated from the herd, then captured by humans and brought to an elephant sanctuary. Will she ever see her family again? Though at times the two stories can be scary, the soothing palette, sweet dialogue, and happy endings ensure their appropriateness for young readers. Each story concludes with comics highlighting the true parts of each story and the way kids can help protect animals and combat climate change.

Get ready: Sunny the Shark comes out this August!

For fans of Mercy Watson and Sydney and Taylor

Frank and the Bad Surprise (early chapter book)
by Martha Brockenbrough; illus. Jon Lau
Ages 6-9

Does the trope of cat versus dog ever get old? That’s a hard no, especially with terrific writing and humorous visuals. “Frank the cat had it good. He had a nice house, lots of toys, all the Whiskers he could eat, and a window that looked out onto the world.” But Frank’s good life is upended when his humans bring home a cardboard box and out climbs a slobbery, rambunctious puppy. So begins Frank and the Bad Surprise, book one in a new series about the challenges of new siblings.

Desperate to convince his human to return the puppy, Frank composes formal letters on a typewriter and slips them into the mailbox. Can’t his humans see that the puppy doesn’t respect the “rules of naps”?! When the letters don’t work, Frank tries correcting the puppy himself, but that only lands him in “cat jail.” What’s more is that Frank’s humans are completely enamored with the puppy and barely notice Frank anymore. What’s a jealous cat to do? Run away and teach his humans a lesson, of course. Only the lesson’s on Frank, because the outside world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (also, he really misses that typewriter).

Cornbread & Poppy and Cornbread & Poppy at the Carnival (early chapter books)
by Matthew Cordell
Ages 6-9

When a gifted artist like Matthew Cordell, Caldecott Medalist, directs that talent into early chapter books, the result is a book with all the charm of the early chapter series we grew up on (Frog and Toad and Little Bear, I’m looking at you), coupled with expressive, atmospheric, full-color illustrations on every one of its 80 pages.

Cornbread and Poppy are best friends, but they rarely approach life the same way. Cornbread is a planner, whereas Poppy prefers to fly by the seat of her little mice pants. In the series opener, Cornbread and Poppy, the two friends brave Holler Mountain in an attempt to find food for Poppy, who has forgotten to stockpile it in advance of the first snowfall. In Cornbread and Poppy at the Carnival, the carnival is in town, and Poppy is out of her mind with excitement. Cornbread, however, has never been to a carnival before and isn’t so sure, especially about the rides. (“I am not going to zoom, and I am not going to fly! That sounds terribly big and terribly fast, and just one wrong turn and we’re…SQOOSH.”) As usual, the friends have each other’s backs and grow in their appreciation of each other’s differences.

For fans of Old-Timey Stories

Anne Arrives, Anne’s Kindred Spirits, Anne’s School Days, and Anne’s Tragical Tea Party (early chapter books)
adapted by Kallie George; illus. Abigail Halpin
Ages 6-9

I’m generally dubious about adaptations of classics for a younger audience–even more so when you have a character as larger-than-life as L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley. But I stand corrected in this case, because Kallie George and Abigail Halpin have done a stellar job of introducing a new generation of readers to the redhead who’s big on imagination, short on patience, and easily the most exciting thing to happen to Green Gables. The books pulls out the most memorable moments (and dialogue) from the first book, and the paintings deliver on the spirit of Anne in all her glorious imperfections.

Anne Arrives charts the orphan’s arrival at Green Gables, where Marilla initially dismisses Anne for not being the boy they wanted, but Matthew’s quick affection for the talkative girl ultimately wins her over. In Anne’s Kindred Spirits, Anne meets her “kindred spirit,” Diana, and the two become fast friends. But when Marilla’s broach goes missing and Anne’s the suspect, Anne may lose her chance to attend her first picnic! Anne’s School Days is, arguably, about the most famous of Anne moments, when she breaks her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head, and Anne’s Tragical Tea Party covers the other crowd favorite, as Anne accidentally mistakes currant wine for raspberry cordial when Diana comes for tea and gets her friend drunk, before she redeems herself by coming to the rescue of Diana’s little sister. Will there be more books? I don’t know, but I’ll be buying them if there are!

For fans of Toys Go Out

Book Buddies: Ivy Lost and Found & Marco Polo Brave Explorer (early chapter books)
adapted by Cynthia Lord; illus. Stephanie Graegin
Ages 7-10

This delightful series offers a fresh spin on the familiar story of a treasured toy whose owner has gotten too big to play with them. Ivy and Anne used to be inseparable, until the day Ivy was packed into a box and tucked into the attic. Years later, Anne, now a librarian, unpacks her old doll and adds her to the library’s shelf of Book Buddies, alongside six other stuffed toys that children can borrow to play with and read stories to. The series intends for each book to focus on a different Book Buddy, as we go along for the ride on their second (or third, or fourth) life.

The first, Ivy Lost and Found, establishes the different personalities of the Book Buddies, as well as the rapport they have after hours when no one is listening, before Ivy is borrowed by a girl named Fern. Ivy isn’t sure she can love another as she did Anne, and she takes comfort in the company of Piper, a stuffed squirrel whom Fern’s stepbrother takes home. But “being forgotten means you can be found again,” and Ivy begins to realize she might be exactly who Fern needs to confide in about the grief surrounding her parents’ separation. In Marco Polo Brave Explorer, we get to know the tiny felt mouse who used to be a Christmas ornament and yearns for adventure. His size is what attracts Seth, a boy short on bravery, who decides Marco Polo will be the perfect buddy to bring along on his first sleepover, where no one but Seth will know he’s there. Unfortunately, Marco Polo’s size makes him equally attractive to a prowling cat. Marco Polo may get his epic adventure after all, but at what cost?

For fans of Ivy and Bean and Dory Fantasmagory

Audrey L &  Audrey W: Best Friends-ish (longer chapter book)
by Carter Higgins; illus. Jennifer K. Mann
Ages 7-10

My son, who for preschool and elementary school was referred to by his first name plus the initial of his last name, will attest that the struggle is real when a child with the same name ends up in your class. This is just one of many apt insights Carter Higgins taps into in her spot-on portrayal of second grade with Audrey L & Audrey W, the first in a new illustrated chapter series for confident readers.

Second grade is proving to be a lot more challenging than first, what with grades on spelling tests and having to worry about being “responsible scientists.” On top of that, Audrey L is having a hard enough time trying to stand out, before Audrey W arrives and complicates matters further! (Plus, Ms. Fincastle is insisting that the former be the latter’s Welcome Ambassador.) Might the two girls have more in common than their first names? It’ll take a playdate involving a baking fiasco and a hermit crab to find out. Next one‘s coming this fall!

For fans of Ramona, Ryan Hart, and Guinness Book of World Records

Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking (longer chapter book)
by Hena Khan
Ages 7-10

In this series opener, Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking, Hena Khan has penned a modern-day Ramona character, a sweet, spirited ten-year-old Muslim girl in a Pakistani American family, spending her Maryland summer weathering the heat alongside the neighborhood kids—and navigating the respective social (and sibling) dynamics. This is one of those books that could have easily made the younger end of my middle-grade round up, alongside Elana K. Arnold’s Just Harriet, but I include it here for those newly independent readers who are off to the races and looking for more meaty stories with rich, nuanced character development.

Zara Saleem has long lived up to her nickname of Queen of the Neighborhood, priding herself on ruling with “grace and fairness.” But when Naomi moves in across the street, the other kids seem more taken with her ideas—which, admittedly, have a lot less rules than Zara’s. No matter: Zara will turn the spotlight back on herself when she attempts to get into the Guinness Book of World Records! Only what will she do? The longest chalk drawing? Hula hooping for hours? It doesn’t take long to discover that going it alone is rather lonely. If she can check her pride at the door, Zara might be inspired by her new neighbor to trade in bossiness for inclusion and reap the benefits of collaboration.

The second one is out this fall!


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All opinions are my own. My links support the beautiful indie, Old Town Books, where I am the buyer for the children’s section.

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