2023 Summer Reading Guide Kicks Off With Emerging Readers (Ages 5-9)
May 18, 2023 § Leave a comment
I’m delighted to kick off this year’s Summer Reading Guide with a round-up of new favorites for emerging readers. (In the weeks ahead, we’ll be covering Elementary Readers (8-12) and Middle School Readers (10+).) Below, you’ll find selections for those just learning to read, those starting to get their reading legs underneath them, and those who have strong reading skills but aren’t ready to make the transition to the longer chapters and more complex plots of middle-grade books.
The pressure on parents to keep new readers from backsliding over the summer can feel like a lot. I’ve been there! A couple things to remember:
- Leave books within reach! Dining tables, sofas, bathrooms, playrooms, cars…they can’t complain they’re bored if a book is RIGHT THERE.
- Embrace comics! Our children are coming of age in a highly visual world. Comics not only help with decoding, but they give kids the same instant gratification that they long for from screentime.
- Have a kid who has trouble getting started? Thinks every book looks boring? Scaffold the onboarding experience by reading the first few pages or chapters to them.
- Incentivize with reading challenges, BINGO boards (we’ve got a great one coming to Old Town Books!), or make up your own treats to reward their progress.
- Picture books count as reading! In fact, their rich vocabulary and gorgeous art make them just as attractive and valuable to elementary children.
Hopefully, the recommendations below—all new releases!—will help you kick off a terrific summer of reading. (And if you need more, check out last summer’s guide here!)
Titles are arranged from easiest to hardest, with age ranges provided at the top of each description and an interior photo at the end to help you gauge words per page. Especially if you’re local, I thank you SO much for shopping at Old Town Books, where I do the kids’ buying and where I’ll be hosting office hours on Sunday, June 4 and June 25 from 10am-4pm, if you want personalized recommendations. Come see me!
by Michael Emberley
Part of a new “I Like to Read” comics series, with simple text and lots of visual support, Let’s Go! is for children in the very early stages of learning to read. If you like the book, you should also check out Michael Emberley’s previous title, I Did It!, which won the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award this past January for best early reader. What’s special about these books is the energy and imagination that veteran comics artist Emberley brings to the page.
A clownish creature and four friends receive an invitation to a party (“When: Today, Time: Soon!”), only it’s too far away and their feet can only take them so fast. Quickly, our protagonist comes up with a new plan, which involves breaking the fourth wall to fashion original transport vehicles out of the book’s pages!
As more hurdles are thrown at the group, they only become more resourceful and creative. These aren’t the early readers we grew up with: every page is a visual feast for the eyes, with lots to take in and discover.
Spider-Man: Animals Assemble!
by Mike Maihack
Admittedly, it takes a lot for me to get into a superhero-themed anything, but this graphic novel is DELIGHTFUL, from its beautiful, uncluttered art to its laugh-out-loud humor. More books like Mike Maihack’s Spider-Man: Animals Assemble!, please.
The story opens with Spider-Man pontificating on the merits of his stardom to an unsuspecting pigeon—before an unexpected fall from grace. Iron Man drops by to inform Spider-Man that there’s a super villain on the loose in Central Park and he needs all hands on deck, only the task he has in mind for Spidey isn’t exactly superhero worthy…or so thinks the latter. Iron Man needs Spidey to watch a pet goldfish that he plans to gift to a friend. Before long, Captain Marvel shows up with her pet cat, Hawkeye with a pet dog, Nick Fury with a guinea pig, Captain America with a falcon, and that’s just the beginning. It seems Spider-Man’s claim to fame is to be his pet watching skills?!
As Spider-Man is fond of repeating, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and he soon learns that pet sitting isn’t for the faint of heart. (Especially when someone keeps stealing his pizza.) But when Ms. Marvel shows up with her giant dog, who teleports whenever he sneezes, things take a turn, and Spidey finds himself smack dab in the center of the action.
Wombats: Go Camping!
by Maddie Frost
“Unlikely besties” is an increasingly common trope in early graphic novel series, but only because it works SO well. Who doesn’t love reading speech bubbles rich in misunderstandings and rapidly escalating hysteria? Now put the unlikely besties in the middle of a camping trip, where one comes prepared for wilderness survival and the other packs for a five-star resort, and you’re really speaking my language.
In Wombats! Go Camping, it quickly becomes clear that BFFs Albert and Pickles have two vastly different visions for what their first camping trip together should look like. (Too late, Albert realizes, “Oh, Pickles, that’s not camping. That’s glamping.”) But it turns out that hauling Pickles’ roller suitcases, giant inflatable doughnut, and stocked pickle jar through the woods is the least of their challenges. Enter an alleged Woolly Moon Beast sighting, a menacing cave, and a lost baby koala who’s dangerously close to imprinting on Pickles if they don’t find its mom in a hurry…
Yes, this is the stuff that legends are made of. At least, in the world of emerging readers!
Henry, Like Always
by Joan Bailey; illus. Mika Song
If you think it’s impossible for a beginning chapter book, just a few sentences on a page, to carry emotional heft, then you haven’t read Henry, Like Always. Based on the autistic character from Jenn Bailey and Mika Song’s Schneider Family Honor-winning picture book, A Friend for Henry, this new story gives us an even richer window into Henry’s classroom experience and the importance of friendship and community in contributing to that essential feeling of belonging.
Henry likes Classroom Ten, especially his friends, his teacher, and the very predictable calendar of the week that’s posted on the board. Only this Friday, Henry’s class is scheduled to have a parade, and that means having Share Time one day earlier. On the wrong day. To make matters worse, this week’s art class isn’t a regular art class, because everyone has to make posters for the parade—a parade Henry knows will also be much. too. loud.
Despite his gently-declined requests to move Share Time back to Friday, paired with a bit more time than usual in the Thinking Chair, Henry eventually hits on the perfect solution to help him embrace the flexibility that this school week requires of him. At the end, we’re left celebrating Henry, as well as the kindness of his classmates and teacher.
Fergus and Zeke for President
by Kate Messner; illus. Heather Ross
What makes a good leader? This question is explored with wit and wisdom in Fergus and Zeke for President, the latest in Kate Messner’s adorable early chapter series. I don’t typically include sequels in these round-ups, but each of the Fergus and Zeke titles can be read as standalones, and I have particular fondness for this one, given my family’s proximity to the White House. (All the US presidential trivia doesn’t hurt, either!)
Fergus and Zeke are class pets—two anthropomorphic mice—in Miss Maxwell’s room, which means they have plenty of opportunities to try their own paws at the lesson plans they overhear, most of the time without the children being the wiser. (Storytime is their favorite, obvs.) With Presidents’ Day approaching, Miss Maxwell is encouraging everyone in the class to do a creative project memorializing a president. Naturally, Fergus and Zeke want in on the action.
Before long, Zeke has transformed himself into George Mousington, complete with a cotton-ball-fashioned wig, but instead of rolling up his mouse sleeves to help Fergus with researching presidents for their joint project, he nominates himself as president of their cage…and begins bossing around Fergus with great gusto. Mishaps and fallouts ensue, all in good fun, as Zeke learns about the real skills of successful leaders.
Bear & Bird: The Picnic and Other Stories
And the winner for the most adorable book on the Summer Reading Guide goes to Bear & Bird: The Picnic and Other Stories, the first in an early chapter series by the popular British creator and animator, Jarvis. In the vein of beloved classics like Frog and Toad and George and Martha, the book is a compilation of four stories about two best friends, whose hearts are in the right place, even if their actions don’t always bring about the desired results. Seriously, how can you resist those sweet little faces?!
In a story titled “The Flower,” Bird falls into a flower. When Bear comes upon said flower, now emitting a mournful sound, he assumes it must be a rare Talking Flower, and he tries to comfort it with stories about his best pal, Bird. In “The Painting,” Bear tries to make Bird feel better about her painting, which looks nothing like a tree, by telling her that he would be proud to hang it in his home…which then leads to Bird offering to paint one for every corner of his house. Oops.
While mix-ups and misunderstandings abound between the two friends, their intentions exemplify kindness and compassion. Plus, sometimes, the best moments of friendship are when we can laugh at ourselves alongside those we love.
by Megan Wagner Lloyd
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…pancake?! The first installment in this graphic novel series, Super Pancake, by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Abhi Alwar, is perfect for those who like their breakfast foods heavy on the hijinks, banter, and puns. (As well as for fans of The Bad Guys, Bat Pig, Grumpy Monkey, Waffles & Pancake, etc.)
Life in Breakfast Town has been pretty dull of late for Peggy Pancake: her parents are constantly nagging her to be more responsible, she keeps having to run after the school bus, and the Bacon Bullies are up to their usual antics of rude rhyming. But on Career Day—“I don’t need a career! I’m just a kid…”—while Professor Egglentine is giving a pitch on the merits of science, Peggy accidentally drinks his pilot potion for super powers. Suddenly, she can fly! She has moves! (Griddle kick! flapjack flip! syrup swirl!) She even attracts a sidekick named Luc Croissant!
All good things, because the nefarious Dr. Breakfast Sandwich and his Henchtoasts are about to wreak havoc.
Search for a Giant Squid: Pick Your Path!
by Amy Seto Forrester & Andy Chou Musser
I know we aren’t supposed to pick favorites, but I suspect this may be the biggest hit on this list. What child doesn’t love a pick-your-own-path adventure?! Clocking in at a whopping 86 full-color pages, Search for a Giant Squid, the first in a new STEM-based series, puts the child reader front and center on an expedition to the ocean’s twilight zone, in search of one of the world’s most elusive creatures!
After acquiring background information on ocean exploration, research vessels, cephalopods in general, and giant squids—also called the Giants of the Deep—in particular, readers will be asked to make some tough choices. Who would they pick for their pilot? Which submersible should they go with? Where do they want to start their dive? Each decision leads to a different page number and a different outcome—some successful, others not so much. But success isn’t always what you expect, and sometimes a search for one thing can yield an exciting discovery you never saw coming…
If there was a book to beat summer boredom, this might be it. All bets off, though, if they want to go head-to-head with a sibling…
by Tanya J. Scott
This might be the weirdest title in the bunch (I can never resist weird). It’s certainly the most esoteric. If you like your adventure stories with a side of quirk and philosophy, I heartily recommend Wizkit: An Adventure Overdue, about a magical cyclops cat on her first trip away from Teacher Magus, a hairy, droopy-eyed creature with whom she lives and apprentices.
Teacher knows that Wizkit will never acquire the perspective required for the proper use of magic if she continues to hang around home, relying on magic for even the simplest of chores. So, when a blue library book cries out that he’s overdue, Teacher decides that Wizkit’s first noble quest will be a long journey to the library. Begrudgingly, Wizit sets off. But make no mistake: that blabbermouth Book is no friend of hers; this is simply an act of obligation!
Wizkit and Book encounter no shortage of obstacles, detours, and eclectic characters, including a dragon, talking rocks, and a three-headed bird. With each hard-won lesson, their banter begins to approach mutual respect, and a genuine friendship is born. A rollicking musing on adventure, companionship, and what it means to write and share our own stories.
Sejal Sinha Battles Superstorms
by Maya Prasad; illus. Abira Dias
These last three recommendations are for kids who are solidly reading but not ready for long chapters, complex plots, and the absence of illustrations. Sejal Sinha Battles Superstorms is a terrific opener to a fresh series that combines imagination and science in equal measure and stars a big-hearted Indian American girl.
It’s Diwali, and Sejal Sinha is looking forward to colored sand drawings on the porch, sparklers in the backyard, lots of yummy Indian food, and time with her older cousin by one year, Mira. But when Mira arrives, she immediately rolls her eyes at the cardboard box Sejal has fashioned into a spaceship, her stuffed cheetah at the helm: “Don’t tell me you’re still playing with cardboard boxes!” As if that wasn’t bad enough, a hurricane quickly descends upon the house and traps them inside, rattling the windows and raising fears of evacuation.
Ultimately, it’s Sejal’s big imagination and scientific knowledge that saves the day. Trapped in the basement and with the help of Professor Cheetah, the two cousins call upon Cardboard Magic to fashion their very own Hurricane Hunter and fly straight into the eye of the hurricane. Along the way, they learn about the risky, important work of storm chasers, dating back to a project in the 1960s where a team attempted to stop a hurricane. Can Sejal and Mira succeed where Project Stormfury couldn’t and defeat this modern-day superstorm?
Marya Khan and the Incredible Henna Party
by Saadia Faruqi; illus. Ani Bushry
As a plucky, strong-willed protagonist, Marya Khan projects Ramona Quimby (even Dory Fantasmagory!) vibes in the best of ways. The first title in a fast-paced illustrated chapter series about a Pakistani American third grader trying to claim her space both at school and at home, Marya Khan and the Incredible Henna Party tackles a subject with universal appeal for the elementary crowd: the birthday party!
Marya’s eighth birthday is rapidly approaching, but no matter how many times she begs Mama and Baba to throw her a big party, she gets the same response: a pizza-and-movie party with Marya’s best friend is sufficient (read: budget friendly). Can’t they see how much Marya longs for a party with invitations and fancy food and magic tricks? To make matters worse, Alexa, Marya’s rich neighbor and arch-nemesis, is throwing the party to beat all parties, complete with a bouncy house, waterslide, and—you guessed it—magic tricks. Is there no justice?! (A word straight out of Marya’s Word of the Day calendar.)
As Marya hatches a plan to convince her family to reconsider—she miiiiight have already told Alexa she’s having an Epic Henna Party—we get an entertaining window into Marya’s sibling and family dynamics. As a protagonist, Marya’s imperfections—on full display here—only make her more relatable and endearing. A surprise ending will have readers cheering for her and eager for the next installment in the series. (Already out and just as delightful: Marya Khan and the Fabulous Jasmine Garden.)
Survival Scout: Lost in the Mountains
by Maxwell Eaton III
At a whopping 143 pages, Survival Scout: Lost in the Mountains is a hefty graphic novel, but its clear layout and large typeface still makes it a win with emerging readers. Give this to your Boy or Girl Scout and see if their knowledge is as extensive as Survival Scout’s—spoiler: not possible—who has to dig deep for survival savvy after her adult brother gets them lost during a four-day backpacking trip. Did I mention that said brother also fled (from a bear) with half of their camping gear, leaving Scout with no phone, tent, cook stove, or compass?!
The book intersperses factual knowledge with Scout’s adventure, as we learn how and where to build a shelter, signal for help, light tinder without using up precious matches, procure safe drinking water, catch and skin fish, and so on. We also discover that a positive state of mind is just as important as various survival skills (the company of a lucky skunk sidekick doesn’t hurt, either).
When help still doesn’t come, Scout decides to break out her map-reading and route-planning skills and implement Plan B. And that’s where things get especially hairy (and exciting!).
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