It’s been a weird, lost summer. This is what happens when there is a pandemic: Camps and schools are closed, leaving kids and caregivers alone at home. They climb the walls, sometimes the garden fences.
With that in mind, we decided that this year’s summer reader poll should be all about keeping kids busy, so that they could vote. Your favorite kids’ books range from board books for babies to great read-alouds, early chapter books, and even a few older ones. We asked you to tell us about them. And a lot of you answered.
As with all of our summer polls, this one isn’t just about who has the most votes. Otherwise, it would have been just 100 Mo Willems books. We love Mo Willems, but that wouldn’t have been the best list. If you’re not sure what to read, this is a list of books that we’ve put together based on your suggestions and the picks of our panel of experts. They’re authors, librarians, publishers, and book lovers. You can also see it broken down into groups that we think will help you find books for the kids in your life.
The Snowy Day
50th Anniversary Edition
by Ezra Jack Keats
A little boy in Brooklyn wakes up one morning to find that his world has changed. It is sparkling with new snow. The text doesn’t say that young Peter is black. He was one of the first non-caricatured black people to star in a major children’s book. It didn’t matter that Ezra Jack Keats was white. His depiction of a child’s first experience with snow won the Caldecott Medal and parents and kids of all colors loved it. 0 to 2:
Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
There were so many Maurice Sendak books that people nominated that it was hard to pick just one. That’s not what we meant at all. Even though In the Night Kitchen came up, we knew we had to go with this classic story about Max, his wolf suit, the wild rumpus, and of course, the dinner that was still warm when he got home. ages 4 to 8:
The Old Truck
by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey
Jerome Pumphrey was on his way to visit his brother Jarrett in central Texas. As he drove, he kept seeing old trucks parked in the fields. There are hundreds of hand-carved stamps in this story of a farm family and their beloved pickup. It was made by the two brothers who worked on it together. ages 3 to 5:
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James
We couldn’t put Hair Love on the list and leave out this tribute to the magic of the barbershop. You’ll find it a little further down. As an author, Derrick Barnes says: “You came in as a lump of clay, a blank canvas, or a slab of marble,” he says. I don’t know what they’ll want to do when my man is done with you. These fun paintings by Gordon C. James will make you smile, too. They show happy boys showing off their new haircuts. ages 3 to 8:
Julián Is A Mermaid
by Jessica Love
Julián is on the subway with his grandmother when he sees them: three mermaids, each with a beautiful hairstyle and a dress with a fishtail hem. Then Julián is in love with mermaids as well. A yellow curtain is used as the tail. A potted plant is used as the crown. This is a beautiful story about creativity and acceptance, with illustrations that are misty and full of jewels. ages 4 to 8:
by Barbara Cooney
People call Miss Rumphius “That Crazy Old Lady” because she lives alone with her cat and sows lupine seeds along the coast of Maine even though the kids there call her “That Crazy Old Lady.” People in Maine called her the “Lupine Lady” because of her habit of sprinkling seeds. ages 5 to 8:
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses
by Paul Goble
All over The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, there is a small, precise, and beautiful thing. There is a plant and a bird as well as a lizard and a pebble. There is also a beautiful horse. An Indian girl who runs away with a group of wild horses and ends up living with them won the Caldecott Award in 1978, and for good reason. ages 5 to 8:
by Sophie Blackall
A lighthouse stands tall even as waves roll in and seasons change. It sends out its beam into the dark, saying hello to all the ships at sea. She won the Caldecott Award for this picture book, and Sophie Blackall does a beautiful job of capturing both the timeless nature of lighthouse life and the change that’s going to happen soon. ages 4 to 8:
by Faith Ringgold
A book about a young girl who soars above the “tar beach” of her apartment building roof is one of the most beautiful on this list. When Cassie is lifted up by the stars, she flies over the city and imagines a better life for herself and her family. If you want to see Ringgold read the book, you can see him here. ages 5 to 8:
by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
There are many beautiful books on this list. One of them is one of the most beautiful. It’s a tribute to years of Black excellence, pain, and perseverance. Kadir Nelson’s glowing, photorealistic paintings and powerful words (with references to Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and more) make up the show. One of Nelson’s NPR interviews, he said, “This was one of those texts that really resonated with me. It was well-written, and I thought it was a great pairing of words and pictures from two different people.” ages 6 to 9:
by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers
When Walter Dean Myers was a child, he lived in Harlem, where there were a lot of “colors loud enough to be heard” and songs that had been played in the “Ghana/Mali/Senegal” villages. This poem is about Harlem. If you look at Christopher’s bold drawings, which are made up of both paint and scraps of paper, they don’t make fun of kids. Instead, they pull them into a lively city. Ages 9 and up.