There are no books in summer — it says so right in the song, after pencils but before teacher’s dirty looks — which is ironic, because there are tons of great, summer-themed books for kids. Whether you’re trying to turn Junior into a beach reader or just need ways to burn those still-pretty-long days, here are 13 books about every kid’s favorite season.
For The PoolA gorgeously illustrated, wordless story of 2 friends who meet in a pool that’s overrun with obnoxious adults floating on the surface. Their friendship — and the book’s color palette — get more vivid and complex, the deeper they dive. It’s a perfect little metaphor for summer friendships, but you should probably make sure you kid hasn’t eaten for at least 30 minutes before giving it to them to read.
Pool by Jihyeon Lee ($9)
For The Impatient KidSummer is all about waiting for the perfect wave. Take that figuratively or literally if you like; either way, the first book from the former drummer from the band Belly (remember them?) is a beautiful illustration of persistence and patience. Indi the surfer is fiercely independent but repeatedly humbled by the waves. After every beating she takes at the hands of the ocean, she wipes herself off and gives it another go until she finally reaches her goal. It’s a little like how your kid has to get through another year of school for every summer vacation.
Indi Surfs by Chris Gorman ($12)
For The Neo-ClassicistSimple and quiet in a way that kids’ books (or movies or pretty much anything) rarely are these days, Maurice Sendak’s 1960 classic is about kids catching fireflies on summer nights and … that’s pretty much it. If you don’t think your kid will like it, remember that Sendak once said, “I didn’t set out to make children happy … I like them as few and far between as I do adults.” But your kid will probably like it.
The Moon Jumpers by Janice May Udry and Maurice Sendak ($13)
For The Unhappy CamperLittle Nicky can’t imagine a worse way to spend summer vacation than with Grandma in the woods of Wisconsin, until he discovers a magical raft covered in animal portraits that attracts curious wildlife. Before long he’s adding his own illustrations, rescuing a fawn in distress, and realizing he’s just like Grams. If you want to encourage your kid to tap into their artistic talents — and cut Grandma a little slack — look no further.
The Raft by Jim LaMarche ($14)
For The Sweaty MessFun in the sun is great, but for city dwellers it can too often turn into fun in the soul-sucking humidity and eggs-frying-on-sidewalks heat. Come On, Rain! is award-winning author Karen Hesse’s ode to that moment when those days are magically solved with a sudden downpour. There’s stuff in here about mother-daughter relationships and the transformative power of nature over city life, but mostly it’s like a beautifully told vicarious plunge into a pool.
Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse and Jon J. Muth ($14)
For The Summer FriendYour kid’s library most likely already has a few McCloskey titles in it, and if it doesn’t, well, it’s time to show a little respect. Time Of Wonder was the follow-up to the immortal Make Way For Ducklings and made McCloskey the first two-time Caldecott Medal winner. Said wonder refers to Maine’s coast and islands, which two friends spend all summer exploring before that most painful moment all kids must endure: packing up and leaving when summer ends. Read this with them on a Sunday night so they understand the pain you feel at the end of every weekend.
Time Of Wonder by Robert McCloskey ($14)
For The ShoegazerAllen Say’s The Lost Lake offers plenty to unpack for both you and your kid: a bored youngster spending the summer with a noncommunicative father, a yearning for connection and adventure, a trip to a old favorite haunt that’s been overrun with selfie stick-wielding tourists. Okay, so there were no selfies in 1992, but the message remains. As father and son trek deeper into the woods, searching for a new Lost Lake to call their own, their connection deepens. Hopefully, so will your kid’s appreciation for your weird old man summer traditions.
The Lost Lake by Allen Say ($7)
For The SkipperToy Boat is a sort of contemporary retelling of The Little Engine That Could, in which the titular protagonist, made of only a can, a cork, a pencil, and cloth, is washed out to sea and must learn to survive without the boy who built him. Miraculously, the two are reunited, with the young sailor having hopefully improved his knot-tying skills.
Toy Boat by Randall de Sève and Loren Long ($14)
For The Wildlife LoverA family of bears moves into a cottage hoping to avoid detection by the family of humans summering there, and the results are more adorable than they would be in real life, which would almost certainly end badly for someone. If you can’t get enough of their antics, the same bears also like to show up in the Winter, Christmas, and (as of this September) Autumn.
The Summer Visitors by Karel Hayes ($16)
For The Little FoodieCramming the summer calendar with camps and activities is a time-honored tradition among parents trying to keep their kids from going crazy with boredom. Wesley’s parents don’t have to worry about that, because he decided to spend his summer inventing a new staple food crop to sustain his very own civilization. The weird new fruit develops into a bumper crop and the weird kid who hates soda, pizza, and football is suddenly accepted by his classmates and neighbors who all want to visit Weslandia.
Weslandia by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes ($14)
For The Impending First GraderIt’s almost time for Garmann’s first day of school and he’s freaking out because he still hasn’t lost any baby teeth and he just knows everyone will make fun of him for it. That’s just the first of a spiraling list of things Garmann is worried about, although he eventually learns to chill out and accept life for the grand mystery that it is. Hang in there, buddy. Adult teeth last forever, but you only get summers off for a precious short while.
Garmann’s Summer by Stian Hole and Don Bartlett ($12)
For The Pixar FanIt’s the Finding Nemo-with-bears-instead-of-fish story you (and your kid) never knew you wanted. Will Papa Bear find Little Bear after he’s mistaken for a teddy bear and brought from the Paris Opera House to a tropical island? Well, yes, if he — and your kid — look hard enough, since the cub is hidden somewhere in every spread of the book. What were a couple of bears doing on top of the Paris Opera House to begin with? Don’t ask the hard questions.
The Bear’s Sea Escape by Benjamin Chaud ($18)
For The Mature ReaderOr the reader whose parents are getting divorced. Oof. So, maybe you shouldn’t use a graphic novel to break the news, but This One Summer is a great supplement to awkward conversations about tough topics like a rocky marriage and the frightening transition to one’s teenage years. The story of 3 months in the lives of best friends Rosie and Windy was a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book and is chock full of life lessons (although conspicuously bereft of “This one summer, at band camp” references).
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki ($10)