wonder, warmth, and wit…a dozen treats for summer reading stacks

I’ve got a dozen scrumptious picture books today. I hope you can locate at least a few of them for your crew!

First up, five that celebrate the splendors of nature:

green on green

Green on Green, written by Dianne White, illustrated by Felicita Sala
published in 2020 by Beach Lane Books

Ah, this is so gorgeous. It’s all that I anticipated when I saw who illustrated it, and then some.

green on green White and Sala

White’s lyrical, lush, pared-back text wends its way through the seasons, reveling in nature’s colorful wardrobe and the rich possibilities on offer with each turn of the calendar. Sala’s sumptuous art fills the pages with gorgeous scenes from the natural world and one dear family’s year-long walk through it, including the mother’s pregnancy and the birth of their newest member.

green on green illustration Felicita Sala

The evolving color palette over the course of the book is exquisite. Artistry, gladness, heartbreaking beauty, blooming here for ages 2 to 100.

hike cover pete oswald

Hike, by Pete Oswald
published in 2020 by Candlewick Press

This nearly-wordless account of a dad and his child on a wilderness expedition perfectly captures the joy of both the hike and the relationship.

hike interior pete oswald

Arising at dawn in the city, loading up the day packs, driving to the trail head, setting off among the splendors of the natural world, engaging in a bit of horse play, tackling some scary bits along the way, and relishing the epic accomplishment of gaining the peak! Then the return, ending up with cookies, snuggles, and sleep for one weary buckaroo. Sounds like the perfect day to me.

hike2 pete oswald

I am especially-always-super-duper-happy when picture books depict persons of color out enjoying the wilderness, so this one with its brown-skinned twosome wins my deepest admiration. A joy for ages 3 and up.

honeybee cover

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera, written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
published in 2020 by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House

This astonishing book is 100% top-notch nonfiction!

honeybee Fleming and Rohmann

Fleming introduces us to the life of one honeybee, a newly emerged worker bee, via a brilliant text that tantalizes us, beckons us ever onward. Her rich, precise language paints a fascinating portrait of this small creature’s short, yet multifaceted lifespan. She dishes out a great deal of information, holding us spellbound all the while. There is such drama in the lives of these minute creatures!

honeybee2 Fleming and Rohmann

Meanwhile, Rohmann’s magnificent illustrations bring us right inside the hive, so close to these bees that each delicate hair, each golden grain of pollen, is illumined. A feast of ideas for ages 4 and up. Additionally, an annotated diagram of the major body parts of the honeybee, and an Author’s Note discussing the difficulties facing bees, ways we can help bees, and more fun facts, suit ages 8 and up.

beehive cover

Beehive, by Jorey Hurley
published in 2020, a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

For much younger nature-lovers, check out Jorey Hurley’s latest gem. With her trademark crisp, clear illustrations and just one word per page, Hurley conveys the tasks of these buzzing wonders.

beehive jorey hurley

Watch bees buzz, explore, build a honeycomb, and fill it with golden honey, plus chase away a thieving skunk! Perfect for ages 18 months to 3 years.

the weather's bet cover

The Weather’s Bet, by Ed Young and John Hudak
published in 2020 by Philomel Books

Ed Young is a phenomenal artist who consistently creates sophisticated work for his audience. Here he gives an old fable a new spin.

It’s the story of the wind, rain, and sun, and their contest to prove which is the strongest. Which one can remove the shepherdess’ cap? Wind tries to harshly blow it off to no avail. Rain tries to powerfully wash it off without success. Then sun generously beams his warmth upon her, and with that the shepherdess takes off her cap herself.

the weather's bet Ed Young

Young incorporates Chinese characters in his collage work, so be sure to read his explanation of their significance in the opening pages of the book. It’s a unique treatment of an age-old tale, for ages 3 and up.

Next up — turbulent times call for warmhearted stories. Here are three:

swashby and the sea cover

Swashby and the Sea, written by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
published in 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers

One of my favorite chapter books is The Family Under the Bridge. This picture book reminds me of that delightful story. For here, too, one curmudgeonly old fella winds up with a new, loving family of sorts, despite all his best efforts to hold their honey-sweet friendship at bay.

swashby and the sea Ferry and Martinez-Neal

Captain Swashby is an old salt with a fondness for only sea and solitude. So when one granny and her granddaughter move into the cottage next door, complete with convivial living, joyful singing, and invitations to tea, the Captain is mighty perturbed. He puts every effort into scowling and thwarting their kind offers, but a secret ally scrambles his every attempt. Who could it be? Illustrations that swish and swirl with the turquoise tides, and sparkle with personality perfectly complement this sunny, happy story. A winner for ages 4 and up.

good boy cover

Good Boy, by Sergio Ruzzier
published in 2019 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

I adore Ruzzier’s warmhearted, sherbet-colored, friendly-as-peanut-butter-and-jelly illustration work, and it is exactly right for this dear story about a boy and his dog.

good boy sergio ruzzier

This good dog knows all the basic commands — Sit. Come. Roll over. — as well as a most impressive array of others! He cooks! He juggles! He builds jazzy rocket ships that blast these two to the moon! Best of all, he knows just when to…Stay! What a good boy!

good boy2 sergio ruzzier

Smiles and warm fuzzies are in store for all readers, ages 2 and up. The extremely slight text makes this an option for early readers as well. Either way — don’t miss it!

like the moon loves the sky cover

Like the Moon Loves the Sky, written by Hena Khan, illustrated by Saffa Khan
published in 2020 by Chronicle Books

A love letter, a prayer, the profound, universal wishes parents have for their children, are presented here awash in sun-drenched, tropical colors and muscular line. The combination of quietness and strength separate this book from many others on the market that descend into mere sentimentality.

like the moon loves the sky illustration Saffa Khan

The Arabic word inshallah is one we heard every day when we lived in Guinea, West Africa. It means, “God willing.” Each of the phrases of this prayer begins with this expression, an authentic and beautiful aspect of Muslim cultures. The Author’s Note at the outset of the book explains this in a bit more detail. A gentle dip into another culture, for ages 3 and up.

Finally, disappointment over canceled summer plans calls for good humor and imagination. Try any of these four:

roy digs dirt cover

Roy Digs Dirt, by David Shannon
published in 2020 by Blue Sky Press

Roy the dog digs in dirt and he digs dirt! I mean to say, he really digs it, man!

roy digs dirt David Shannon

He loves dirt, wallows in it, and if it turns to mud, why that’s even better. Roy does not, I mean absolutely does not dig baths. Roy is a real dog. A muck-loving stink-magnet who banishes critters with the audacity to enter his private jungle. He’s a lovable grunge bomb. You’ll love Roy, too. Or should I say, you’ll dig him. Raucous illustration work cartwheels through the pages of this blast of fun! Ages 3 and up.

federico and the wolf cover

Federico and the Wolf, written by Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri
published in 2020 by Clarion Books

Here’s a sizzling new twist on Red Riding Hood starring a Latino boy and his abuelo.

Federico is sent to market to buy ingredients for a perfect pico, a singing salsa. Once his bike basket is full of zesty tomatoes, tart limes, fragrant herbs, and some walloping hot peppers, he heads for Abuelo’s place but encounters — you guessed it — a wolf. Un lobo! And of course when he arrives at Abuelo’s shop, the wolf awaits him. This wolf, though, does not count on Federico’s extremely quick thinking!

federico and the wolf ill. detail by Elisa Chavarri

You’ll be delighted at how Federico outsmarts Mr. Lobo! And to top it off, Abuelo’s pico recipe is included so you can make a batch to munch with some chips. A sprinkling of Spanish vocab, plus flamboyant color and personality bursting from the illustrations, add zest to this piquant tale for ages 4 and up.

lift cover

Lift, written by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
published in 2020 by Disney Hyperion

Iris lives in an apartment with her mom, dad, and baby brother. The joy of young Iris’s life is pushing the elevator button. Going up? Going down? No matter. Iris is large and in charge. No one pushes the button except Iris. Until. One day. That baby brother figures out how to push it himself. Ugh! Betrayal!!

lift illustration Dan Santat

After pitching a wee fit, Iris manages to nab a broken elevator button panel. (Gee, I wonder how that happened!) She installs it in her bedroom and wonder of wonders — it’s a MAGIC elevator button! When Iris is all alone she can push it and *DING* a door opens onto a fantastical new world! Ride along with Iris on her fabulous adventures and discover her heart of gold in the end. A joyous fantasy for ages 4 and up.

paolo cover

Paolo, Emperor of Rome, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Claire Keane
published in 2020 by Abrams

Finally, this little number by one of our most beloved current children’s writers who absolutely will not be put into a box, Mac Barnett.

Paolo is a dachshund who lives in Rome. And yes, even though he is a dachshund, he is as romantically Italian as they come. Just look at his stance on the cover image. There stands a dog who loves Rome, who owns Rome.

paolo barnett and keane

However, to begin with Paolo is a slightly miserable dog, confined as he is to a very unromantic hair salon run by cranky old Signora Pianostrada. All he can do is “press his nose against the window” and gaze out at the world a-bustling by. One lucky day though, the door is left open and hey presto! Paolo seizes his freedom.

paolo2 Barnett and Keane

Travel the streets of Rome, stop by the Coliseum, take in some Italian opera, snag an audience with the Pope, all in the company of Paolo, the most regal dog of Rome. Barnett’s tongue-in-cheek mix of melodrama, high flown airs, and epic heroics will tickle the funny bone of adult readers. Keane’s at once nostalgic and soaring illustration work perfectly accompanies that. Give this a whirl with ages 5 or 6 and up.