10 children’s books for summer reading fun
Look around at your family or friends and you know that everyone is different in appearance, opinions, styles, interest, talents and more. But, sometimes, those differences divide us, often prompting fear, hatred, bullying and pain.
The books that follow, all published in 2021, present a diverse array of contexts where diversity exists, but with kindness, it turns into love and learning. Each book is not only excellent in text and illustration but also an opportunity to discuss with K-2 children about what it means to be different from someone else—even if you are a squirrel, cat, or dog!
Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem
By Amanda Gorman; Illustrated by Loren Long. Viking Books for Young Readers.
Amanda Gorman’s lyrical anthem for children is beautifully illustrated by Loren Long. The few lines of text on each page are a call to be an agent of change. Long’s illustrations reveal differences of opinion but also children caring for others.
Two-page spreads done in acrylics and colored pencil reveal children building a ramp for a child confined to a wheelchair, then celebrating by playing a joyful tune with band instruments.
Kindness continues, and the children wash windows, paint walls, sweep sidewalks and plant flowers because, “we are the wave starting to spring, for we are the change we sing.” Both the text and the illustrations are worthy of close examination and discussion about how to use love to change the world.
The Proudest Color
By Sheila Modir and Jeffrey Kashou; Illustrated by Monica Mikai. Workman Publishing Co.
Zahra sees herself as a beautiful box of crayons — razzle-dazzle pink when happy, bright red when angry, deep blue when sad. But her favorite color is a beautiful brown, the color she sees when she looks in the mirror.
When Zahra begins at a new school, she notices that she is the only one with beautiful brown skin. Unfortunately, one of her classmates says that she doesn’t like brown, and everyone laughs.
It’s the love of her parents who help Zahra once again see the beauty and pride in her skin by reminding Zahra that brown is the color of her beloved Abuela, the principal of her old school, and the doctor who helps her stay well, as well as important people like Martin Luther King Jr., Frida Kahlo, Barack Obama and Kamala Harris.
As Zahra decorates her room with pictures that she has colored of amazing brown people, her pride for who she is returns, and she knows that brown is the proudest color.
By Lisa Mantchev; Illustrated by EG Keller. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Two cats and three dogs live in the twisty-turny house with four humans, a rabbit, seven fish and a rat. The cats only live upstairs; the dogs only live downstairs. Each believes that their floor is the very best.
The separation continues until one bold cat decides to explore the downstairs. The cat is surprised to find that the dogs welcome the cat and even provide a tour of the downstairs as evidence for their claim that the downstairs is best.
The cats then provided a similar tour of the upstairs, and all of the animals agree that exploring the whole house together is really the best for everyone. Keller’s humorous illustrations of the animals’ adventures add a special level of fun to the reading, despite the theme of separation.
My Sister, Daisy
By Adria Karlsson, Illustrated by Linus Curci. Capstone Press.
The older brother played with the new little one; together, they took rides in the wagon, read books and learned how to ride a bike. They were “brothers and best friends,” until the end of kindergarten when the little brother explained that he was a girl.
The biracial family discussed the situation and decide to call her Daisy since she wanted a beautiful name. Over time, her big brother learned that having a sister was actually fun. He also learned new words such as transgender and how to use words like they/them.
The author’s personal experience motivated the writing of this book as an accessible way to discuss such topics with children.
We Love Fishing!
By Ariel Bernstein, Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Bear, Porcupine, Otter and Squirrel are friends. They all love to go fishing except Squirrel, who complains every step of the way. Friendships are tested when squirrel accidentally lets their only catch go overboard. Their differences fade when Squirrel offers to call a taxi for the four and even pick up the check at a restaurant. Despite their differences, everyone still loves Squirrel, especially Fish.
Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez
By Larry Dane Brimner, Illustrated by Maya Gonzalez. Calkins Creek Books.
Roberto was ready to return to school but was greeted by the principal, who told him and all the other Mexican-American children that they had to go to a separate school because of complaints from parents that the children didn’t know English, were holding their students back academically and had poor hygiene.
Parents of the Mexican children refused to have them attend the separate school and worked with lawyers to file suit. One of the students, Roberto, brought the suit to the California Supreme Court in 1931.
The judge ruled that the board of education had no right to separate the students. All students returned to the school in April and were welcomed. This nonfiction biography demonstrates the power of one to make change happen.
Red and Green and Blue and White
By Lee Wind, Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Published by Levine Querido.
The first two-page spread shows five rows of houses decorated in red and green and one house in blue and white. Isaac and his family were decorating their home for Chanukah. Later that night, Isaac’s large front window was smashed by a rock, causing their menorah to flicker out.
His friend next door drew a menorah and taped it to her window in support of Isaac and his family. The idea grew through area schools and churches until 10,000 houses displayed a menorah on their front window showing the true sense of community.
I Am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story
By Martha Brockenbrough with Grace Lin. Illustrated by Julia Kuo. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
Wong Kim Ark was born in America and grew up experiencing the hatred of those who blamed the Chinese for financial hard times. His parents moved back to China, but Kim Ark stayed and worked as a cook. He knew that if we went back to China to visit his parents, he might not be able to reenter the country because of new strict laws.
He finally decided to go to China to see his parents but was imprisoned in the bottom of a ship for over four months when he returned. Officials didn’t believe he was an American.
He won release from prison with help from some friends and then took his case to the Supreme Court. The justices took almost a year to decide that Kim Ark was, indeed, an American citizen.
The ruling did not end injustices, but it did clarify that every child born in the U.S. was, indeed, an American citizen.
Eyes that Kiss in the Corners
By Joanna Ho, Illustrated by Dung Ho. HarperCollins.
A young girl notices that her eyes were different from those of other children in her school. She knows that her eyes “kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea,” just like her mama’s and Amah’s.
Through Amah’s vivid stories, the girl learns exciting tales of the past and concludes that her eyes are both a “revolution” and beautiful. This is a story of family love helping a child to accept her personal differences.
By Maya Myers, Illustrated by Hyewon Yum. Neal Porter Books.
Dot is different — she’s the smallest person in her family and in her class at school. But she insists that she is not little and can do anything a bigger person can do.
The day a new boy comes to school, Dot wonders if he is smaller than she is and notices that a big, mean boy is talking with the new boy during lunch.
Dot sits next to the new boy at the lunch table and responds to the mean boy’s taunts by yelling, “I’m not little!” The lunchroom quiets and the mean boy walks away.
Sam, the new boy, tells Dot that she is the biggest person he knows.
Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories
By Annette Bay Pimentel, Illustrated by Magaly Moralas. Published by Harry N. Abrams.
The first time Pura visited a library in New York City, she knew that she would be the happiest person alive if she could work there. She became a children’s librarian and found stories from all over the world except from Puerto Rico, her homeland.
Pura was told that she could only tell stories printed in a book when she read to the children. But she wanted to tell her Abuela’s stories that would make the children laugh and giggle, so she broke the rule.
Her fellow librarians were so amazed by her stories that they changed the rule so Pura could continue to fascinate children with her stories from Puerto Rico, even in Spanish for the neighborhood children just learning English.
Later Pura started writing down her stories to make sure the Puerto Rican stories could be found in libraries too.
Patricia L. Scharer is a professor emerita of reading and literacy in early and middle childhood education for the Department of Teaching and Learning. She is known for improving literacy learning for thousands of students through her role as a teacher educator at Ohio State.
She trained teacher leaders to work with teachers using the short-term, highly effective intervention Reading Recovery®, which helps struggling first-grade readers catch up with their peers. She was also a trainer for Literacy Collaborative®, a comprehensive school reform project designed to improve the reading, writing and language skills of elementary- and middle-level students.
Scharer’s scholarship is widely published in literacy research journals, and she most recently edited a book for inservice and preservice teachers titled Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework, published by Scholastic.